Quotable: Curtis Kimbrell on “bureaucratic fixes” in the information war

Tuesday, March 29th 2016


“The Islamic State is winning the information war. * * *  ‘To date, the American effort to get into the game has been half-hearted and limited to bureaucratic fixes.’”  Army Captain Curtis Kimbrell, an instructor in the Defense and Strategic Studies program at West Point, reviewed the establishment of the Global Engagement Center in an essay, “How to Win the War of Words,” on the website of the Modern War Institute on February 24, 2016.  He added that “Goals that may not be able to be achieved unless the Center is elevated to a presence on the National Security Council.”  Here are some of Captain Kimbrell’s key points:


  • The United States is not making major changes to its strategic communication efforts but the bureaucratic fixes seem endless.


  • In January of this year, the US Department of State created the Center for Global Engagement giving them the responsibilities of coordinating, integrating, and synchronizing messaging to foreign audiences that undermines the disinformation espoused by violent extremist groups.



  • While the bureaucracy continues to plow ahead, others have started to take action. Since December of 2015, Anonymous has targeted and disabled many Islamic State social media efforts. Bae Systems and MTN Government are examples of industry taking action to analyze and interpret Islamic State social media efforts in order to produce actionable intelligence.


  • It is efforts like these that will lead to the end of the successful social media campaigns employed by the Islamic State. Even efforts made last week by Secretary of State John Kerry when he met with Hollywood executives to discuss the idea of creating propaganda to counter the Islamic State messages may be effective.


  • We can only hope that the bureaucratic efforts end and the Global Engagement Center will deliver on its stated implementation plan by:


  • Seeking out and engaging the best talent, within the technology sector, government and beyond


►Engaging across our government to coordinate, integrate and synchronize counter-terrorism communications directed toward foreign audiences;

►Identifying and enabling international partners with credibility and expertise

            ►Establishing and implementing a campaign-focused culture;

►Scaling up data science and analytics and using both throughout the design, implementation and evaluation phases of these campaigns;

►Providing seed funding and other support to NGOs and media startups focused on countering violent extremist messaging;

►Identifying gaps in U.S. Government messaging and counter- messaging capabilities directed toward foreign audiences, and recommending steps to resolve them; and

►Sharing information and best practices with U.S. Government agencies focused on the challenge of homegrown violent extremism.

►Amplifying the successes of the Counter-ISIL Coalition in defeating ISIL on both the military and information battlefield.


  • These are lofty implementation goals. Goals that may not be able to be achieved unless the Center is elevated to a presence on the National Security Council. This presence is required for one simple reason; information is an instrument of national power. Honing this instrument will eventually lead to success and we will see the Islamic State’s social media campaign finally begin to falter.

Donald M. Bishop is the Bren Chair of Strategic Communications at Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia. 

Mr. Bishop served as a Foreign Service Officer – first in the U.S. Information Agency and then in the Department of State – for 31 years.  Specializing in Public Diplomacy, political-military affairs, and East Asia, he attained the rank of Minister-Counselor in the career service.  He was President of the Public Diplomacy Council from 2013 to 2015 and is now a member of the Board of Directors.

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Author: Donald M. Bishop

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