U.S. looks to counter Al Qaida effort in media

The U.S. is attempting to claim the digital space in the media from the terrorist organization Al Qaida and its propaganda by engaging with individuals online, the State Department said on Wednesday.

Alberto Fernandez, the coordinator for the State Department's Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, made the remarks during the War of Ideas in the Disinformation Age conference at the Newseum in Washington. Fernandez said the department started the CSCC more than two years ago to give the U.S. government a hub to stop Al Qaida from making terrorism-related connections online.

"We message daily in Arabic, Urdu, Somali, Punjabi and, as of a few days ago and in a very modest way, English," Fernandez said. "Since 2011, we have produced well over 18,000 engagements in the form of texts, graphics and video. We work closely with, and depend on, partners throughout the interagency and with a growing list of overseas counterparts and like-minded organizations in over a dozen countries."

Fernandez said that despite Al Qaida's slaughter of thousands of Muslims through terrorist acts, the organization has been able to recruit new members to its ranks through the creation of a global jihad narrative.

Fernandez said the CSCC is using a three-fold approach to disrupt Al Qaida's narrative, including contesting the digital space, redirecting the conversation and unnerving the adversary. He said the redirection of the conversation is particularly important as a defensive strategy against terrorism.

"To redirect the conversation - to make this as much as possible about the adversary and his shortcomings rather than about the many alleged transgressions of American foreign policy," Fernandez said. "In this, CSCC is quite different from traditional public affairs and public diplomacy as it is done by most in the (U.S. government). What we try to do is not to affirm the positive about ourselves but to emphasize the negative about the adversary. It is about offense and not defense."

Fernandez said that public diplomacy needs to be essential in a world that requires influencing new audiences and nontraditional players.

"The challenge for all of us who work in public diplomacy and in foreign affairs is to make sure that we have the right mix of people, programs, vision, and mandate to achieve the desired effects on the ground we all want to see," Fernandez said.