Background Briefing: Preview of the Global Counterterrorism Forum

Special Briefing
Office of the Spokesperson
New York City
September 21, 2011

MODERATOR: All right, everybody. Thank you for coming, as (inaudible) time. We have a briefing to preview tomorrow’s Global Counterterrorism Forum. Our two speakers today are [Senior Officials One and Two], hereafter referred to as Senior Official Number One and Senior Official Number Two, if he chimes in.

Over to you, [Senior Official One].

SENIOR OFFICIAL ONE: Okay, very good. Well, thanks for coming.

A little background to begin with: The Administration came into office with, I think, a strong sense that we were doing very well on critical parts of the counterterrorism mission, specifically the tactical side, which involves putting terrorists out of business, disrupting their plots, preventing them from carrying through their conspiracies, but that we had a lot of work to do to go at it in a more long-term strategic frame. And the two key elements of that are we needed states that are more capable of dealing with the threats within their borders and within their regions, and we also needed to make a better – to do a better job of diminishing the number of recruits, and really undermining the ideology that is driving the terrorism we see today.

So we have been working hard on those issues. You’ll see them reflected in the National Counterterrorism Strategy. And tomorrow’s launch is one of the major initiatives within this framework. The Global Counterterrorism Forum is meant to create something that doesn’t exist on the international landscape. It’s supposed to create a venue where partners can come together and identify urgent needs in counterterrorism around the world, devise solutions – and we can talk about the role of experts in this in a bit, because they’re really at the heart of this – and mobilize the resources to implement those solutions.

It is meant to be, from the get-go, a nimble, action-oriented organization. And it is meant to really move past some of the debates that have paralyzed – or inhibited, at least – multilateral institutions in the past from dealing with counterterrorism, specifically the endless debate over who is a terrorist.

The – this initiative was built, frankly, on the failure of earlier such initiatives. The G-8 had the Counterterrorism Action Group, which was meant to be a capacity-building organization, but never realized the vision of its founding. And so with that in mind, we understood that to make something like this work, it had to be a group that brought together wealthy donor nations, principally in the West – Japan, Australia – and Muslim-majority nations who – many of whom are on the front lines. And in addition, we wanted to make sure that there were the great powers, the big emerging powers, whatever – however you want to describe them.

There are 29 countries in the EU that are members. There is a – I believe we have 11 Muslim majority nations, and China, India, Russia as well, along with regional representation from South America and Africa. The group is going to, as I said, be focused on getting stuff done and not on debating issues of doctrine. And it will be comprised of a coordinating committee, a plenary as it is – as it were of foreign ministry officials, but the real action is going to take place in working groups.

And there are five working groups that will be stood up. One – two of them are functional; three of them are focused on regions. The two functional ones are criminal justice, rule of law. The second one is countering violent extremism – that is counter-radicalization, countering the ideology. And the three regional ones are the Sahel, the Horn of Africa, and Southeast Asia. The working groups, I should add, will be co-chaired by members of the GCTF but will be open to other countries, particularly in those regions, but to countries around the world, especially for the functional ones.

It is important to underscore that we wanted to get a running start, that we wanted to show, from the outset, that this is a group that can do exactly what it claims, that it can mobilize resources and identify problems. And to that end, we are going to be unveiling two significant deliverables tomorrow. The first one will be in the area of the rule of law, and although the numbers are not final yet, we will announce programming of at least $75 million – and it may run as high as 100; we’ll have to see what the final numbers are – to help countries that are trying build stronger rule of law institutions so that their police are properly trained to deal with counterterrorism, so that their prosecutors know how to bring cases against terrorists, so that their judges can handle terrorism cases, so that their legislators can write the necessary legislation so that have what they need to deal with this in their judicial system, and also so that their prisons don’t become incubators of terrorism and so that they – there are rehabilitation programs so that when people come out of those prisons they really are separated from the extremist milieus that they were involved in.

A particular focus of this deliverable will be countries that are transitioning from emergency law to true democratic rule of law. And you’ve heard the President and the Secretary – and you’ve heard the President, today in particular, talk about all the changes in the Maghreb and in Egypt, and elsewhere. The countries there that are transitioning from emergency law are going to be particular beneficiaries, we believe, of this effort. And this is worth underscoring, because we view it as vitally important that countries that had been under emergency law get away from the repressive tactics that they had used in the past, because those were, in fact, drivers of radicalization and contributed to the problems we face today. And those countries understand that, and I think they are looking forward to this engagement to this, this support.

And I would add that, paired with that funding, there will be a declaration of principles, as it were, on the important role of the rule of law in fighting terrorism. And as you probably know from Secretary Clinton’s speech just before 9/11 and from the speeches from John Brennan, this is something that the Administration puts a great deal of emphasis on. We strongly believe that civilian courts have an essential role to play in terms of fighting terrorism, not only because they can be very effective at dealing with terrorists and a very important way for free societies to deal with these wrong-doers, but also because they play an important role in deflating terrorists within these societies, that is they knock them down to size. They’re shown to be ordinary individuals who’ve committed crimes in the face of the courts and by extension in the face of society. So that’s one important deliverable, and we’re very pleased by the support that we’ve had for that. There really was a real coalescing of partners to come together and support that deliverable.

The second one is going to be an announcement of the intention to establish the first Global Center of Excellence in – for Countering Violent Extremism. And those of you who cover the Administration know that CVE is, as it’s often called, has been a particular emphasis, that the Department in particular has been working to up its game in this area. We have established the Counterterrorism Strategic Communication Center, which is an important stride forward. This center, we think, will have a really important impact in terms of giving other countries the insights and the training they need to do their own programs at home and configure their own policies, so that as they fight terrorism they’re not creating more extremists along the way. We envision that this center will provide a good deal of training of government officials from interested countries around the world, as well as to NGOs, community leaders, and the like. It will have a broad curriculum. It will be stood up over probably a period of five years. It should open its doors in one year, and the host will be Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates.

This is – if you attended the Secretary General’s symposium on counterterrorism the other day, you know that everyone agrees that countering the ideology, countering the drivers of radicalism, is one of the key items on the international agenda. And so we believe that this a really vital step forward. There’s an awful lot of sharing to be had, a lot of lessons learned from different countries and different circumstances. Obviously, there’s no cookie cutter way to go at this, but this is a vital task. And from our perspective, it goes a long way towards meeting that challenge of creating strategic counterterrorism policies.

Let me just sum up before opening up to questions by saying that we believe that the Global Counterterrorism Forum is going to play a critical role in terms of setting the international agenda, in terms of urgent needs in the areas of counterterrorism. It’s going to focus on civilian institutions; it’s going to focus on, for example, rule of law, as I mentioned; border security, which is an absolutely critical problem in many countries and has contributed to the creation of safe havens for terrorists; and it’s going to focus on CVE, whether it’s in police departments, educational institutions, communities, you name it. And so we believe that it will have – it will be able to set the agenda. It will bring together experts in these working groups. And I should underscore that the working groups will be led by experts not by diplomats, so for example, the United States and Egypt are the co-chairs of the rule of law working group, and so it will design solutions and then it will mobilize resources to make those solutions become realities. And, as I said, we’ve had enormous support on this initiative. We were sorry that we couldn’t make it larger to begin with, but we felt that we had to remain small and nimble. There’s been a lot of interest from other countries, but the ones that are in it have been very, very committed, and we’re – we think that this is an institution – I’m sorry, this is an organization that has a very bright future ahead of it.

So why don’t I stop there and open it up to you.

MODERATOR: Let me just mention before questions, you have the factsheet there on the Global Counterterrorism Forum, which you can take away as well.

Questions for Senior Official Number One?

QUESTION: I had just a question about – you mentioned the three regions – the Sahel, the Maghreb, and Southeast Asia. Will there be any --

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sahel, Horn of Africa, and Southeast Asia, yeah.

QUESTION: Will the Arabian Peninsula, like Yemen, and South Asia and Pakistan – will efforts to work with those countries be part of this?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That really is going to be up to the members to decide where they want to be. Obviously, Yemen and Pakistan both have very serious terrorism issues. But at the same time, there was a feeling from the beginning that these other areas, because of the existing networks of partners working in them, because of the focus that they’ve received from large donors such as the EU and the like, that these were the appropriate places to start.

And I would add some of them have already had really positive experiences in terms of capacity building, and I’m going to keep coming back to capacity building because that’s really what it’s about. If you remember the Secretary’s speech, she highlighted the successes that Indonesia has had in terms of upgrading its police and its court system. And so it’s places like that where I think you can put points on the board early, and we want to get some real momentum behind this organization.

MODERATOR: Good. Anything else?

QUESTION: I’m from Russia news agency. Do you think anything coming from Russia, specifics from in this forum?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Russia has been involved in the discussions from the very outset. I should add that it’s – this has been a year in the making. We basically had our very first discussions with other countries last year at the time of the General Assembly.

Russia has been an integral part of all of the preparatory meetings that have led to the establishment of the GCTF. It’s been very supportive. And in fact, you will hear – probably hear the Secretary tomorrow mention that one of the seeds for this idea came from a conversation she had with Minister – Foreign Minister Lavrov, who at one point said to her we really need something like this. So Russia has been in from the beginning.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MODERATOR: Other questions? Good. Just to thank our briefers and to remind everybody in the room that this is a background briefing attributed to Senior State Department Official.

Before we close today, in case you haven’t seen it, we have now a statement from President Obama and a statement from Secretary Clinton welcoming the release of Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal from detention in Iran. And we will see you at 4:30 for another briefing on Africa issues. Thank you very much.


PRN: 2011/1559