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State Department’s Struggling ISIS Counter Propaganda Team Only Has 20 Employees

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Jonah Bennett Contributor
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The Department of State only has 20 employees dedicated to countering Islamic State’s sophisticated propaganda engine, and those 20 just can’t compete.

ISIS’ propaganda team has managed to attract 16 million Muslims via social media to support the group’s cause, Defense One reports. The Department of Defense is working in tandem with the State Department, but also has a separate mission, namely extracting information to assist with tracking down and targeting members of the group.

But the agencies need help. Michael Lumpkin, assistant secretary of defense for special operations, said the government has contacted social media companies in the private sector that have expertise in the area because 20 people simply aren’t enough to combat the wildly successful ISIS propaganda juggernaut.

“In the CSCC, there’s 20 some odd people who are working that particular mission set and we’re providing about 25 percent of them, detailed at the Department of State to assist with that mission,” Lumpkin told Congress Thursday, according to Defense One. “The fact that we have 25 percent of the CSCC detail to fill critical positions over there tells me that they don’t have the manpower to put against the mission like they would.”

ISIS, through its media operation Al Hayat, has released hundreds of videos. Some of those videos feature decapitation. Others are long-form, done in documentary style, and focus on history. And the videos aren’t amateurish. They’re full of techniques borrowed from Hollywood. The narrative is strong enough to motivate thousands to leave their lives behind to fight for ISIS in Iraq and Syria. ISIS provides meaning to these 20,000 foreign fighters.

One of the State Department’s counter propaganda attempts so far, the Think Again Turn Away campaign, has attracted criticism for being ineffective and instead providing a platform for Jihadis to boost their message.

Rita Katz, director of the SITE Intelligence Group, argued last September in an op-ed for Time Magazine that the campaign is a disaster run by people who have little understanding on how those sympathetic to ISIS think and operate.

“Had the people behind Think Again Turn Away understood jihadists’ mindsets and reasons for their behavior, they would have known that their project of counter messaging would not only be a waste of taxpayer money, but ultimately be counterproductive,” Katz wrote.

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