State Department Boosting Its Counterterrorism Office


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Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The State Department plans to elevate its counterterrorism office to a full-fledged bureau on Wednesday, a move that officials say will send a strong signal to allies about the U.S. commitment to strengthening their ability to combat extremism.

The promotion fulfills a pledge by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a speech last year to do so as part of an effort to integrate all the tools of American power to combat terror threats. The new bureau is not expected to receive a larger budget, but officials say it will help raise the State Department’s counterterrorism profile both within the U.S. government and abroad.

“It gives the State Department a higher platform in the counterterrorism arena,” said Ambassador Dan Benjamin, who heads the office, in an exclusive interview with ABC News on Tuesday.

In her remarks at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice in New York City last September, Secretary Clinton said she has fought for a diplomatic seat at the table when counterterrorism issues are discussed.

“Just as counterterrorism cannot be the sole focus of our foreign policy, it does not make sense to view counterterrorism in a vacuum.  It must be integrated into our broader diplomatic and development agendas,” she said.

In her speech, Secretary Clinton spoke of the need to build “an international counterterrorism network” to combat terror adversaries and said that upgrading the department’s counterterrorism office will be key to developing that critical capacity in partner countries.

The Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism, as it is currently known, plays an often unsung role in the U.S. government’s counterterrorism apparatus, losing the limelight to higher profile cousins in the intelligence community, Department of Homeland Security, and military. Yet, Ambassador Benjamin said its role was critical in improving the capacity of other countries who share U.S. interests.

“You cannot shoot your way out of the world’s terrorism problem,” he said. Instead he referred to what he called “counterterrorism diplomacy,” which focuses on boosting the capacity of foreign countries to deal with extremism within their borders and convincing them to do more about it on their own.

Ambassador Benjamin said his office’s promotion will send a message to those countries that they need to do more.

“It is a signal to the world that they need to deal with this,” he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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