By Jamie Crawford
The State Department on Wednesday elevated its counterterrorism efforts, putting them in the same class as its divisions that oversee regional international diplomacy and intelligence gathering.
The change in status to a full-fledged bureau, announced in September, will help raise the department's profile and its work in counterterrorism efforts both in the United States and abroad, Daniel Benjamin, the State Department coordinator for counterterrorism said at a briefing with reporters Wednesday.
"Our ability to oversee and implement (counterterrorism) programs, which cover, by the way, everything from police training to countering the al Qaeda narrative, will be strengthened by the establishment of the bureau," Benjamin said.
The elevation in status for the office has been a central goal for Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Though much progress has been made in combating terrorism since the 9/11 attacks, the Obama administration early in 2009 said improvements were needed in building foreign-partner capacity to combat terrorism.
"As the threat from al Qaeda becomes more diffuse, it is in the interest of the United States to forge closer ties with the governments and communities on the front lines and to help them build up their counterterrorism capacity," Clinton said in the speech in September in which she announced the plan to upgrade the status of the counterterrorism office. "We need to expand our efforts to build an international counterterrorism network that is as nimble and adaptive as our adversaries."
In coordination with department leadership, the new bureau will work with the National Security Council staff at the White House and other government agencies to develop and implement counterterrorism strategies.
Specifically, the new bureau will take the lead in U.S. government efforts to reduce radicalization and mobilization abroad. It will also work with the recently established Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications to find ways to counter violent extremist narratives, and develop alternatives for populations that are vulnerable to those messages.
The bureau also will "partner with governments and civil society in building capacity to counter violent extremism," Benjamin said.
The upgrade comes at a time of increasing bellicosity and tension from Iran, and questions about how strong a partner Pakistan can be in the wake of a series of incidents that have led to a souring of U.S.-Pakistani relations. While the timing was not lost on Benjamin, he maintained the "glass is 98 percent full" in terms of international cooperation on counterterrorism, and that such cooperation is "one of the great unsung successes of the last decade."
And as the United States continues on a timeline that seeks to end military operations in Afghanistan by 2014, the new bureau will play a bigger role in that nation.
"We all know that there is no way to shoot our way out of this problem conclusively and forever," Benjamin said. "That's why we are strengthening our engagement with others to support their civilian institutions so that they can actually hold that territory, police that territory," and put on trial people who seek to carry out attacks there, he said.
In a nod to the era of tight budgets and austerity, the State Department said the establishment of the new bureau will be paid for with existing funds and appropriations.