[House Hearing, 112 Congress]
[From the U.S. Government Printing Office]
THE STATE DEPARTMENT'S CENTER FOR
COMMUNICATIONS: MISSION, OPERATIONS
SUBCOMMITTEE ON TERRORISM, NONPROLIFERATION, AND TRADE
COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
ONE HUNDRED TWELFTH CONGRESS
AUGUST 2, 2012
Serial No. 112-164
Printed for the use of the Committee on Foreign Affairs
Available via the World Wide Web: http://www.foreignaffairs.house.gov/
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COMMITTEE ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS
ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN, Florida, Chairman
CHRISTOPHER H. SMITH, New Jersey HOWARD L. BERMAN, California
DAN BURTON, Indiana GARY L. ACKERMAN, New York
ELTON GALLEGLY, California ENI F.H. FALEOMAVAEGA, American
DANA ROHRABACHER, California Samoa
DONALD A. MANZULLO, Illinois DONALD M. PAYNE, New Jersey--
EDWARD R. ROYCE, California deceased 3/6/12 deg.
STEVE CHABOT, Ohio BRAD SHERMAN, California
RON PAUL, Texas ELIOT L. ENGEL, New York
MIKE PENCE, Indiana GREGORY W. MEEKS, New York
JOE WILSON, South Carolina RUSS CARNAHAN, Missouri
CONNIE MACK, Florida ALBIO SIRES, New Jersey
JEFF FORTENBERRY, Nebraska GERALD E. CONNOLLY, Virginia
MICHAEL T. McCAUL, Texas THEODORE E. DEUTCH, Florida
TED POE, Texas DENNIS CARDOZA, California
GUS M. BILIRAKIS, Florida BEN CHANDLER, Kentucky
JEAN SCHMIDT, Ohio BRIAN HIGGINS, New York
BILL JOHNSON, Ohio ALLYSON SCHWARTZ, Pennsylvania
DAVID RIVERA, Florida CHRISTOPHER S. MURPHY, Connecticut
MIKE KELLY, Pennsylvania FREDERICA WILSON, Florida
TIM GRIFFIN, Arkansas KAREN BASS, California
TOM MARINO, Pennsylvania WILLIAM KEATING, Massachusetts
JEFF DUNCAN, South Carolina DAVID CICILLINE, Rhode Island
ANN MARIE BUERKLE, New York
RENEE ELLMERS, North Carolina
ROBERT TURNER, New York
Yleem D.S. Poblete, Staff Director
Richard J. Kessler, Democratic Staff Director
Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade
EDWARD R. ROYCE, California, Chairman
TED POE, Texas BRAD SHERMAN, California
JEFF DUNCAN, South Carolina DAVID CICILLINE, Rhode Island
BILL JOHNSON, Ohio GERALD E. CONNOLLY,
TIM GRIFFIN, Arkansas Virginia
ANN MARIE BUERKLE, New York BRIAN HIGGINS, New YorkRemoved 6/
RENEE ELLMERS, North Carolina 19/12 deg.
ALLYSON SCHWARTZ, Pennsylvania
C O N T E N T S
The Honorable Alberto Fernandez, Coordinator, Center for
Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, U.S. Department of
LETTERS, STATEMENTS, ETC., SUBMITTED FOR THE HEARING
The Honorable Edward R. Royce, a Representative in Congress from
the State of California, and chairman, Subcommittee on
Terrorism, Nonproliferation, and Trade: Prepared statement..... 3
The Honorable Alberto Fernandez: Prepared statement.............. 9
Hearing notice................................................... 28
Hearing minutes.................................................. 29
The Honorable Gerald E. Connolly, a Representative in Congress
from the Commonwealth of Virginia: Prepared statement.......... 31
The Honorable Edward R. Royce:
Letter from the Honorable Edward R. Royce to the Honorable
Alberto Fernandez dated August 14, 2012...................... 32
Letter from the United States Department of State to the
Honorable Edward R. Royce received August 30, 2012........... 34
Written responses from the Honorable Alberto Fernandez to
questions submitted for the record by:.........................
The Honorable Edward R. Royce.................................. 36
The Honorable Jeff Duncan, a Representative in Congress from
the State of South Carolina.................................. 44
THE STATE DEPARTMENT'S CENTER FOR STRATEGIC COUNTERTERRORISM
COMMUNICATIONS: MISSION, OPERATIONS AND IMPACT
THURSDAY, AUGUST 2, 2012
House of Representatives,
Subcommittee on Terrorism,
Nonproliferation, and Trade,
Committee on Foreign Affairs,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 2:05 p.m., in
room 2172, Rayburn House Office Building, Hon. Edward R. Royce
(chairman of the subcommittee) presiding.
Mr. Royce. This hearing of the subcommittee will come to
order. Today we examine the State Department's Center for
Strategic Counterterrorism Communications. Terrorist
organizations, as we know, use the Internet. They use it to
propagandize, and they use it to recruit, and they use it all
over the globe. So prevalent are these extremist Web sites
today that they have been described as a ``virtual caliphate''
in cyberspace. Several witnesses appearing before this
subcommittee in the past have urged a more vigorous U.S. effort
to combat terrorist use of the Internet.
And to go back to recent hearings on this, one cited ``the
absence of an effective campaign to counter al-Qaeda's
extremist ideology'' and made the point that that is a central
challenge, an ongoing challenge. Another witness said that our
efforts up until now have been ``anemic.'' Stepping into this
void is the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism
Communications, which was established by executive order last
While other U.S. agencies may hack into extremist chat
rooms to sew confusion or to render them useless, or for the
purpose of collecting intelligence, CSCC's mission is a very
straightforward one. Its mission is to identify, confront, and
undermine al-Qaeda or, as the Ambassador likes to say, ``get in
Arabic, Urdu, and Somali speakers ``contest'' in these
online chat rooms and media Web sites and these forums that are
set up where al-Qaeda and al-Qaeda affiliates operate. As we
will hear, the aim of its ``digital outreach team'' is to
expose the inherent contradictions in al-Qaeda propaganda and
bring to light al-Qaeda's atrocities. One recent effort caught
headlines after the al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen posted photos
of coffins. And in these pictures, they had coffins draped in
American flags. The center produced a counter ad that replaced
the flags with the flag of Yemen, conveying, of course, that
most of the victims of the attacks in Yemen have been local
people. And these videos, of course, got a quick reaction. And
they were applauded by analysts for the use of the ``out-of-
the-box'' thinking. And the use of ridicule is pretty common
here in terms of this interaction that goes on with al-Qaeda on
these Web sites.
So this is new. And there are issues for us to consider in
this. Can the center keep from becoming just another office
that is bureaucratic? Can we make sure the innovation isn't
beaten out of it, you know, keep it fresh? Is it responding to
events on the ground with what I think you call the appropriate
``counternarratives'' for those situations? And the digital
outreach team, which includes many contract personnel, have
also got to master here some pretty sensitive and complicated
issues, or they could do harm in this situation.
So how does the State Department oversee their work? How do
you avoid some of the quality control issues that have plagued
some of the U.S. international broadcasting efforts over the
years? I am thinking about some of the problems we have had
with respect to Iran, for example. So those are the issues. And
should it go beyond al-Qaeda as a target? Does the center face
legal constraints is another issue.
But an overriding question facing the center is the ability
to measure its impact. Terrorist propagandists have felt
compelled to react to the center's work with vitriolic attacks.
We have anecdotal evidence in terms of the effectiveness. In
December, a top al-Qaeda Web site began discussing ways to
counter the videos posted by the digital outreach teams that
are reaching their audience. State Department officials take
the attitude that it is better to be hated than ignored when it
comes to al-Qaeda's watchers. But at the end of the day, we
need a measure of effectiveness. We need to know, are opinions
changing? And if so, is the center a significant influence, or
is it just a commendable but ultimately futile attempt to empty
an ocean of militancy with a spoon?
Those are the issues we are going to be discussing today.
And we look forward to hearing from our witness. And I will
turn now to Ranking Member Sherman for his opening statement.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Royce follows:]
Mr. Sherman. Thank you, Chairman, for holding these
Back in September 2010, I was sitting there. You were
sitting immediately to the right, and this same subcommittee
held hearings called U.S. Strategy for Countering Jihadist Web
Sites, in which we focused on the efforts to counter the
radical messages online. And while I know our focus here is
going to be online, television and radio continue to be even
more important communications media in most of the world that
we are trying to reach.
The State Department Center for Strategic Counterterrorism
Communications, CSCC, has as its mission to identify, confront,
and undermine the communications of al-Qaeda affiliates. A
principal focus is digital outreach. The staff of the center is
about 45 by the end of this year, I understand, with about 20
native speakers of Arabic, Urdu, and Somali, and I hope other
languages as well. And perhaps in your statement you can
indicate all the languages that you have native speakers
communicating in. And they are battling on forums and other
sites where al-Qaeda and its affiliates spread propaganda and
recruit followers. They expose the work of hate,
contradictions, false and empty ideology of al-Qaeda.
And I hope that you are working hand in hand, and maybe you
will tell us in your opening statement, with the CIA and others
to identify who the bad guys are, rather than just to argue
against them. There are some we are not going to be able to
These are open Web sites, forums where vulnerable minds can
be swayed by al-Qaeda recruiters. According to the State
Department, the center focuses on two themes in
counterterrorism communications, that al-Qaeda-inspired
violence kills disproportionately Muslims, and then violence is
not necessary for political change. Pakistan is a nuclear-armed
Islamic state on the front line of several conflicts. With so
many extremist groups, Pakistan is a pressing international
problem for us. My hope is that you are reaching out to the
Pakistani people, not just in Urdu, which is the politically
correct language that the government and the ISI in Pakistan
would have you use, but also in the other languages,
particularly Sindhi. The people of Sindh, who predominantly
speak Sindhi, have been under attack by governmental bodies.
And that is why the Government of Pakistan would just assume
you not use that language. They are so helpful in so many ways,
that perhaps you might want to ignore their advice. The U.S.
must reach out to Sindh, when of course the Sindhi language is
spoken by more people than Urdu, even though I know you have
native Urdu speakers. So I hope you will be discussing your
efforts to outreach to southern Pakistan. I would point out
that this committee passed an amendment stating that at least
$1.5 million be spent on radio broadcasts, preferably AM,
perhaps based in the Emirates, to reach out in the Sindhi
The terrorist organizations use the Internet to get their
message across and spread propaganda. We are told that we
should simply compete with them by posting things where they
post things. The more aggressive thing to do is just take down
their sites. And we invented the Internet, and we ought to
perhaps be aggressive, either by serving notice on certain
servers in certain countries or through more surreptitious
means. Are you so sure that you are going to outdebate them
that you want them to have the run of the Internet?
Another issue is the budget. You have had some belt
tightening, a 2011 budget of $6.8 million. In 2012, it was $5
million. The request now is for $5.15 million. I would just
point out that even if your work is 100th of 1 percent as
important as our military, you are a real bargain. And it has
the additional advantage of not having to pay in both blood and
treasure for our anti-terrorism efforts.
So I look forward to hearing from you as to what we can do
to block terrorist communications as well as to answer them. I
Mr. Royce. Thank you, Mr. Sherman.
Now we go to Mr. Duncan from South Carolina.
Mr. Duncan. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
You know, I am grateful for the work that the State
Department Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications
is seeking to do. In addition to serving on this subcommittee,
my work on the Homeland Security Committee has enabled me to
study this issue in depth. And I believe strategic
communications is crucial.
This issue is really an issue about the war of ideas. How
do we achieve victory on a battleground for the hearts and
minds of individuals who not only commit violent actions, but
who seek to destroy America, our values, our freedoms, and
ultimately our Constitution? So what do we do with a war that
involves conflicting visions of the world; western
civilization, which values freedom, versus a totalitarian
political ideology of Islamists espoused by al-Qaeda and other
terrorist organizations, including the imposition of a rigid
form of sharia? Radical Islamist clerics and terrorist
organizations have become masters at using social media.
Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Internet chat rooms, and al-Qaeda's
Inspire allow the publication of religious commentary and
religious opinions to large audiences instantaneously.
In the course of this hearing, I would like know to know to
what extent social media plays in the role of the center's
identification of current and emerging trends of extremist
communication. Does the center have an alternative or
counternarrative to al-Qaeda's Inspire? Additionally, I want to
understand how the center defines strategic counterterrorism
communications. What is so strategic about what the center is
doing? In other words, by strategic, does the center mean
coordination of communications all across government channels?
More a bureaucratic messaging strategy? Or does it mean that
the U.S. Government communications will have a strategic
effect? I believe the center is on the right path in seeking to
steer individuals away from violence.
However, I believe that we can take it further by, one,
understanding the ideology of Islamists; number two, directly
countering the ideology by attacking Islamists' authenticity,
delegitimizing groups, individuals, and movements that support
Islamist discourse and power; and number three, neutralizing
Islamist propaganda by showing the parallels between Islamism
and other forms of political ideology, like totalitarianism and
fascism and other things. And so Ambassador Fernandez, thank
you for being here today to testify. I look forward to your
And with that, Mr. Chairman, I will yield back.
Mr. Royce. Thank you, Mr. Duncan.
Today we are joined by Ambassador Alberto Fernandez, the
State Department's Coordinator for the Center for Strategic
Previously, Ambassador Fernandez served as U.S. Ambassador
to Equatorial Guinea. He served as director for Near East
Public Diplomacy from 2005 to 2007 and held senior diplomacy
positions at the U.S. Embassies in Afghanistan, Jordan, and
I think you were stationed in Sudan for a while.
A career member of the Foreign Service, Ambassador
Fernandez has received the Presidential Meritorious Service
Award and the Edward R. Murrow Award for Excellence in Public
Diplomacy, among others. He is fluent in Arabic and in Spanish.
We welcome you to the committee.
And I would like to acknowledge that the Ambassador
submitted his testimony to the committee well in advance of
this afternoon's hearing, a first I think. It is much
appreciated, obviously, by the members of the committee.
Your complete written statement, of course, will appear in
the record. What we are going to suggest is a shorter 5-minute
opening statement, and then we will proceed with questions.
And again, Ambassador, thank you for joining us.
STATEMENT OF THE HONORABLE ALBERTO FERNANDEZ, COORDINATOR,
CENTER FOR STRATEGIC COUNTERTERRORISM COMMUNICATIONS, U.S.
DEPARTMENT OF STATE
Ambassador Fernandez. Thank you Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Sherman, and Mr. Duncan, thank
you for the opportunity to be here today. I am pleased to be
with you this afternoon to discuss the interagency Center for
Strategic Counterterrorism Communications. I will make brief
remarks drawing on my formal testimony.
CSCC was established at the direction of the President and
the Secretary of State to coordinate, orient, and inform
government-wide foreign communications activities targeted
against terrorism and violent extremism, particularly al-Qaeda
and its allies. We are housed in the Department of State with
the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. I
report directly to Under Secretary Sonenshine and work very
closely with the Bureau of Counterterrorism, other department
bureaus, and other agencies.
We have a steering committee chaired by Under Secretary
Sonenshine with CT Bureau Coordinator Ambassador Benjamin as
vice chair. The committee comprises nine agencies, including
NCTC, the Departments of Defense, Treasury, Justice, Homeland
Security, CIA, and USAID. We target a specific audience
overseas through our products for U.S. Government
communicators, projects, and the online engagement of our
Digital Outreach Team.
As many of you know, al-Qaeda has repeatedly made clear the
high importance it attaches to the media struggle. Ayman al-
Zawahiri has described the communications space as more than
half of the battle. And one scholar noted recently that al-
Qaeda has transformed from a global terrorist organization that
used the media into a global media organization that uses
terrorism. So our goal is to move quickly, to respond
effectively and to contest the space which had been for too
long monopolized by our adversaries.
For example, very recently as troubling developments in
Timbuktu unfolded last month, we were writing a preliminary
media strategy and producing new digital material specifically
focused on al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and its allies'
destructive activities in northern Mali. To achieve our goals,
CSCC is divided into three distinct areas of operation,
intelligence and analysis, plans and operations, and the
Digital Outreach Team, or DOT.
The intelligence and analysis section gathers analytic
support from the intelligence community, academia, and other
sources of relevant expertise that is essential to our mission
to counter violent extremism.
We subscribe to two guiding principles for the center's
operation: That counterterrorism communications should be
guided by the best intelligence and academic analysis of the
audience, the adversary, and the appropriate communications
themes and techniques; and that this must be an interagency
effort, drawing on analytical and operational skills across
U.S. Government agencies. The detail to CSCC of intelligence
community and U.S. military personnel make this goal a feasible
The second part is the plans and operations team, which
designs and implements nondigital CVE communications
strategies, tools, and programs to counter al-Qaeda's ability
to recruit and win support. This section focuses on undermining
the efforts of al-Qaeda and its affiliates in and emanating
from five priority areas using nondigital means. The five
priority areas being Al-Shabaab in the Horn of Africa; al-Qaeda
senior leadership and its affiliates and allies in Pakistan;
AQIM and its associates across the Sahel through Northern and
Western Africa; al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; and al-Qaeda
in Iraq and its offshoots in that general area of the Fertile
These plans and ops teams provide CVE communications
material for use by all U.S. Government communicators with
foreign audiences. These tools include CSCC communications
templates on topics such as highlighting Al-Shabaab's actions
against Somalis and shorter Quick Thoughts documents, such as
the recent, ``A Plague of Locusts: CT Messaging Against AQIM
and Ansar al-Din.''
CSCC's third section is the Digital Outreach Team, or DOT,
which directly counters the al-Qaeda narrative in the
interactive digital environment. Most of this team's
engagements, which number more than 7,000 since joining CSCC,
consist of written text posted to online forums, Facebook, or
the comments sections of media Web sites. But they also use
video. They also use poster art, and other means. Engagements
are branded. Writer analysts identify themselves as members of
the Digital Outreach Team at the U.S. Department of State. This
is overt communication in this digital space.
Three basic principles animate this team's activities:
Contest the space, redirect the conversation, and confound the
adversary. An early measure of effectiveness has been the irate
responses from online extremists who fulminate on various
occasions, expressing a desire to hack the Digital Outreach
Team's YouTube channel, warning their followers to be wary of
providing fodder for the team, and even discussing the
possibility of setting up their own radical Digital Outreach
Team to conquer what we are doing. The digital environment is
rapidly changing, as are al-Qaeda's efforts to exploit them.
CSCC is committed to keeping pace and innovating. The rise of
hand-held devices provides an opportunity to do so. And we have
already deployed video with mobile platforms in one of our
highest priority areas. A recent Yemen-focused clip garnered 15
to 20 percent of views on mobile devices.
Future plans include establishing a presence on mobile-
based interactive environments, distributing audio and visual
files over mobile devices, and finding new ways to deliver
digital content to the physical environment through hand-held
devices. As an example of our work, we recently have a campaign
that just included a focus in the Urdu language in Pakistan for
a 30-month period in June-July 2012, pushing back against
extremist narratives in Pakistan with examples of U.S.-funded
aid projects. For more than 30 days, the team carried out 255
engagements using 10 videos and 10 still images on 29 online
platforms, reaching nearly 50,000 people through Facebook and
forums, and generating over 400 comments. That was one very
targeted, narrowly focused campaign on a very specific subject.
Gentlemen, thank you for your interest and your continued
support, and I look forward to answering your questions and
getting into greater detail. But thank you very much. And it is
a real pleasure to be here.
Mr. Royce. Thank you, Ambassador.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Fernandez follows:]
Mr. Royce. We appreciate your testimony.
Let me ask you a question that goes to your strategy. I can
readily understand the video that you did, stressing al-Qaeda's
willingness to kill fellow Muslims, and especially the concept
of destroying the indigenous culture, which we saw in Mali,
which we saw in Timbuktu, which we saw on the attacks on the
Sufi mosques in Pakistan and the destruction there.
But moving to the issue of your team stressing the USAID
projects in Pakistan, I have never seen our efforts win any
points in Pakistan. We are about as unpopular as can be there.
My last three trips there I saw that the Deobandi schools were
still in full throttle. But why this particular message, as
opposed to a message of what is being done to traditional
Pakistani culture by this radical change, you know, on the
order of what we saw in the Cultural Revolution in Mao's China?
It is an attempt to destroy the past evidence of the culture.
You saw that in Afghanistan. The destruction of art, of Muslim
art as well as Buddhist. And so I think that that is probably a
more powerful argument, but I wanted to see why we were going
with this approach.
Ambassador Fernandez. That is a very good question, sir. We
use a variety of themes at different times. The theme you
identify of the radical extreme, unusually extreme nature of
al-Qaeda and its allies, its virulence, its alien nature from
the mainstream of Muslims everywhere is one that we stress
traditionally. So we do stress that in Pakistan and in the
other areas we work. This specific campaign, as I said, we
often try to highlight a specific campaign at a specific time.
So we wanted to use AID's programs as a push back for this
specific campaign that we did in the month of July. But the
image, the thrust of what you described is our daily bread and
butter. It is something that we do all the time.
Mr. Royce. Let me ask you this. The center is beneath the
Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy. One of the things I
thought about here is we have got this new counterterrorism
bureau, which the department would like to empower. And given
your specific mission, it would seem to me that it should be
placed right there. I wanted to ask you about that.
Ambassador Fernandez. Well, we are literally a stone's
throw from the CT bureau. They are our next door neighbors, and
we meet with them on a daily basis.
Mr. Royce. I understand that. But in terms of strategy and
tactics, the Under Secretary is more focused, really, on
cultural and educational exchanges and this type of thing. And
I think the head of the counterterrorism bureau, given where we
are trying to drive this policy, would be a lot better equipped
to deal specifically with your mission. So I understand your
argument that you talk with them. But I really think it is one
and the same in terms of the strategy here. And there should be
consideration in terms of readjusting that mission. Give me
your response to that if you would.
Ambassador Fernandez. Certainly. I can see value in both
approaches. I mean, obviously, we are working in a
communications field. So that is very germane to the work of
the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs.
And this is, as Mr. Duncan noted, this is an ideological
question, this is a question of messages and narratives. So I
can see that it has a public dimension.
On the other hand, we have to work very closely with our
counterterrorism colleagues not only in the CT bureau, but
across the interagency with NCTC, with CIA, and others. And so
I can see the value of both of those arguments.
Mr. Royce. Thank you, Ambassador Fernandez.
Mr. Sherman. Thank you. You have native speakers in Arabic
and Urdu and Somali. What other languages do you have native
Mr. Royce. Ambassador, bring your mic a little closer when
you answer, please.
Ambassador Fernandez. Thank you, sir.
Generally, those are the three languages we focus on.
Obviously, we have native speakers, for example some of our
Urdu speakers speak more than Urdu. But our messaging has been
in those three languages. But even that is new. We added Somali
only recently. So we are certainly open to adding other
languages. And we are certainly open in exploring the option
that you discussed.
Mr. Sherman. I would hope very much that you would focus on
Pakistan, which is the only nuclear state of interest to your
organization, and that you would focus on the different
languages of Pakistan, since Urdu is spoken by only 8 percent
of the population and the Sindhi language is spoken by 12
percent. I am glad to see you are part of the overall public
But in the communications world, there is a tendency to
just create some separate Web people, when in reality our overt
communications on the Web are directly tied to what we do at
Voice of America, radio and television, what we do under false
flag Web postings, which I guess is another department,
probably should be the same department. And how closely do you
work with Voice of America to make sure that you are making the
same points, especially when you are posting video, and they
are making TV shows?
Ambassador Fernandez. We certainly, they are colleagues,
and as a public diplomacy officer, I know them. We see them
frequently. We have staff that came from the BBG.
Mr. Sherman. Do you promote their programs?
Ambassador Fernandez. Not really.
Mr. Sherman. Do you take their tape and put it up on
Ambassador Fernandez. That is not something that we have
done. The reason I would say is our focus has been that there
is a great deal out there that the U.S. Government is doing
which is supportive, sending a positive message. What we are
trying to do is attack the enemy.
Mr. Sherman. I would hope that the Voice of America is
doing that, too. If you are the only one countering the
terrorist message directly, and we decided to do it only on the
Web, and not radio and television, a lot of us are here in the
communications business, some of us have been involved in
campaigns, none of us would dream of getting our message
exclusively out on the Web and ignoring radio and television.
And I guess these days none of us would think of doing the
exact opposite of that either.
And then I pointed out in my opening statement, how closely
do you work with those who could either take down a terrorist
site or identify terrorist individuals by looking at what is
going on on the Web?
Ambassador Fernandez. We work very closely with those who
are identifying the appropriate recipients or individuals.
Since we have an intelligence community component within CSCC,
we have CIA officers working within CSCC. We have reach back
into the intelligence community.
Mr. Sherman. You don't have to tell me what we have done,
but has anybody taken down a major terrorist Web site, whether
we did it or maybe, you know, some act of God did it?
Ambassador Fernandez. That is of course a related but
different field, which is called cyber warfare. And I think
there have been some very big successes there.
Mr. Sherman. Have you noticed any of these sites that you
are trying to oppose disappearing, which is a very good way to
Ambassador Fernandez. They seem to come and go and come
Mr. Sherman. Now, you have experts in the culture and
language that you are trying to reach out to. But many of these
arguments get down to the details of Islamic law and the
Hadith, the Koran. Do you have people there who have read 1,000
fatwas from various respected clerics who can tell you what is
a good Hadith and a bad Hadith? How good are you at having
people that can argue on Islamic terms?
Ambassador Fernandez. That is a very good question. What we
try do is focus not so much on abstract questions of Islamic
law, but on the enemy's actions and point to the internal
contradictions, the incoherence and dissonance that exist in
the enemy's own discourse.
Mr. Sherman. So you show that they are not--that they are
hypocritical vis-a-vis their own statements, not that they are
unIslamic because their actions contradict parts of the Koran.
Ambassador Fernandez. That is exactly right.
Mr. Sherman. I don't know if Congress will give you enough
money to do it, but I hope that you would go beyond showing
that they clash with their own statements and show that they
clash with the best in Islam. And I believe my time has
expired. Do get back to me on your efforts to go into those
other languages. Thank you.
Ambassador Fernandez. Thank you.
Mr. Royce. We are going to go now to Mr. Duncan from South
Mr. Duncan. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Ambassador, what is the center doing to neutralize the
communications of state sponsors of terrorism, such as Iran,
especially in the areas of immediate importance to the U.S.,
like Iraq and Afghanistan, where the Iranian Government is
really seeking to fill the political vacuum the U.S. is leaving
in its rapid withdrawal?
Ambassador Fernandez. Sir, since our focus has been mostly
on al-Qaeda, we are so new, Iran----
Mr. Duncan. I think you need to start focusing on Iran.
Just a word of caution.
Ambassador Fernandez. I can see the value of that. That
goes to a question that several of you have asked. Obviously,
we have our main focus, which is guided from the National
Counterterrorism Strategy, which focuses mostly, principally on
al-Qaeda. But under the direction of the interagency, we are
ready and willing to take up new tasks, whether it be new
specific areas, new languages, or new adversaries.
Mr. Duncan. Okay. Define how the center views the long-term
strategic goals of Islamist extremist groups that presently do
not wage terrorism against the U.S., specifically the Muslim
Brotherhood. How have you all addressed that?
Ambassador Fernandez. Well, there is incredible hatred for
the Muslim Brotherhood among al-Qaeda. You know, we see daily
the daily vitriol, propaganda that al-Qaeda puts out every
single day. And they call the Muslim Brotherhood traitors. They
call them renegades. They call them people that are
collaborating with this disgusting western thing which is
called democracy and elections. Because they believe there
should be no democracy, there should be no elections.
The idea that a Muslim, even a conservative Muslim, like
the Muslim Brotherhood, would be elected is anathema to al-
Qaeda. Because for them if you are elected one day, as you
yourselves know, one day you are elected, one day you can be
chosen not to be elected. And the way al-Qaeda sees it, that is
not the role of the people. The people have no role in that.
So any Muslim, whether they be the most conservative, you
know, anti-Western Muslim who participates in the political
process, even Salafis, are seen as anathema by al-Qaeda. One of
the most fascinating things which has happened over the last
year, which I am sure you are well aware of, is that we have
had the most dramatic, incredible political events in the Arab
world in decades, maybe in centuries that have happened over
the past year, and al-Qaeda had nothing do with it. Absolutely
nothing. You had governments falling. You had people in the
streets. You had millions marching, and al-Qaeda was not part
of that conversation. This drives them crazy. This drives them
crazy in the propaganda, that basically the most important
thing that is happening in the Arab world, and al-Qaeda is
basically an Arab organization, and they are completely
irrelevant to that issue.
Mr. Duncan. That is kind of an interesting answer. I
appreciate you bringing that up. That is something I want to
chew on a little longer.
Just on a different line of questioning in my remaining
time, reportedly the Fort Hood shooter, Major Hasan, was
influenced over the Web. Has the center studied this
indoctrination? And how has it influenced the way the center
Ambassador Fernandez. That is a very good point, and it
goes to a point that the chairman mentioned as well when he
talked about the virtual caliphate. And that is that one of the
unfortunate things or one of the realities that we face on the
Internet is that over time, you have a base of stuff that is
out there. And so there is a you can say a hill or a mountain
of poisonous stuff that has been spewed out by the extremists,
whether photos, or videos, or words, and it is there. And even
if the terrorists are eliminated, that material is still there,
and it can infect, it can poison young minds, impressionable
minds, anywhere in the world.
Mr. Duncan. Are you also looking--you are looking at what
al-Qaeda and the extremists are posting on their Web sites, but
you are also in the chat rooms, so you are seeing what possibly
a Major Hasan would post himself in a chat room and engaging in
conversation. Are you all monitoring that? Are you sharing that
with other intelligence agencies?
Ambassador Fernandez. Since we have a relationship with the
intelligence community, we get information from them, and we
also, when we see things, we share that with them if
Mr. Duncan. I think that is important. You know, I am
frustrated on Homeland Security when I hear some of the
agencies aren't talking, aren't sharing information, especially
when it comes to immigration issues. But I want to make sure
that we don't have this stovepipe effect that we experienced
after the 9/11, and what the commission report put out.
So, with that, Mr. Chairman, I will yield back.
Mr. Royce. Thank you, Mr. Duncan.
We will go now to Mr. Poe from Texas.
Mr. Poe. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
On Friday, a journalist who was angry with NBC's tape
delay, which we are not going to discuss, of the Olympics,
spoke out over Twitter. NBC complained to Twitter. By Sunday,
Twitter had shut down the journalist's account. Twitter
wouldn't restore that for 2 days.
But when it comes to a terrorist using Twitter, Twitter has
not shut down or suspended a single account. According to
Twitter's terms of policy, any ``person barred from receiving
services under the laws of the U.S. may not own a Twitter
account.'' Terrorist organizations using Twitter, to me, is a
violation of U.S. law.
Section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act states
that it is unlawful to provide a designated FTO with
``material, support, or resources, including any property,
tangible or intangible, or services.''
Among those, communication equipment and facilities.
Terrorists are using Twitter. Twitter is a communication
service. It seems like it is a violation of the law.
One example is the Somali al-Qaeda affiliate Al-Shabaab.
Shabaab is an officially recognized foreign terrorist
organization. Killed 74 people in a series of suicide bombings
in Uganda during the 2010 World Cup. Shabaab has its own
Twitter account. On December 7, interesting date, 2011, it
tweeted, ``The jihad being waged here in Somalia shall continue
until the country is purified of all the invaders.'' Two more
officially recognized foreign terrorist organizations, Hamas
and Hezbollah, started tweeting in 2009 and 2011 respectfully.
The Taliban, which the U.S. Government held accountable for the
attacks on 9/11, has two official Twitter accounts. August 8,
2011, the Taliban tweeted, ``Four American cowards killed, six
wounded in battle, two tanks destroyed.'' I could go on with
more and more, but I won't.
Twitter says it can't verify these accounts are really used
by terrorist groups or someone claiming to be these groups. So
Twitter relies on the United States Government to verify
accounts. Twitter says it will comply if the government asks
them to shut down an account.
To my knowledge, not one terrorist Twitter account has ever
been shut down by our Government.
And I want you to correct me if I am wrong on that, Mr.
There is a reason why Hezbollah tweeted an average of about
250 tweets a day since it opened its account in November.
Twitter is a great way to spread propaganda and get new
recruits and promote crimes against Americans.
My question is NBC was able to get the Twitter folks to
close it down because some civilian complained about their news
service or about the Olympics. Not saying that is right or
wrong, but that did occur.
So my question really is, can you describe the terrorists'
use of Twitter and what we are actively doing about it?
Ambassador Fernandez. I would say, sir, that is mostly a
law enforcement question. So it is not my area of
responsibility in the sense that we are dealing with
From what I see in Twitter, it is certainly in the
languages that we are working, it is not a major issue in the
vernacular languages. In other words, it is often used in
English to communicate with English language constituencies.
For example, Al-Shabaab using Twitter was in English, not in
So since we are focused on the vernacular languages,
Arabic, Urdu, Somali, and potentially others, that is not our
main area of focus.
But I certainly understand your concern. But I think that
is a question for law enforcement authorities, both here and
internationally, rather than a communications entity.
Mr. Poe. Does the State Department have a policy regarding
FTOs using Twitter? Do you have a policy about what the State
Department is going to do or not going do? Any policy at all
about Twitter? Or is that just somebody else's responsibility?
Ambassador Fernandez. Twitter, obviously, is an American
entity, and so it is all our responsibility.
But as I said, since we are focused overseas in foreign
languages and not in English and not in something like Twitter,
which is very narrowly defined; that is not an area where we
work on on a regular basis. Al-Qaeda doesn't use Twitter.
Mr. Poe. You would agree, would you not, that some foreign
terrorist organizations do?
Ambassador Fernandez. Definitely. Definitely.
Mr. Poe. It works. They get recruits, and they spread
propaganda. At least they claim to do things that have occurred
throughout the world. And so I am just concerned about what the
United States' position on that is and what we can do about it,
if anything. Do you have a recommendation?
Ambassador Fernandez. 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.
Certainly we need to look at all the tools in the toolbox.
And CSCC's view has always been that the area where the enemy
focuses on, that is where we should go. The main focus, for
example, of al-Qaeda's social media communications is video and
text on Web sites, on media fora. For them, Twitter is not
something that they look at.
As you mentioned very rightly, some other terrorist groups
do use it, especially to communicate with sympathizers in the
West. So to me, that seems that that is a very legitimate
question for law enforcement individuals in the State
Department and outside of the State Department.
Mr. Poe. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Royce. Thank you. We are going to go through another
round of questions.
Let me ask you this, Ambassador Fernandez. The State
Department has a reputation, in terms of the clearance process,
that a lot of times could hinder a rapid response, right? And
the one thing you need to be effective is the ability to
respond quickly. Is this a fair criticism, and how we can
ensure that what you do isn't weighed down by a process which
becomes very cumbersome, very bureaucratic in nature?
Ambassador Fernandez. Well, sir, anyone who has worked in
Washington in government knows the clearance process can be
very cumbersome. It is not just in the State Department. That
is true anywhere in government.
We are fortunate in CSCC in that the people that started
this about 1\1/2\ years ago realized that this was going to be
an issue. So when it comes to our digital operations, the
clearance process is internal to CSCC.
Mr. Royce. I see.
Ambassador Fernandez. Which means we are able to respond
within minutes to an opportunity.
Mr. Royce. Very good. I wonder if you could just give us an
example or two of the success beyond what we have talked about
today in terms of what you do, how it works. Just share it with
Ambassador Fernandez. Well, there are many. I would say
that it is not an easy thing. It is a difficult thing. One day
you feel you have made a success, and another day you feel like
you are starting all over again. The one that garnered a lot of
attention is an important one in that, as you know, al-Qaeda in
the Arabian Peninsula tried to establish a foothold in south
Yemen. We focused on that. We used all our tools and did, over
a very short period, 600 engagements. We put out videos. We put
out poster art like the one that you referred to. It received a
very positive response by basically people adopting the
rhetoric that we were using against the terrorists.
So, for example, one thing we did, al-Qaeda doesn't like to
call itself al-Qaeda in Yemen. They are ashamed of that. And so
they use a pseudonym. They call themselves Ansar al-Shariah.
Because sharia in some Muslim circles is like, you know, mom
and apple pie. And so we began in our messaging to call them
Ansar al-Sharr, which means Partisans of Evil. And we noticed
other people writing digitally adopting the nickname that we
had given to them. And this organization, al-Qaeda in the
Arabian Peninsula, in its last newsletter before it had to head
for the hills when the Yemeni army drove them out of their safe
havens, devoted an entire page to our operation, attacking what
we were doing.
Mr. Royce. That was clever, and it was quick. I remember
the 9/11 Commission, when they did their thorough study of our
national security agencies, said we just lacked imagination.
And the other concern is just that imagination can get quashed
or destroyed by bureaucracy. So you have got a situation where
everything is pre-cleared, you can basically use your best
judgment to keep up with the terrorist networks.
But let me ask you this. The other thing we are really
interested in is how to quickly close down these sites. Now, I
know as fast as these sites move and spring up and you try to
stay abreast of them, that that is a difficult process. But
tell us how you work in conjunction to make sure that we do all
we can do to get these things off the Web.
Ambassador Fernandez. That is a good question. I mean,
there are two issues here. There are terrorist sites where
terrorists communicate to each other. And those are often
password protected sites, those are basically terrorists have
to sign in, you know, this is terrorist so and so from--known
by somebody. Those are the object of cyber operations. Where we
focus on is a slightly larger but more dangerous pool, which
is, as I was telling Mr. Duncan, the terrorists want to go from
the margins to the mainstream. They want to metastasize. They
want to infect a larger population. So where we focus with our
overt work are these--the middle ground of the contested space,
which are sites that often are very political sites where
people in the Muslim world are concerned about politics and
reading about politics. And al-Qaeda trolls for people to
radicalize them, to make them from maybe people who are unhappy
with the United States or even angry at the United States to go
that extra mile from being angry to being a terrorist. So that
is the area where we are working.
Mr. Royce. Thank you, Ambassador Fernandez.
Mr. Sherman. One of the important things in protecting the
American homeland is to prevent the radicalization of those who
are fluent in English and could be the most effective
terrorists operating here. Do you operate in English? And if
not, who does?
Ambassador Fernandez. Sir, we do not operate in English.
Obviously, since our being with the State Department, our focus
being overseas, our main focus is of course in those vernacular
languages which I mentioned. A lot of what you are talking
about of course is extremely important. It falls in the area of
domestic radicalization, would be DHS and others.
Mr. Sherman. There is an international component to
everything I am talking about.
Ambassador Fernandez. Yes.
Mr. Sherman. U.S.-based sites don't say how to build a bomb
in the kitchen of your mom. So all of this is international.
The English language is international. And preventing someone
fluent in English from becoming radicalized may be many times
more important than preventing someone else from being
radicalized in the sense of protecting the districts we
represent. It is hard to criticize you for not doing more,
because your budget is I believe the smallest of any government
entity that has come before this subcommittee, let alone the
And so let me continue my efforts to get you to do more
without necessarily being part of getting you any more
resources. You seem to be focused on Sunni terrorism. What
about the Shiite extremist groups and the Farsi language?
Ambassador Fernandez. Farsi has not been our focus at all.
We focus on those three languages. There are obviously other
terrorist groups, like Hezbollah, which are of great concern to
all of us. That has not been a task that we have taken on yet.
But if we are directed to do so through the interagency, we are
very happy to engage on that issue with the same alacrity and
the same tools that we have engaged in Arabic against al-Qaeda.
Mr. Sherman. Congress never said limit yourself to the
Sunnis or limit yourself to the three languages you are doing.
We would like you to do it all. And you may have to be larger.
And I would hope that those a pay grade or two above you will
indicate how we can make your operation larger without
necessarily increasing the entire State Department budget.
I would like to get back to the idea of taking down the bad
sites. You have indicated these sites come and go. Have any of
them gone in the sense of the plug was pulled on them? And has
there been traffic where people complain that there was a
popular terrorist Web site, and it looks like the damn
Americans or somebody else has taken it down?
Ambassador Fernandez. That certainly has been things that
have been said at times by terrorist groups and their
sympathizers. But given the nature of the Internet, and given
its very fluid nature, these things do tend to pop up. You
know, when they are taken down, they pop up in a different--or
a similar organization takes its place.
Mr. Sherman. The disadvantage to the terrorists there is
that, you know, a lot of American companies spend a fortune to
get you on their, you know, bookmarked, et cetera. And to the
extent that you can have people say, oh, that site is not
there, I got to go search, maybe they will end up at a
Ambassador Fernandez. Make it more difficult.
Mr. Sherman. Yes, exactly.
Ambassador Fernandez. Or put a cupcake on the picture, as I
think I read on Congressman Royce's blog.
Mr. Sherman. You are searching the Internet more than I am.
I have not read Congressman Royce's blog. I am sure he will
tell me about it on the floor.
With that, I yield back.
Mr. Royce. I will do it on your time right now. Foreign
Intrigue Blog, if you would like to access the Web site. The
Foreign Intrigue Blog.
Thank you, Mr. Sherman.
Mr. Duncan. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
As I have been sitting here listening, I keep going back to
a couple of things. I want to blend some of the things I asked
earlier with what Congressman Poe had mentioned. You know,
Twitter is used abroad. And I think the center's jurisdiction
is focused on abroad, communications abroad, the foreign
audience, communicating with a foreign audience. So I disagree
with one thing you said. I don't believe this is a DHS or an
FBI law enforcement jurisdiction area. I do think the
Department of State and your center does have some jurisdiction
in this as regard to what foreign nationals do use Twitter for.
And they are absolutely using Twitter. That is not a question.
That is just a statement. If you want to respond to that in
just a minute, I don't mind that.
But you keep going back to al-Qaeda. Is it the State
Department and this administration's policy that al-Qaeda is
our only threat?
Ambassador Fernandez. We are guided by the National
Mr. Duncan. Would you pull the microphone up a little bit?
Ambassador Fernandez. We are governed by the National
Counterterrorism Strategy. The main focus of the National
Counterterrorism Strategy is al-Qaeda. It also refers to other
terrorist threats throughout the world. Given the sheer volume
of poison that they put out in the digital world and in the
communications world, it made sense for this organization,
which is such a new organization, to focus on them. Certainly
we are open to direction to do new tasks. But you have seen the
threat information, as we have, and you have seen just the
sheer volume of stuff that is put out there.
Mr. Duncan. And it is amazing. It is overwhelming. I agree
with you there. We have had this conversation.
Ambassador Fernandez. We are certainly willing to look at
Mr. Duncan. I just don't want the agency, the State
Department or any agency, to get tunnel vision, to be so
focused on what you perceive as the threat coming from al-Qaeda
that we get blindsided. Now, I hope you have looked at the
foreign terrorist organization list on the State Department Web
Ambassador Fernandez. Yes.
Mr. Duncan. I glanced as it just now. And I see Hezbollah,
Abu Sayyaf, Hamas, Palestinian Liberation Front, Al-Shabaab,
Haqqani, Boko Haram, FARC. There are a lot of threats to this
Nation. And we look at what has happened just in the Western
Hemisphere with Iran coming over and the Saudi Ambassador
assassination attempt that was thwarted. There are so many
things, I do not want you to get tunnel vision. I think America
is threatened more by the State Department focusing solely on
And so as you are monitoring these sites, you know, you
better monitor Hamas. You better monitor Hezbollah. You better
monitor Abu Sayyaf, which is limited, but there are a number of
others. I just want to raise awareness to that and ask you to
respond to what is being done.
Ambassador Fernandez. We are certainly very open-minded
about the threat. Obviously, there is a lot the U.S.
Government, including the State Department, does on
counterterrorism aside from the communications field, a whole
range of policies directed at all of those groups. But we are
open to looking at those threats. We certainly aim not to have
I think maybe because we have a small budget, we want to be
nimble. We want to be agile. We want to be creative. And we
have been. So we will continue to be that way and monitor and
look at the threat and go wherever the threat takes us.
Mr. Duncan. Was your area within the State Department
Ambassador Fernandez. Yes, very much so.
Mr. Duncan. Okay. We have seen that created. We have seen
the Department of Homeland Security created, 15,000 employees,
$3.4 billion complex out on the Potomac. We are spending a heck
of a lot of money in this country to bring assets online. And I
can go on and on, National Counterterrorism Center and other
things. I want to make sure that you guys are all talking. I
think there is--you know, State is looking foreign, but I think
there is a tie in and a need to make sure that NCTC, and your
group there at State, and Homeland Security, and everyone else
are communicating, sharing information. As overwhelming as it
is, there are ways to assimilate and tie that information
together. Are you doing that?
Ambassador Fernandez. Absolutely.
Mr. Duncan. Are there shared systems? Are there platforms,
Google-based, where this information is all pulled together if
you search one search word?
Ambassador Fernandez. Absolutely. We think one of our
distinctive features is our connection to the intelligence
community. So that we are able to leverage the best analysis
and thought of the intelligence community in our work. And it
goes both ways. We sometimes find things that are of great use
or interest to them, and they also help us in the whole
question of collection of data, whether they be images,
information, material that we can use to disparage and
discredit the enemy. So, yes, I think there is an excellent
relationship, excellent communication with CIA, with NCTC, and
Mr. Duncan. Ambassador, you have a challenge. And so thank
you for sharing this. It is something I think we, as Congress,
and the administration needs to work on to protect America. I
appreciate your efforts.
Ambassador Fernandez. Thank you.
Mr. Royce. I thank you. I think the members are supportive
of your efforts here. You are taking on a very difficult
mission. We will want to keep the conversation on this going. I
wouldn't be surprised if at some point you run into some of the
same quality control issues that we have had with VOA and RFA
on the Persian Service with respect to some of the Farsi
speakers. It just seems to go with the territory. But as long
as you are attuned to it, I think that would be important. As I
mentioned, we will have some specific questions for you on the
record. And again, we appreciate all your efforts. We stand
[Whereupon, at 3:04 p.m., the subcommittee was adjourned.]
A P P E N D I X
Material Submitted for the Hearing RecordNotice deg.