Terrorism

Incompetence and Cronyism Plague U.S. Attempts to Counter ISIS Online

WebOps, the U.S. online counter-propaganda program, appears to employ Arabic analysts who barely speak Arabic.

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Edar / Pixabay

A new report by the Associated Press claims that the U.S. counter-propaganda program WebOps is failing in its mission to thwart terrorist recruitment due to incompetence, corruption, and cronyism. The program was launched several years ago by a small group of civilian contractors and military officers assigned to the information operations division at U.S. Central Command's headquarters in Tampa, Florida. It is run by an Alabama-based company called Colsa Corp., which provides specialized computer programs to mine social media accounts of terrorist propaganda.

WebOps is supposed to use Arabic-speaking analysts to sift through social media looking for individuals deemed vulnerable to terrorist recruitment. It's then supposed to contact them using fictionalized identities and urge them not to join organizations like ISIS. The reality, as reported by the Chicago Tribune, is that some of the analysts employed by WebOps lack counter-propaganda experience, cannot speak Arabic fluently, and don't understand Islam well enough to combat ISIS' recruitment efforts.

The Tribune noted that WebOps "experts" often mess up language that is specific to a region or sect of Islam. "People can tell whether you are local, or whether you are Sunni or Shia," a former WebOps worker claimed. And as Fox News put it, "It's hard to establish rapport with a potential terror recruit when–as one former worker told the AP–translators repeatedly mix up the Arabic words for 'salad' and 'authority.'" The mistake has resulted in open ridicule over "Palestinian salad" on social media.

The Associated Press was informed by workers wishing to remain anonymous that data was being manipulated to create the appearance that the counter-propaganda operation was working. "The boss told [one worker] that the scoring reports should show progress, but not too much, so that the metrics would still indicate a dangerous level of militancy online to justify continued funding for WebOps," the Tribune reported.

The government opened bidding on a new counter-propaganda operation worth at least $500 million early last year, but after a few months the Naval Criminal Investigative Services began looking into allegations that corruption was influencing the contract award process. A whistleblower said information operations division officers were being treated to expensive dinners paid for by a contractor, and that there's a heavy drinking culture at the office where classified work takes place. CBS News reported that "the drinking was confirmed by multiple contractors, who spoke to AP, and described a frat house atmosphere where happy hour started at 3 p.m."

The whistleblower also accused Army Col. Victor Garcia, who led the division until July 2016, of using his influence to direct the $500 million contract to a group of vendors that included his close friend's firm. A bid for the contract by the global security company Northrop Grumman was assisted by M&C Saatchi, an advertising agency where Garcia's friend Simon Bergman is an executive.

According to the Chicago Tribune, the whistleblower alleges Garcia informed him that "any team must include Simon Bergman." Northrop won the bid.

Garcia denies any wrongdoing. "Because I was aware of these conflicts of interest, I intentionally kept myself out of that process, with any of these contract processes," he explained to AP.

The bipartisan Commission on Wartime Contracting found that in 2011, anywhere from $31 billion to $60 billion was lost to waste and fraud during contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

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  1. WebOps, the U.S. online counter-propaganda program, appears to employ Arabic analysts who barely speak Arabic.

    So change the name to WhoOps and increase funding.

  2. that there’s a heavy drinking culture at the office where classified work takes place. CBS News reported that “the drinking was confirmed by multiple contractors, who spoke to AP, and described a frat house atmosphere where happy hour started at 3 p.m.”

    I had no idea that this comment section served as a PSYOPS program.

    1. analysts employed by WebOps lack counter-propaganda experience, cannot speak Arabic fluently, and don’t understand Islam

      Seems obvious in retrospect.

      1. Shut the hell up guys, we’ve got a good thing going here.

  3. “We’ve had a surprising number of contacts interested in our call for recruits to ‘toss the Palestinian Authority’ out of power”

  4. “…there’s a heavy drinking culture at the office…”

    I know we have several lawyers and middle to upper management office workers here and I have to ask, how common is this?

    Two years ago I dated a woman who was the office manager for a small law firm, and also a pillhead. Whenever I visited her at work her and a few lawyers were always knocking back expensive whiskey and downing Xanax/pain pills/muscle relaxers like they were fucking Reece’s Pieces.

    She claim that it’s quite common among that peer set but maybe she was just trying to shrug off the fact that she was completely out of control at that point.

    So, true, bullshit, or somewhere in between?

    1. My guess would be somewhere in between. Probably the amount of drinking/ pill popping is inversely proportional to the amount of real, actual work that goes on.

    2. Why do I have to work at all the boring places. And pay for my own… well booze.

      Seems unfair. Would anyone like to hold a protest in Washington with me? We could use those beer hats.

      1. Alcoholism is condition that qualifies one for a disability check. If you really didn’t want to pay for booze, you could go that route.

    3. I know we have several lawyers and middle to upper management office workers here and I have to ask, how common is this?

      I’ve never seen it in over thirty years of working in offices. The closest was back in the late ’80s, when a few senior partners at a very large law firm still had a bottle of scotch in their desk drawer. But I never saw them drinking, actually. And this was an office which allowed smoking, although you weren’t supposed to bust out the cigars and pipes until after 5:00.

      Offices don’t tolerate drinking on the job for liability purposes, if nothing else.

      Hell, it used to be routine to have a beer or glass of wine at lunch. That has also vanished from the scene.

    4. Seen very very rarely at any of my clients or employers. I can think of 2 that had some beer in the fridge and it was acceptable to go grab one after 3 pm on a Friday. This didn’t translate to anything resembling a happy hour atmosphere.

    5. I’ve seen something similar this century at some union offices and volunteer fire depts. Much more common in the 1980’s on back.

  5. Palestinian Salad:

    1) 1 red onion
    2) 1 lemon
    3) 1 tsp salt
    4) 1 tsp sumac
    5) 1 tsp of Jew blood

    1. Scott Conant marks you down and questions your upbringing for putting raw red onion in salad.

      You’ve just been Chopped.

      1. Celebrity chefs annoy me.

        1. I have a soft spot for Katie Lee. Actually, not that soft.

  6. U.S. Attempts to Counter ISIS Online

    But there MUST be a hashtag that will shame them into changing their ways!? If the internet has taught me anything, shame-mobs on twitter can change the world

  7. U.S. Central Command’s headquarters in Tampa, Florida

    I think i may have found the source of the problem

    1. . It is run by an Alabama-based company

      and its even worse than we thought

  8. Thanks, Trump.

    1. “The program was launched several years ago by a small group of civilian contractors and military officers…”

      Huh?

      1. Probably while wearing their lobbyist hats.

        1. Big, red, puffy lobbyist hats!

          When it comes to the ‘long game’, the Chinese ain’t got shit on Trump!

      2. You may need to get your sarcasm detector recalibrated.

        1. Ah, possibly.

          From your prior posts I assumed you were being serious. Perhaps I’ve confused you with somebody else. It happens on my end from time to time.

          1. No worries. No blood, no foul. But you probably do have me confused with someone else. I’m rarely serious.

  9. the scoring reports should show progress, but not too much, so that the metrics would still indicate a dangerous level of _________to justify continued funding for _________

    A succinct description of any government program

  10. Government incompetence and cronyism? Must be a day that ends in y.

  11. The government opened bidding on a new counter-propaganda operation worth at least $500 million early last year, but after a few months the Naval Criminal Investigative Services began looking into allegations that corruption was influencing the contract award process.

    I’m sure Leroy Jethro Gibbs will get to the bottom of it as soon as he finishes Gibbs slapping Dinozzo for making some idiotic movie reference.

    1. Since it’s an Alabama-based contractor that’s under the microscope, wouldn’t that fall in Dwayne Pride’s jurisdiction?

      1. I smell a crossover episode in the works…

  12. My former boss used to make me strong drinks after the rest of the office left for the day.

    One time I got so drunk I couldn’t rollerblade home and had to take the bus.

    Lindsay, if you’re a man – good work. If you’re a chyck – let’s hit happy hour.

  13. Meh.

    One side offers Lena Dunham and self hate

    The other side offers sex slaves and the respect of the world (don’t you dare criticize Islam)

    Until we stop fighting ourselves, we aren’t ever going to win a culture war.

  14. I do not understand how some of the jokers who get eagles and even stars get them. Every year, you read about multiple senior and general officers getting taken down over something or other. Dumb shit. Colonels abusing government credit cards or fucking their young, enlisted secretary. A flag officer getting caught by local cops with a dirty hooker in his lap, and cocaine going up his nose*. Navy captains who go insane at sea.

    Some of these guys kill themselves when they get caught stealing money, or fucking hookers, or having orgies, or beating their wives and kids. They never ask for help. Illustrious career to scandal to sucking Glock. It happens more than you think. If you dig just a little, the number of “WTF?” stories about high-ranking officers (and hell, even high-ranking enlisted) will depress you. WaPo, I think, did an outstanding story about five different flag Os who had been disciplined a few years ago. Worth a read.

  15. this just sounds stupid from the get go and sounds like it will fuel the issue…

    If i get a bot email from the government saying pay your taxes and vote and respect police i am likely to get really annoyed by their creepy efforts and get more pissed.

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