Counterterrorism bureau plays greater role in homeland security

Monday - 1/30/2012, 9:22am EST

Ambassador Daniel Benjamin, Coordinator for Counterterrorism, State Department

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Although Homeland Security and the CIA get the most publicity for counterterrorism, the State Department has been a player for decades. Now its role is getting bigger and more visible.

The counterterrorism office has been upgraded to a full-fledged bureau. It's part of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's goal of greater smart power capability.

"The mission of the new bureau is to lead the department in the U.S. government's effort to counter terrorism abroad and to secure the U.S. against foreign terrorist threats," said. Ambassador Daniel Benjamin, who leads the counterterrorism bureau.

Ambassador Daniel Benjamin, leader of the counterterrorism bureau (State Department)

He told The Federal Drive with Tom Temin the bureau will have a number of concrete responsibilities in coordination with department leadership and White House national security staff, as well as other agencies. It will also implement counterterrorism strategies, policies, operations and programs aimed at disrupting and destroying the networks supporting terrorism.

"We'll lead in U.S. counterterrorism diplomacy," he said, adding the bureau will focus on countering terrorist ideology and propaganda, while building the capacity of partner nations. "The better they are at their job, the safer we'll be."

Benjamin was quick to point out the bureau would not be "kinetic" in its operations. It would not take direct actions. Rather, it would be involved across the government in counterterrorism diplomacy and strategy.

A coordinator of counterterrorism has been in place for approximately 30 years, Benjamin explained. The new bureau, in a sense, is just the upgrading of that office.

"We already had a significant staff of about 120 people," he said. "I've been running this office for more than 2-1/2 years. In terms of the immediate changes, there are no big shifts in terms of staffing or funding."

Upgrading Benjamin's office to bureau status allowed the State Department to acknowledge the place the fight against terror has in the current diplomatic climate.

"Secretary Clinton has been very vocal about her determination to counter violent extremism and to build capacity in partners," Benjamin said. "This was part of her vision of how to renovate the State Department for the 21st century."