John Kerry Meets With Hollywood Studio Chiefs to Discuss ISIS
John Kerry has met with Hollywood studio executives to plan a counter-attack on the Islamic State’s slick propaganda machine.
The Secretary of State posted a picture of the 90-minute meeting with the heads of 13 production companies including Disney, Warner Bros, DreamWorks, and 20th Century Fox at Universal’s Los Angeles headquarters on Tuesday afternoon.
‘Great convo w/ studio execs in LA. Good to hear their perspectives & ideas of how to counter #Daesh narrative,’ he tweeted – using the Arabic acronym ‘Daesh’, which the terrorist group hates, instead of ‘ISIS’.
The west has struggled to compete with the attractive and persuasive promotional videos produced by the Middle Eastern terror group.
Videographers, photographers and editors are ranked higher than soldiers in the terrorist group as ISIS dedicates itself to brainwashing Muslims across the globe, a Washington Post investigation concluded last year.
They are paid $700 a month – seven times a militant’s salary – and dictate when and how hostages are executed in order to create the perfect shot.
And it is all done using state-of-the-art equipment, shipped in from Turkey or brought over by Westerners who are lured to join ISIS from the United States, Europe, Australia and elsewhere.
Now, in a desperate bid to combat the propaganda machine, the U.S. government is tapping into its decades-old connection with Hollywood – and tweeting about it to let ISIS know.
Beyond movies, they also discussed worldwide marketing and how to build narratives about a mixture of cultures at the meeting organized by Universal chairman Jeff Shell, according to Variety.
One person involved in the meeting told Variety they plan to look at how they can collaborate with filmmakers in Iraq and Syria.
‘Let’s work out how to involve people who are there,’ the unidentified source said.
Filmmakers are routinely offered Motion Picture Incentives (MPIs) – such as cash rebates, grants and special access – to shoot movies in a certain state or sector.
A prime example was Top Gun, the hit Tom Cruise movie of 1986 which saw navy applications rocket by 500 per cent.
Indeed, the CIA’s former general counsel John Rizzo spoke about the federal agency’s ‘special relationship’ with Hollywood in his book Company Man: Thirty Years of Controversy and Crisis in the CIA.
‘There are officers assigned to this account full-time. Movie industry vets are receptive to helping the CIA in any way they can, probably in equal parts because they are sincerely patriotic and because it gives them a taste of real-life intrigue and excitement,’ he wrote.
Nonetheless, terror experts have seen few adequate responses to the ISIS propaganda machine from America.
The terror group’s videos have been singled out as their most powerful weapon against the West.
From its headquarters in a two-story residential building in Raqqa, Syria, the media division oversees hundreds of recruits – mainly foreigners – who have been put through two months of military training and a month of media training, the Post investigation found.
The newspaper interviewed seven men once affiliated with the terrorist group and its incredibly well-oiled media division who are currently serving or have served time in Morocco jails.
It revealed propaganda drives everything they do.
Once approved, the media recruits are put on a lucrative salary, with free state-of-the-art equipment shipped in from Turkey (including a Canon camera and a Samsung Galaxy), then start receiving daily assignments.
They are sent all over the ‘caliphate’ – the region of Iraq and Syria that ISIS occupies – and ordered to film slayings, landscapes… anything. These shots are put on a hard drive, delivered to one of their 36 offices, and compiled into slick clips, such as this week’s video threatening to bomb New York.
Abu Abdullah al-Maghribi, an ISIS defector who worked in security and dabbled in propaganda, told the Post: ‘It is a whole army of media personnel.
‘The media people are more important than the soldiers. Their monthly income is higher. They have better cars. They have the power to encourage those inside to fight and the power to bring more recruits to the Islamic State.’
Though they screen the videos on projectors in Iraq and Syria, locals are not the bull’s eye for the Islamic State’s propagandists.
Muslims, perhaps in Western countries saturated with Islamophobia, are the real target as ISIS attempts to build an international army to inflict terror.
With each video, each tweet, each photograph, they aim to present two images, as the Post’s reporters Miller and Mekhennet well observe.
Some shots show idyllic scenes of beautiful wildlife and sprawling hills in Iraq and Syria, to push an image of what life could be like if Muslims who feel marginalized in the West were to move to the Middle East and join the caliphate.
Others show senseless violence that no adjective can do justice. Mass beheadings, burning people alive, throwing gay men off buildings, stoning people to death. The aim: to instill fear in the people they relish terrorizing.
A video issued in the wake of the Paris attacks was a prime example of the kind of material designed to instill fear in the West.
It is compelling: with a vibrant, rhythmic French song as the soundtrack, it features high-quality shots of New York’s Times Square and Herald Square, cut seamlessly with a scene of a man strapping a bomb around his waist then covering it with a leather jacket.
The man then walks into the crowds and reaches for the trigger.
Other videos, such as the beheadings of James Foley, Steven Sotloff, and Alan Henning in the summer of 2014, have since been analyzed by videographers who detected a number of different cuts. It suggests the executioner Mohammed Emwazi, also known as ‘Jihadi John’, performed his pre-amble multiple times before finally murdering the innocent hostages.
Social media is another intensely-monitored prong of the media operation.
The independent military research group Combating Terrorism Center (CTC) has uncovered a 34-page report on social media that is issued to all ISIS recruits.
It advises them how to avoid detection, and suggests more than 100 encrypted apps – available on the Apple Store – for them to download to avoid being detected by counter-terrorism agencies.
In it, jihadis are told not to use Instagram because its owner, Facebook, ‘has a bad reputation in the protection of privacy’.
Messaging services WhatsApp and Line are also banned as they require the internet and cannot be easily masked by encryption devices.
And Dropbox is off-limits because ‘Snowden advised not to use the service’, and former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is on the board of directors.
The handbook, written in Arabic, gives readers different options for iPhones and Android phones, and lists whether an app costs money or not.