HSToday: Exposing Terrorist Networks Focus Of New NGO Led By Frances Townsend


Frances Townsend is on the warpath to expose not only the financing conduits for radical Islamic groups, but to determine where the money is coming from and how it’s being moved.

Former Assistant to President George W. Bush for Homeland Security and Counterterrorism and chair of the Homeland Security Council, Townsend recently established a new counterterrorism NGO, the Counter Extremism Project (CEP), for which she serves as president. CEP's mission is to uncover and connect the dots of extremist Islamist groups’ financing, and to aggressively challenge the extremist Islamist narrative.

Based in New York, CEP is a not-for-profit, non-partisan international policy organization formed expressly to combat the growing threat from extremist jihadist ideology by assembling a global network of counter-extremism and security experts to create a data base of the supporters of extremists and their financial networks.

Led by a renowned group of former diplomats and international leaders, CEP aims to combat extremism by putting pressure on terrorists’ financial support networks, countering the narrative of extremists and their online recruitment and advocating for stronger laws, policies and regulations.

Townsend told Homeland Security Today CEP will do what governments have a difficult time doing, which is effectively countering the extremist narrative.

“The government alone can’t fight this problem,” Townsend said, noting that, “Much of our experience and the tools we have were used to counter the Iranian regime of covert financing of their nuclear program.”

This is something akin to the activities in another organization Townsend is involved with, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI). She said much of their experience and the tools they’ve employed also can be used against countering extremists’ narrative.

UANI is a bipartisan advocacy organization that employs a multi-pronged approach to isolate the Iranian regime economically and diplomatically primarily by discouraging corporations from doing business with Iran.

Reportedly, the Islamic State earns between $1 million to $3 million a day from stolen oil, kidnapping and extortion. The intent of Townsend’s initiatives is to try and find the shell corporations for this illicit activity and just where, exactly, the money is coming from and how it’s being moved and, presumably, laundered.

And “That’s complicated,” Townsend explained. “But, we’ve done pretty well against the Iranian targets, so we think we can bring to bear some of our tools and to share information with law enforcement around the world. Where the government can’t leverage the information that we produce, we can exert public pressure.”

And that tactic has been very effective when companies realized that intelligence gleaned about their dealings with the Iranian regime was going to be made public -- it tended to change their behavior. Townsend said she believes this same approach can be used by CEP with equal success.

Using the Islamic State as an example, she pointed out that it is imperative to counter the terrorist group’s Islamist jihadist narrative in light of their remarkable propaganda capabilities. In her view, the Islamic State is more sophisticated in pumping out successful extremist propaganda than anything Al Qaeda has produced.

CEP went to Twitter where Islamist jihadists are very active and named a litany of individuals the group believes are associated with supporting the Islamic State to publicly shame them.

"CEP is calling on Twitter to immediately take action and adopt policies to stop extremists from misusing the social network," the group said. "Extremists are misusing Twitter to spread terrorist propaganda, radicalize and recruit new members, and target at-risk youth. Twitter must take action now to stop extremists from weaponizing the Internet. Inaction in the face of this clear and dangerous threat is unacceptable."

Continuing, CEP stated, it "launched its Digital Disruption initiative to identify and expose extremists who use Twitter to radicalize and recruit at risk youth, and spread extremist propaganda. CEP has identified, flagged and reported numerous accounts containing extremist and threatening content to Twitter. Unfortunately, Twitter has only taken action to close a small number of accounts. What’s more—it took Twitter nearly 2 weeks to shut the accounts down despite their extremist and inciting content. CEP is also deeply troubled that these accounts have subsequently reappeared with new handles."

Townsend and Mark Wallace, a former Ambassador to the United Nations, co-authored a letter to Twitter CEO Dick Costolo seeking an opportunity "to discuss solutions to the growing crisis we face from extremists seeking to weaponize Twitter commit cyber-jihad. Twitter rebuffed CEP’s invitation."

In response, CEP is asking concerned citizens to sign a petition to hold Twitter accountable.

“One hopes that the Intelligence Community is watching what we are doing and is able to identify potential targets either openly or covertly,” Townsend said.

She said the organization will also try to reach individuals that are involved in providing support to these groups and convince them to stop.

“In essence, we are part of a network in identifying the dots, and we hope to identify and connect the dots and that the governments around the world and intelligence services can see what we are doing, and if they add to the information they will be able to take action themselves. We will work with anybody who will help us to achieve our goal,” Townsend said.

With regard to sharing information that her group develops with law enforcement and intelligence agencies, Townsend said, “The idea is that we will work independently of those agencies but share any information that they might want. We are not looking for anything from government agencies but we are happy to share any information that may be useful.”

“There is no question that we have already begun the process of tracking the money,” Townsend said, noting that, “We had the existing tools from our effort against the Iranian nuclear program to begin that process.”

“In the public media, if you look at our Twitter account, @FightExtremism, you will see that we have already begun identifying their accounts and naming and shaming them and putting pressure on Twitter to act and shut down their accounts,” Townsend said.

Getting social media providers to remove jihadists’ accounts isn’t always easy. Read the recentHomeland Security Today report, Jihadists Have Infested World's Second Biggest Streaming Music Service.

CEP Chief Executive Officer Wallace, said, “We do not have armies to command, but we can help degrade extremist organizations by exposing their networks of financial support and bringing to bear enormous public and private sector pressure.”


November 9, 2014
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Homeland Security Today Highlights CEP President Fran Townsend

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