Watchdog: Follow the Money

State Department going online to counter terrorism messages

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Watchdog,Kelly Cohen,Terrorism,State Department,al Qaeda,Accountability,Follow the Money,Twitter,Foreign Policy,Technology,Social Media

What better way to thwart terrorism than via online social media?

The State Department's Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications has hired a contractor to provide it with six staffers to work in downtown Washington.

The six will conduct "a digital English-language campaign designed to counter propaganda by al Qaeda and other extremist groups" outside the U.S., according to Fed Biz Opps, a website for government contract solicitations and related information.

CSCC has a "requirement to counter violent messages in English," the original June solicitation reads — thus the need for these staffers, who will work for only six months.

How much will the government spend do to this? A cool $575,000, the Fed Biz Opps notice said.

The campaign will consist of State Department-attributed text, graphic and video products that will be "posted to a variety of interactive online platforms" — most likely the agency's Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts.

The emphasis will be placed on the "radicalization and recruitment efforts" of not just al Qaeda, but related groups such as al-Shabaab.

The CSCC's Twitter account -- created in February 2009 -- has the handle of @DigitalOutreach. Since its creation, it has tweeted about 1,900 times, always in Arabic.

It has about 550 followers. Its Arabic bio translates to: "Electronic communication team is a group of individuals at the State Department active in dealing with the sites of political dialogues and discussions found on the World Wide Web."

Its YouTube and Facebook accounts are a bit more popular — with 1,400 and 39,000 followers, respectively.

Since its creation in 2007, the YouTube account has garnered more than 2.7 million video views, with its most popular video being a November 2007 post about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

CSCC's Facebook account offers new posts a few times a day.

During 2012 testimony to the House Subcommittee on Terrorism Nonproliferation and Trade, CSCC's Ambassador Alberto Fernandez told members, "Al Qaeda doesn't use Twitter."

When asked by Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas, whether foreign terrorist organizations use Twitter for spreading propaganda and getting recruits, Hernandez replied, "You know, since it is not something that we are working on in the Twitter field, it is not an area which I am very well versed."

Fernandez also told the panel "We do not operate in English […] Our focus being overseas, our main focus is of course in those vernacular languages which I mentioned," referring to Arabic, Urdu, Somali and others.

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