Background Briefing on Secretary Clinton's Speech "A Smart Power Approach to Counterterrorism"

Special Briefing
Senior Administration Official
Conference Call
September 9, 2011

MR. TONER: Good morning, everyone, and thanks to all for joining us at such short notice. As you know, the Secretary is giving remarks this morning very shortly from now on smart power approach to counterterrorism. We thought it would be useful to have someone walk you through some of the highlights of that speech before she actually gives it. So without further ado, I’d like to introduce [Senior Administration Official One], who will be known as Senior Administration Official Number One. And just a reminder, this is on background.

So without further ado, handing it over to [Senior Administration Official One].

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Good morning, everybody. Thank you for joining us. As you know, this speech was designed to be part of the commemoration of the 10-year anniversary since the September 11 attack. The Secretary thought it would be appropriate to stand back and talk about the Administration’s approach to counterterrorism, but it obviously takes on new relevance given what we have heard about a heightened alert status.

Fundamentally, this speech, if you’ve had a chance to look at it – you should all have embargoed copies – is designed to talk about using all the tools of American power, including our values and our strong democratic leadership around the world to fight counterterrorism and embedding the fight against terrorism in our larger approach to values-based global leadership.

So just walking you through it – and you’ll see that throughout this speech, she emphasizes that the fight against counter – against terrorism has to be not just a fight about what we are against, but we have to fight for what we are for, namely our values of tolerance, equality, and opportunity for universal rights and the rule of law.

So, at the top of the speech, she makes clear that the military fight continues. We have unfinished business and we will do what we need to do to confront terrorists militarily where they live, but we will do so within international law standards and in keeping with our highest values. But we also have to work to cut the roots out from under terrorists, and that means attacking finances, attacking their ability to recruit, and attacking their ability to have safe havens.

So, in the section “Taking the Fight to al-Qaida,” she talks about the force piece here, but she also talks about the justice piece. Draw your attention to page five, where she makes clear that in doing – we will – we maintain the right to use force against groups such as al-Qaida that have attacked us and still threaten us with imminent violence, but in doing so we will stay true to our values and respect the rule of law, including international law principles. And then further down, she makes clear our intention to make full use of civilian courts and reformed military commissions, because this sends a message to the world about the importance of rule of law in confronting terrorism.

Further on, she talks about how the threat has changed. After the loss of – the death of bin Ladin, the threat from the Afghan-Pakistan border remains, but the al-Qaida threat has become more diffuse.

On page six, you see that she talks about al-Qaida now as a syndicate of terror. It is not a monolith. It’s becoming more geographically diverse and she specifically talks about al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, with bases in Yemen trying to do attacks beyond its bases, and about al-Shabaab in Somalia, as two examples there.

Further on, she talks about how our larger goals, globally, of supporting democratic change, supporting prosperity, fighting poverty, fighting repression, supporting rule of law are also counterterrorism objectives. And in this regard, the work that we do to try to resolve conflicts, reduce poverty, improve governance also drain the swamp that terrorists try to live in and exploit.

Some specific areas of innovation noted on page seven, I would call your attention to new biometric screening tools to improve border security and visa processes – electronic fingerprinting, facial recognition, iris scans. And then also in the category of making it harder for terrorists to operate, our work to combat terror finance, working with countries around the world to put new tough legislation in place, to disrupt illicit financial networks, but as a result of it becoming harder for terrorists to use official networks, having now to confront their alternative strategies where they fund their operation through criminal activity and kidnapping. So we also have to work with governments to ensure that we have a no-concessions policy, no paying ransom to kidnappers, et cetera.

In the category of trying to drain the swamp of new recruits, trying to slow recruitment, you see starting on page eight and nine she talks about a number of initiatives. First of all, trying to counter the extremist narrative, this speaks to the establishment at the State Department of the special representative to Muslim communities, to step up in our engagement in the most crucial spaces, putting our own people, speaking Arabic, Urdu, and Dari, on key television stations to counteract misinformation, and the development and launching now of a new center for strategic counterterrorism communications, which is focused on undermining terrorist propaganda, dissuading potential recruits. This is housed in the State Department, but it’s a whole-of-government approach that includes Urdu and Arabic speakers who make up a special digital outreach team and are getting up online, contesting the narrative in terror on terrorist websites and forums, and getting in it and arguing their points with young people.

She also talks, starting on page nine, about what we’ve learned about key recruiting hotspots, that terrorists have been more successful in hotspots where economic opportunity is in short supply, where education is biased in favor of an extremist narrative, and the importance of using a scalpel, not a sledgehammer, working with local leaders in particular places where recruiting has been most successful to try to empower a more progressive, democratic narrative and to provide alternative opportunities for young people, to deny recruiters the opportunity to turn kids extreme – and there are some examples here – working with the Kenyan Muslim Youth Association, working with the Sisters Against Violence, particularly focusing our efforts in Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Pakistan, Yemen, and obviously Afghanistan.

And then the last piece here is the importance of strengthening the diplomatic offensive to build – both to build partner capacity and to maintain a strong global community, a global coalition against terrorism. So here on page 10 and 11, talking about first elevating our own counterterrorism effort to the level of assistant secretary, then our efforts to expand our training programs to some 60 countries – we’ve now trained some 7,000 law enforcement and counterterrorism officials around the world – strengthening capacity, building in frontline states Yemen and Pakistan.

Also, we discovered that in fact, there is no dedicated international venue to regularly convene counterterrorism policymakers and practitioners from around the world. So at the UNGA, working with Turkey, the United States will serve as a founding co-chair, along with 30 other nations, of a new global counterterrorism forum. This forum is designed to assist countries that are transitioning from authoritarian rule to democracy and rule of law. It’s going to provide support, particularly in the civilian sector, best practices, writing of new legislation, training police, prosecutors, judges, but all within the context of upholding the strongest standards of universal human rights.

Finally, at the end of the speech, she talks about the essential element of defeating an extremist ideology with an ideology of hope, democracy, prosperity, universal values, tapping into the aspirations for change that we’ve seen across North Africa and the broader Middle East, and rooted very much in American leadership, American confidence in our own values, in our own open democratic system which must not only be maintained, it has to be strengthened as a key element of serving as a beacon for others around the world and for defeating terror.

So with that, let me pause and take any questions.

MR. TONER: We can go ahead and take some questions now.

OPERATOR: Thank you. At this time, we’re ready to begin the question-and-answer session. If you would like to ask a question, please press *1 and record your name and news organization clearly so I may introduce you into the call. Again, press *1 to ask a question. And one moment for our first question.

One moment, please. We do have a question from Kirit Radia with ABC News. You may ask your question.


QUESTION: Hi, [Senior Administration Official One]. It’s Kirit. Thanks for doing this. I do have a quick question about the terror plot that came out last night. I know it’s not exactly about the speech, but there was some reporting that this was the result of a tip from a walk-in into a U.S. Embassy. I’m curious if you could tell us anything about that, since we’re on background.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: I cannot, Kirit. We are not prepared to talk at all about the intelligence surrounding this issue.

MR. TONER: Next question.

OPERATOR: At this time, I’m showing no further questions. Again, if you’d like to ask a question, please press *1. Again, press *1 to ask a question.

And one moment for our next question.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Okay, good. Well, if we have no questions, we will look forward to the speech in about half an hour.

OPERATOR: We did have one question, if you’d like to take it yet.


OPERATOR: And that’s from Chris Hawley with Associated Press. You may ask your question.

QUESTION: Hi, there. Last week, we had a very large story kind of looking at terrorism arrests around the world, and we found that something like 35,000 people have been convicted of terrorism in the last 10 years and a lot of this stems from sort of U.S. pressure and aid toward other countries. But at the same time, a lot of groups are saying that many countries are using this as an excuse to crack down on political dissidents. Are there any protections or guidelines you guys are adopting as you go into this quote/unquote “smart approach” to protect political dissent?


First and foremost, I think when you hear the speech, when you see the speech, you’ll see that the Secretary makes clear that one of our strongest and most important U.S. weapons in the fight against terror is our own adherence to the highest standards of international law. So in the training programs that we are doing for other countries, in the best practices that we are trying to share, and in the example that we set – and particularly, as I said, she cites the importance of being able to use both civilian courts and reformed military courts to try terrorists in a transparent manner which protects their rights – we are trying to set an example for countries around the world in the way this has to be handled, and that this is about trying terrorists, this is not about using terrorism as an excuse to settle scores or handle other issues.

QUESTION: Got it. All right. Many thanks.


OPERATOR: Thank you. At this time, I’m showing no further questions.

SENIOR ADMINISTRATION OFFICIAL ONE: Thank you very much, everybody.

PRN: 2011/1450