Preventing Violent Extremism: A Conversation with Amy Pope

Wednesday, May 25, 2016
Women demonstrate in Monrovia during the inauguration of Gyude Bryant, Liberia's new interim leader, October 14, 2003. REUTERS
Amy Pope

Deputy Assistant to the President and Deputy Homeland Security Advisor, National Security Council Staff

Jamille Bigio

Adjunct Senior Fellow, Women and Foreign Policy Program, Council on Foreign Relations

Amy Pope, U.S. deputy homeland security advisor and deputy assistant to the president at the White House National Security Council, joined CFR for a discussion on how the networks, talents, and perspectives of diverse populations help the United States to ensure the safety and security of its homeland against 21st century threats. Pope reflected on how women and civil society help to strengthen community resilience and combat radicalization, and what policies, strategies, and tactics the U.S. government can employ to best partner with them and address the risks that they face. 

Transcript By Superior Transcriptions LLC,

BIGIO: Welcome. Thank you all for joining us this afternoon. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations.

My name is Jamille Bigio. I’m an adjunct senior fellow here in the Women and Foreign Policy Program. This program’s been working for over a decade now to make the case as to how elevating the status of women and girls in societies around the world helps to advance U.S. foreign policy and global security goals. And that’s one of the issues that we’re gathered here to discuss.

I want to thank the Compton Foundation for their support of our work and their support of today’s roundtable.

So today’s discussion is going to focus on how the networks, talents, and perspectives of diverse populations help the United States to ensure the safety and security of its homeland against 21st-century threats. As part of that, we’re going to touch on efforts to counter violent extremism, as well—as well as global health security threats such as the Zika virus, and the broader migration and refugee crisis that the world is facing today.

So no one is better equipped to reflect on these issues than our speaker today. I’m very pleased to welcome Amy Pope, who currently serves as the deputy assistant to the president and deputy homeland security advisor on the National Security Council staff at the White House. From fighting the spread of the Zika virus to countering ISIL to the U.S. response to the refugee crisis, Amy has her hands full at the moment. Prior to her current position at the White House, she served as the special assistant to the president and senior director on the Transborder Security Directorate. She’s also held numerous positions at the Department of Justice and at the Senate.

So please join me in welcoming Amy Pope with us today.

POPE: Thank you. (Applause.)

BIGIO: So, against this frame—so, looking first at violent extremism, so this is a growing global security threat that can come from domestic terrorists, homegrown violent extremists in the United States, as well as terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIL. And, you know, we have seen the White House really take a lead in making clear that not only will the United States use all instruments of power to defeat ISIL and counter violent extremists, but as part of this focus it will really include attention to what does it mean to have local solutions to this global challenge, as Secretary Kerry put it. The White House has hosted summits, gathered leaders, brought a plan of action to the U.N. to really gather an international response. And I know just today the State Department and USAID launched their new Joint Strategy to Counter Violent Extremism.

So I wonder, from your perspective of, A, what does it mean to drive down into what are local solutions to this global security threat? And how do we engage a range of partners, including women, in helping to prevent violent extremism?

POPE: So first I have to say thank you for having me here today and for having this important conversation, and to the Council on Foreign Relations for sponsoring this conversation. I think it’s really important. It’s also one of the things I like to talk about most, and so anytime I get a chance to sit down and talk with a group of people about gender and its impact on our policy, I’m pretty happy. So I’m very pleased to be here and to have this conversation with all of you.

So you’re right that the—we have prioritized countering violent extremism as a very important tool in our fight against terrorism more broadly. And it was actually with a lot of pride that, when we put forward the U.N. Security Council resolution last fall, we put forward a very comprehensive approach to taking on the threat of terrorism. And specifically, part of what we did was on countering—sharing information, and making sure that we’re looking for terrorists who may be traveling and using our different information sharing databases.

But what was really groundbreaking about what we did, from our perspective, was that we introduced the concept of countering violent extremism into our approach. And what that documented was a recognition that you have to put—you have to have a wide range of solutions that you’re putting forward to the problem. It’s not enough to just have strikes on the ground or boots on the ground. It’s not enough to just counter the travel of persons who may be—who may want to fight abroad. You have to start within communities. You have to engage communities. You have to really understand the root causes that motivate people to want to travel, and fight, and then bring back—the war home to the United States.

So that, I thought, was incredibly—it’s reflective of the president’s view on this, is that we can’t just have one approach to the problem. So there is that. I mean, I think that just sort of taking on the problem more comprehensively is pretty significant.

And then, secondly, our strategy on countering violent extremism really reflects the fundamental belief that the federal government doesn’t have all the solutions here, and that if we persist in just bringing government solutions to the problem that we’ll fail; and that we need to engage communities—communities who know one another, who understand when someone may be turning to violence, who know how to—ways of intervening, of preventing violence, who can bring a range of solutions that have nothing to do with law enforcement or our intelligence community well before something becomes problematic. So that’s kind of the theory of the case.

And I think that we’ll see how it all plays out, right? This is a little bit of an experiment, and I think there’s a very healthy conversation going on within our political communities about what is the appropriate role here, and how do we frame it, and how do we make sure that we’re not stereotyping people or making assumptions, or framing a solution at one particular community in the United States. But I think part of the answer there is to look to communities to come up with the solutions, right? We are less in danger if we empower the communities to bring the solutions forward, if we provide funding resources and tools, than if we try to impose a solution from the top down.

BIGIO: Now, you know, one challenge that we see is that there’s often the move to shift the policy and layout—the rhetoric, as you’ve talked about kind of with the Security Council resolution. The importance of framing the issue in that way is the first critical step, and you need that frame to be able to drive out the work. Then you talked about the importance of giving the resources, and the funding, and the other tools to communities to actually be able to then deliver on that commitment. And the policy needs that kind of backend work to actually then achieve the objectives that it has set out to. So I wonder if you could speak about what is—what have you seen as the successes in the U.S. government’s efforts to really implement those kinds of commitments? And what are the key challenges there?

POPE: Yeah. So one of the successes is a bureaucratic success, and I don’t want to sort of over-rely on it. But as a result of the administration’s work on countering violent extremism here at home, we’ve brought together our range of actors—the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, the FBI, Department of Education—I mean, we have a whole range—interagency community that is now housed together as part of a task force focused on CVE. And that matters because we had, you know, FBI working cases over here, and we had DHS moving out with communities over here, DOJ—you know, and sort of there was disjointed approach. And I think that’s confusing for the public. I think it reflects sort of a lack of coordination on our part. And so the fact that we’ve now pulled everybody together and that we’re actually implementing this strategy in a much more coordinated way, I think, is a bureaucratic success.

And then, on top of that, we’ve designated grant money that can now be invested in communities. And with this CVE task force, we can bring sort of a strategic look to, OK, what’s happening in communities around the country? What’s working, what’s not working? Where can we foster efforts? And then, where can we work with the private sector to make critical investments in these efforts?

One of the exciting things about the CVE summit—it was a three-day affair. It was—there was a section on the homeland, where we—where we highlighted the work in three different cities here in the United States. There was a section where we brought together over 60 different countries to highlight their work. And then there was a significant amount of work with the private sector. And we had folks like Google, and YouTube, and a range of tech companies who were basically giving the private sector tools to get their voices heard and get their message out there.

And that was exciting to me, right? We don’t—we in the federal government, we’re not the people who should be messaging on this, right? We don’t—we’re not terribly convincing, and we’re not that good at it. But give the people who have something to say, empower them to speak and empower them to get their message out there. And we’re seeing that happen.

Not to go too long on this, but there was a really fantastic program that the State Department funded with colleges and universities, where they gave classes money to work with and put out—you know, create products that they thought might resonate with communities to counter violent extremism. That was some of the best work that I saw come out, and I think that’s evidence that we do best when we provide resources and then we step back.

BIGIO: So, on this point of the message bearer and who is seeing the signs of radicalization, so that’s one area where research has really highlighted the role that women have, both in their families and societies in terms of being a message bearer within their families and networks; and then also that, you know, we see this in, you know, with ISIL, we see this with Boko Haram, that women and girls are targeted as well, you know? They are among the targets, and they’re targeted in specific ways. And so they also feel the brunt of extremism, and so are on both sides of that coin. Which I think then calls to bear some deeper thought about how do government strategies take that into account, take these multiple roles that women have? How do we take—how does the U.S. government take that complexity and respond to that in a way that can really—takes into account what’s happening on the ground?

POPE: Yeah. So, I’d add a third category to what you’ve laid out in the way—in the ways violent extremism plays out in gender form, and that’s women as perpetrators of violent extremism, right?

BIGIO: Right, exactly.

POPE: So this is—we have been—I think there have been different movements to look at women and CVE, and some have focused on women as victims of violent extremism or survivors of violent extremism. Others have focused on the mothers, the sisters, the bystanders, the girlfriends, et cetera, and then still others in a much smaller number have looked at women as perpetrators. And I think we, as a—as a government and as a global community, need to recognize the different ways that women play a role, and that women’s voices can make a difference, and that—and that—and make sure that we give enough space for those to be heard.

So when we—when we hosted the violent extremism summit, we had a panel focused on gender. And it’s—there’s incredible work from kind of the bystander intervention and prevention side going on. Moms play a(n) incredibly important role, both in seeing signs of violent extremism but also providing alternatives, sort of the prevention/intervention piece. I think we need to pay attention to that, because there are going to be very few moms who want to call law enforcement if they have concerns about their child, but there are things that mothers and fathers will see very early on. And so giving them tools to intervene when they see signs that are worrisome is incredibly important.

And likewise, thinking about—some of the conversations that have been documented between women who are being radicalized have given us some insight into what’s working, what’s not working, and then sort of paying attention to what may lead to radicalization of a woman versus a man. Is that different? And in some cases, it is. And we need to pay attention to that because there are women who are committing violent extremism as well.

BIGIO: So I think what the U.S. government has laid out in this agenda has been impressive. The challenges that the global community is facing are at the same time quite daunting and will obviously take a long time to really reckon with. So, I wonder, as you look at what the next steps are, kind of an—and across, you know, a longer horizon, what do you see as—you know, in this regard and the regard of engaging diverse networks, diverse perspectives, engaging women as partners, what do you see as the most important next steps that should be taken?

POPE: So, at this point, I feel that we are pretty early on in the process. We’re just past the naming it, right? We’ve just identified countering violent extremism as an extraordinarily important tool in what we’re doing globally on terrorism, and now—and we’re sort of just shifting to recognizing the role that communities play and recognizing the limits on government.

What I think needs to happen moving forward is to significantly increase our investment. You know, we have I think it’s $10 million in grant money in the homeland for domestic efforts. That’s tiny, right? So, if you think about the nature of the problem, can we make our investment more proportionate to that problem?

If you think about what we’re doing in terms of global development, it’s extraordinarily exciting for me, someone who works on this issue, to see the CVE Strategy come out of the State Department and USAID, and to have a section on gender specifically recognizing that we need to understand the perspective that gender might bring to the problem. But we need our investment dollars—our development dollars need to follow. And so I think we’ve laid out a path forward. And unfortunately, I don’t—this administration is not going to necessarily be the ones to implement it moving forward, but it’s my hope that we continue the investments. And ultimately, it’s continue to recognize our limits as a government as the most credible actors in this space.

BIGIO: So I want to shift now to another part of your portfolio, and I think picking up the lens of what does it mean to—as the U.S. government engages in national security challenges, to look at how are women affected. How are women and girls affected? And how can they be partners, and are we tapping them as partners? And are we—to the last point you just made, are we investing in them to the extent that follows the argument of what role they have to play?

So one piece to look at in this, which as summer approaches is on many people’s minds, is the Zika virus, so thinking about global health and global health security, and how we’re affected here. So I’m wondering if you could speak a little bit to how does the lens of looking at how women are affected by the Zika virus play into the U.S. government’s response there?

POPE: Right. So the Zika virus and our response is taking up an extraordinary amount of my time these days, as you can imagine, especially as the days here get warmer and we anticipate that the transmission of the virus will happen in the continental United States. It’s already happening in Puerto Rico. We have over 800 cases that we know of, of persons impacted by the virus. And I say that because four out of five people who are infected, we won’t actually know they’re infected or their symptoms will be very mild. And so it’s very likely that we’ll see transmission within a community well before people are really aware of what’s happening.

It matters because the impact is most disproportionately on pregnant women and their developing fetuses. What we’ve learned about the virus in the past six months is that the birth defect associated with the virus can be quite significant. It’s not just about having a baby with a small head; it’s about the virus getting into the brain tissue, and eating away the brain tissue, and causing what could be very severe long-term disabilities.

And, you know, this is—we believe that there is—there is a vaccine that will be developed. We have a number of good candidates. We believe that there are good diagnostic tools out there. But right now we’re in that space where we are kind of rapidly moving to identify those solutions; we don’t have them yet. And in real life, this means that the impact on women is disproportionate to any other population.

And, you know, it’s hard to know how this is—this is playing out. I will say it’s been frustrating that we’ve put forward a supplemental request for emergency spending on Zika and it hasn’t moved to date. We’ve had—the Senate has passed one version of it. The House has passed another, which basically just moves around our own money and says, OK, you can—now you can spend your own money. But nothing has come to the president’s desk on a crisis that we think is pretty significant and disproportionately impacting women.

So I think, for me, that’s playing out in a number of ways. One is making sure that women have the information they need to protect themselves. Two is to make sure men know what their role and responsibility is here.

What we’ve learned about Zika is that it’s sexually transmitted. And we have never seen a male-to-female transmission, but we are seeing male—we’re seeing male-to-female transmission, no female-to-male transmission. So, that means, again, women are most at risk. And that matters if you’re pregnant woman, because your partner can travel to a Zika-impacted area, come home, and you can get the virus, and you can pass it on to your baby.

So one is making sure that women have access to the information they need, making sure women have—if they’re choosing not to get pregnant, that they have access to contraception they need, making sure that their doctors are well-informed, making sure that men know that they have as big a responsibility here as women. And that’s—you know, it’s a challenging conversation. In some ways it’s increased because the problem is not felt here. It takes nine months, right, for a baby to born and for us to really see the impact. But my goal is to make sure that we get this information out in as many ways as possible, to as many women as possible, so that they can be informed about the risks.

BIGIO: So I want to—before we open it up for questions, I want to zoom back out to kind of looking at another global security issue that intersects with violent extremism, as we were talking about earlier, which is the refugee crisis. And this is something that, you know, as we’ve seen the flows out of Syria increase to the extent that they have, as we see that, you know, global displacement levels are at the highest that they’ve ever been and countries are trying to figure out how to respond to that. Europe is, you know, seeking its own response. And here in the United States there is at the same time a response of how does the U.S. government engage globally on the issue, and then at home in terms of bringing refugees in here. So this is another issue where there is a gender lens to it. Women and girls are affected in different ways. I wonder if you could speak about how you see that impact.

POPE: It’s true there is a specific gendered impact that I think we need to be cognizant of. One is that there are a significant number of women-led households in these refugee populations. And the challenges of that situation are compounded by how do you find work, and how do you care for your children, and how do they get access to schools, and how—you know, there’s a whole range of problems that we’re seeing fall disproportionally on the shoulders of women. It’s playing out in interesting ways in terms of our own refugee admissions policy because we are prioritizing often women-led households because of some of the security complications associated with single men. And you know, so we’re looking to bring in families, in particular.

But when you’re bringing in families, you need to make sure that we have the support structures in place here so they can be resettled here. So it’s a situation where we are—we are certainly investing a lot of money in a solution for humanitarian assistance in the impacted countries. We’re investing a tremendous amount of resources in terms of identifying families, individuals who can be brought here to the United States. And then, likewise, I think it’s a place where the president himself is using a lot of his political capital. As you all know, we’re cohosting a summit on refugees on the margins of the U.N. General Assembly in September.

And our goal there is to come up with a global commitment to the refugee crisis, looking at what commitments can we drive both in terms of humanitarian assistance, in terms of refugee resettlement, in terms of strengthening our asylum policies around world, recognizing that the United States is an important partner here, but we can’t do it ourselves. And what I just want to add into that is that, again, this is not a solution that the federal government can solve, can bring to the table on its own. There are incredibly important stakeholders when we’re talking about resettling, when we’re talking about providing jobs for persons who are displaced. There’s a tremendous role for the private sector. There’s a tremendous role for the nongovernmental community. And so having those partnerships, strengthening those partnerships, has been a high priority for us.

BIGIO: OK. So I’d like now to open it up to the audience, to you all that we have gathered with us today. So if you could please raise your name placard when you’d like to raise a question, and introduce yourself and where you work before you speak, that’d be great. Please.

Q: Thank you. Thank you for your presentation. I’d like to kind of go back to you—the first question. And what sociological insights experts may have gained with regard to messaging to those who we feel are likely to be more easily recruited for terrorism. What do you feel, based on experience, is the most impactful message? And who is the best messenger? Have we learned how to differentiate messaging by gender, or toward gender, by age bracket? Are parents important? What are the sociologists telling us?

POPE: So there’s a lot of ongoing research into what motivates people. And I’d say there’s—there are as many theories as you’d like to—as you can imagine. But what I’m seeing—what I think is the most interesting and sort of resonates the most is thinking through what is motivating someone to look for, you know, this outlet in the first place. We see—and I think we’re drawing lessons—useful lessons from looking at things like gang violence and other things that are motivating people to violence. A lot of it—there is a decent amount that stems from a feeling of alienation, from being different, which is why some of this question about messaging is so important.

Giving people a way to engage more proactively, productively with their society, giving them a voice, even to voice uncomfortable thoughts or feelings but in a kind of safer way, I think is as much a part of our solution as anything because what we see is a lot of folks who are joining the movement feel like they don’t have a place in our society, and that their place is somewhere else. So when we’re thinking through who are the most impactful messengers, there are a couple of, I think, key messengers that are emerging that are—that are really resonating.

One is formers—people who have been persuaded to join to fight, who have gone, and then come back disaffected and recognize—if we’re talking about ISIL, for example—specifically recognize that the ideal that has been set up for them is not actually playing out in real life and can speak to that very specifically in words that are meaningful for the person who’s thinking about joining. The other is peers, frankly. And this is why I want to be so careful about saying what the role of the federal government can be. Some of the most exciting and interesting and resonate messages have come from, you know, college students or young people within a community. Or sometimes it’s from imams, and if we’re talking about ISIL specifically, but it’s more often other young people. And so finding ways to amplify those voices and provide alternatives I think is important.

Yes, parents play a role. Yes, church, faith leaders play a role. Yes, it’s important to have mentors and teachers. We see a whole range of people who can offer guidance, who can intervene, who can provide other pathways. But we’re really looking at kind of what can we do to empower peers and formers and get those messages out.

Q: Rollie Flynn, Singa Consulting and Georgetown University.

You’ve talked a lot about engaging communities and working with communities. Would you comment on how you feel about some of what we have read in the press and the media of the impact of law enforcement sting operations, and the distrust that some say this has engendered among the communities?

POPE: Mmm hmm, look, I think that it’s—there have been some very unfortunate practices that have sort of emerged as we’ve looked back since 9/11. And I think there’s some well-earned distrust as a part of it. What I can say is that it’s been incredibly important in our solution going forward is that we have law enforcement at the table with us. The taskforce that I spoke about, FBI plays an important role. And FBI, I think they would say so very clearly themselves, has sort of evolved in the way they think about how to address this problem, and has recognized that there are a whole range of solutions that are not law enforcement solutions that need to be exercised, especially when we’re talking about young—very young people, especially when we’re talking about impressionable folks

There’s been some interesting research and some work that’s going on in looking at how we’ve done drug courts, for example, ways that we would intervene well-before we’re going to impose some sort of sentence on someone to divert the behavior. So I think there’s a lot of promising work that’s coming out of the taskforce right now. And I’m hopeful that we’re—that, coupled with kind of consistently going into communities and engaging with them on issues that have nothing to do with violent extremism, sort of dealing with identity fraud, or dealing with them on, you know, violent crime in their neighborhoods or, you know, just recognizing that these communities are part of who we are as Americans and treating them as such, I think the combination of both will help to heal some of that distrust.

Q: Lauren Baer, with the secretary’s policy planning staff at the State Department.

So we’ve talked thus far about the policy side of the equation, how it is that we better integrate women and women’s issues into things like countering violent extremism or public health. I’m interested in your take on the other side of the equation, which is the representation of women in the national security apparatus and how that relates to those policy questions. I know we have ongoing efforts throughout the U.S. government, both to increase women’s representation in the civil service, in our Foreign Service, in the National Security Council, and to ensure that that representation continues, not only from junior levels to senior levels as well.

I’m just wondering, from your experience both at the White House and previously in other parts of the government, how you think these two issues interrelate and what we can be doing better in this regard.

POPE: So I feel tremendously fortunate to be part of the National Security Council at this moment of time. If you think about it, the national security advisor, Susan Rice, is a woman. Our deputy national security advisor, Avril Haines, is a woman. Our homeland and counterterrorism advisor, Lisa Monaco, is a woman. And I’m her deputy, right? We have an entire team of women. And Susan Rice, I think I can say this on the record, she observed at one point that, wow, I didn’t realize that this was going to happen, but this is pretty cool, right? (Laughter.)

And I think that, you know, I want to avoid sort of getting into the gender stereotypes, but what I see emerging by having more representation of women at the table is recognizing the ways in which our national security policy operates and impacts people on the ground. I mean, I think about our Ebola response. And we had a hard time figuring out why our messaging on Ebola wasn’t resonating in places like Guinea. And it turned out that we didn’t have the right messengers. And we didn’t even know it. We had—you know, the government was going out and the military was going out and they were saying you must do this, and you must, you must. And people did not trust the messenger. And it took us months to understand that we were using the wrong people, that we needed to look at traditional faith healers, that we needed to look at religious leaders and faith leaders.

And it just—because we did not have the right people at the table initially we did not understand why our policy kept falling flat. So I think that’s what I hope having all of these women now at the table changes in the way we do business, is that we recognize the ways in which our policy will or will not be successful because people are bringing a different perspective. They recognize that if you’re a single mother who is balancing my childcare and my job and my this and my that. You know, my capacity is going to be so stretched. And so I need to think about different ways that I’m going to reach that person. So I’m not sure if that gets to your question, but I think that what I’m seeing is a much more inclusive policy process. And I think that’s a direct result of having so much diversity within our community.

Q: Joel Meyer with Dataminr, formerly of the NSC.

POPE: Yes, nice to see you.

Q: Good to see you.

You mentioned the CVE taskforce, the interagency taskforce, which I think is a great step forward for the CVE issue in the USG. So I guess I’m wondering what your view is on how it’s gone so far, what does success look like in the taskforce, and then specifically what are your and the administration’s plan between—you know, for the rest of this administration to strengthen it and ensure that it’s on strong footing heading into the future?

POPE: So it’s still fairly new, right? It was stood up, I think, in February or March. We have our best people there. George Selim, who is really the man behind our CVE policy at the White House is now leading it. What I see is a lot of enthusiasm. It’s sort of the first time you have a group of people who are all really focused on this issue in one place sharing ideas, sharing tools, sharing information. So it’s off to a really good start. And I think what happened before is that when you have people who care about an issue, but they’re sort of dispersed and they’re wearing their own agency hat, they may really, really want to coordinate, but a lot gets lost. It’s just sort of in the day-to-day some information won’t be passed, and so, you know. So I think what I hope will come out of this is that all the research that’s happening that the Department of Justice can then be used by the Department of State in our overseas policy.

All of the work that we’re doing within DHS within communities can then be fed into what the FBI is doing as they’re thinking about a broader response to the efforts. And sort of taking away kind of our traditional stovepipes, as we call them, and kind of bringing a more kind of common purpose and mission. So my hope is that we’ll continue to put very, very good people into the taskforce, that we’ll continue to give them the resources that they need, that the different department and agencies will continue to validate their work and give them the credibility they need to keep operating. And that ultimately if I’m a principal in Akron, Ohio, I will know where to go—and I’m concerned about violent extremism in my community—I’ll have a place to go to get the tools I need to inform the work of my school.

I mean, that’s what—my goal is to get all of this policymaking that’s happening over here—which is very high-quality—but make it accessible to the people who can use it. And so anybody, wherever they are, can go to one place and get a range of tools that work and learn from what’s worked.

Q: Thank you. I’m Amanda DeBusk. I’m the chair of the International Trade Department at Hughes, Hubbard and Reed, a law firm.

And I wanted to follow-up on Syria. Just as background, you know, we’ve been doing some pro bono work for NGOs about what does it take to get humanitarian relief into Syria. And in terms of what it takes, it’s extremely difficult due to the very strict licensing regime and the regulatory requirements at two government agencies that most—that many NGOs can’t really navigate. Then with that background, I was just wondering what preparatory work is being made for the September meeting that you mentioned in terms of possible changes in U.S. regulations, or at least a review of them, so that those who want to provide humanitarian relief to Syria are more able to do so.

POPE: So I have to say that I don’t actually know the answer to that, but I can find out and I can follow up with you—and have someone follow up with you. I will say that we are—we’re viewing the summit in two ways. One is, what more can we bring to the table in terms of our own commitments? And so I will make sure that this is part of that consideration. And then it’s also, how do we make this a global response? Sort of that—and Syria sort of being the most sort of highly publicized refugee crisis, but really our goal is to have all countries examine the way they do business and reconsider how they can improve protections for refugees and other displaced persons. So I’ll put this on my list to do.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Great, thank you. Amy, Frank Finelli from The Carlyle Group. Thanks so much for joining us. And I’m actually from Akron, Ohio, so—

POPE: Yeah. (Laughter.)

Q: But I was wondering, as you think across these community activities, how are you assessing the effectiveness of those activities. Certainly more is better than fewer, but if you can talk a little about that assessment process and how resources are being prioritized in the allocation.

POPE: It’s a good question. And we’ve—it’s one that we’re, I think, struggling with in some ways. What are the appropriate metrics here? In some ways what we’re looking at is access to services, is availability of services, it’s the ability—there are some—there are some really interesting models—community-driven models where we’ll have counselors and teachers and law enforcement officials who come up with a kind of intervention and prevention program. And trying to replicate that model across the country, so that we’re diverting more people away from sort of traditional law enforcement, and into something that may be more impactful.

And so the question is, how many people are accessing those services, what impact does it have on individuals, what resources do communities have to bring to the solution? Those are the things that we’re working through, but I think what we need to—what we’re still—we’re really trying to fine tune those metrics so that they are as meaningful as possible. It’s a—this is a little bit of a squishy field, right? And so I think it’s really incumbent on us to spend the next several months getting that right before the administration ends.

Q: Thank you.

Q: Hi, Elisa Massimino—I don’t think we need these things, do we—I’m with Human Rights First.

I was really pleased to hear how you described the approach to the summit on global refugee crisis. In my—this is a huge priority for Human Rights First. We’ve worked on refugee protection for many decades—and in talking to our friends and allies throughout the world, of course, they agree this is a global crisis that requires a global coordinated response. But they also all say that it can’t happen without the United States really taking the lead—

POPE: Yeah.

Q: —not in solving the crisis, but in developing a proposal for a global approach, and doing the diplomatic work to bring—you know, countries on board with that. And of course, the best leadership is leadership by example.

POPE: Example, mm hmm.

Q: So I’m curious—we were very pleased to see this week was kind of a giant leap forward on resettlement, which is very necessary if we’re going reach the extremely modest of resettling 10,000 Syrian refugees in this fiscal year.

So I think that’s going to be a really important benchmark come September for the ability of the United States to lead by example, and also just to create facts on the ground here to demonstrate to Americans in this political climate that that can be done in a way that’s safe and exemplifies the best of the American spirit and ideals.

So I’m curious whether you think that’s going to happen in terms of meeting that goal? What is it that agencies can be doing or are doing to—

POPE: Yeah.

Q: —more effectively bring more Syrians in more quickly, and also what you see as the game plan in terms of—you mentioned three things for the summit, increasing contributions to humanitarian relief efforts, commitments for resettlement, and also ensuring that all countries have asylum policies that live up to the international commitments at the refugee convention.

On that last piece, how do you see the U.S. kind of position that we’re going to be trying to attract to other countries to that?

POPE: So thank you for the question. I think—this is an issue that I care about personally, as well as professionally, and so I’ve really spent a lot of time on looking for solutions.

In terms of meeting our refugee goal to resettling 10,000 Syrians, I have a lot of confidence that we’re going to meet that goal. I will tell you that the political back and forth was difficult, and the amount of testimony in Congress and the very hateful rhetoric that sometimes emerged from that made it difficult, and was very demoralizing on the ground for our folks who are working in places like Jordan or Turkey, et cetera.

So—but that being what it is, I think our number-one commitment is to make sure that we can stand behind our security screening processes. And so we have spent a lot of time kind of working through those. Where I think we’ve been able to improve the process, though, is to kind of lay out all of the pieces of our vetting process and to figure out where there are redundancies. We have definitely found that there are places where some agencies were doing checks that other agencies were already doing, and just the fact that we had several agencies doing the checks slowed down the process. And so we’re committed to maintaining the same level of checks, and the question is, can we do it better? Can we do it more efficiently? And I—and we’re already finding that the answer is yes.

The other place where I’ve—we’ve seen some significant goals, or significant achievements—but this has been hard work; I want to say we’ve put in a tremendous amount of work to get here—is to kind of pull apart this process. And is it—it is an extraordinarily cumbersome process. It often takes—I’m sure you’ve seen, or you know—18 months for someone from the time they apply to the time they get resettled in the United States. And some of that is just the bureaucracy, right? One agency does the interview, then the other agency reviews the information, and then another agency—right?

So—and it’s almost like—it’s worse than interoffice mail. And you —I don’t know what happens to these packages sometimes when they go from one agency to the next; they can take months, right? And so—and then in the meantime, the medical clearances would expire or—you know, checks would have to be rerun, and it—you know.

So we have an incredibly team, this U.S. digital service that the president has brought on board. They’re distinguishable in the White House because they’re the guys who are wearing jeans and overalls and like, don’t shave. (Chuckles.) They’re sort of our young tech folks who are extremely smart and much savvier with kind of processes than we are.

And they’ve taken apart this whole process, and they’ve come up with a whole bunch of efficiencies that we are already seeing impact the way we do business. So one example is we recently just—we sent a—about—I can’t remember how many people we sent—we went through 12,000 refugee interviews in Jordan. We just sent DHS and State Department people there together; they were sitting right next to each other. So you know, you could just hand the file over. And we could very quickly kind of work through the process.

So no vetting was compromised; we did all of the same checks; but just by nature of having people sitting in the same room, we could get the work done a lot faster.

So that’s the agency action that we’ve seen. That’s the agency action that I’d like to sustain. My number-one goal is to make sure that we leave the refugee system in a better place than we found it. It’s one of these things that’s like kind of Legos, right? Every time we find a new security process, we kind of just stack it on, and we have this very complicated process that—it took a while for anybody to take a step back and look at the whole thing, and say, what are we trying to accomplish here, and are we really best positioned to do it?

So I am hopeful that by the time we leave, we will have left a better bureaucratic structure in place. That’s my goal. And it’s my hope that by the time we get to the summit that we have a very good story to tell. But it’s hard work. This is really hard work.

On asylum, I think—for us, this is kind of a—this is an issue for some of the countries that we’re working with that maybe don’t have the capacity to resettle, or don’t have a lot of history of resettlement. And so we’re looking for opportunities, for example, working with UNHCR, to enhance the capacity, to start introducing standards, to start introducing additional staff, getting commitments at a very high political level for those countries to do that.

I think we have a good—we in the United States have managed to—both manage—you know, look at our borders, enforce our borders, but still have a very strong commitment to asylum and to our obligations under international law. It would be our goal that we can export that, that we can promote that around the world.

And so that’s what I’m hopeful we’ll see in the coming months, and there is going to be a lot of work at very high levels to make sure we get there.

BIGIO: Kristen.

Q: Thanks. And thanks so much for your comments today. It sounds like you work on a very challenging and fast-paced portfolio of things. (Chuckle.)

POPE: (Chuckles.) It is.

Q: I wanted to ask—sort of following up—I’m Kristen Cordell; I work for USAID. I work closely with our CVE colleagues, as well as closely on preparing for the refugee summit.

My question is regarding the Goal 3 commitments and what we’ve seen come out of the World Humanitarian Summit this week on education. It looks like what we’re seeing is a big pivot, changing the way we think about education for refugees in a more long-term displaced scenario. I think that it’s really important to know if—is this a—is this a change of language about how we’re thinking about assistance or refugee education? And what does this mean for existing presidential initiatives, such as Let Girls Learn? And are we looking for those sort of points in which we can link the initiatives to make sure that girls are getting the education they need when they’re long-term displaced?

And if you have any thoughts on that that would potentially guide USAID’s input, especially working closely with our missions that may or may not be involved with countries that will be attending the summit.

POPE: Mmm hmm. The question of access to education is one that has been particularly important for ambassador to the United Nations, to Samantha Power, and she’s made that kind of one of her personal priorities, and I think it’s reflecting—it’s reflective in the policy that’s coming out.

It also dovetails very nicely with what the president is very personally committed to, which is this Let Girls Learn initiative, and something that he’s said that he anticipates he’ll continue to work on, even when he’s no longer the president.

And so whether this is—you know, I think it’s a reflective of—it’s reflective of what’s just happening in real life, is that we know that there are people living—displaced people that are living for years and years in places where—before they can be resettled into something more stable, or before they can return home—and so we need to be thinking about what’s happening to those communities.

We know there are too many children who are not—who don’t have education right now. And when you think about—sort of to link that back to violent extremism, and you think about the conditions that will breed extremism or breed disaffection, that’s precisely the kind of condition that we need to be mitigating now, right?

We need—I think that’s—that is one of the kind of bigger lessons I’ve learned from much of the work I do now, is that there’s a short-term response you always have to keep in mind, but it really needs to be our long-term vision. You know, on—for Zika, my short-term response is making sure we educate people and have a response on this near-term threat, but my—the long-term vision is our commitment to global health security and making sure that we are continuing to make those investments. So I see them sort of parallel.

Q: Yeah, thanks.

BIGIO: Allison.

Q: Thank you so much, Amy, for joining us today, and Jamille, for putting on today’s discussion. My name is Allison Peters, I’m the senior policy adviser for an organization called Inclusive Security, which works to advance women’s participation, peace, and security processes around the globe, with a really strong focus on both programming, research, and policy work on women’s inclusion and CVE.

So I wanted to go back to our discussion earlier—you know, we see a lot of rhetoric, a lot of discussion in global CVE convenings, particularly at the U.N., within the Global Counterterrorism Forum, on the need to include women in counterbalancing extremism efforts. But on a policy level, particularly in the development of national CVE strategies, we’re not necessarily seeing that rhetoric translate into firm commitments, indicators, structures put in place to actually support women’s inclusion.

So I’m wondering if you can talk a little bit about the role that you see for the U.S. in supporting other countries in the development of their national strategies to ensure that there are strong attention to gender and women’s inclusion within those strategies, and particularly whether or not you see it as a positive incentive, or maybe a good policy to look at better leveraging our foreign assistance to some of these countries, to ensure that they have a strong intention to women’s inclusion and gender.

POPE: Yeah, that’s important.

So one, as we referenced early on—and I brought it because I was so excited—the Joint Strategy on Countering Violent Extremism—there is a section here on the work that we’re doing on women and gender, which I—page—it doesn’t have—page 10—I refer you to that.

But I think what that—the fact that we now have this in a document and we’re specifically calling out our work on women and gender, one, is really important for us, because this will help guide our foreign investment dollars.

There are—there are a couple of ways in which we can play a role: One is leading by example, which is why it’s so important that this document specifically calls out the question of women and gender. If we’re not—if we’re not calling it out, why would we expect anybody else to call it out?

And then second, it’s to follow up that commitment with our—with our dollars. But I mean, this is a place where—it’s also a question of who’s the right messenger here, and identifying the right messengers. There is work that we can and will do at a political level to make sure that other countries recognize this as a priority in the way that we do. But it’s also finding the credible people within the community to lift it up, and to look for—to specifically look for the examples in which this is already working and to lift up those examples and to fund those examples and to empower those people within the community who can reflect the importance of gender in the work that they do and just lead by example that way.

We—I think we did a decent job of that when we convened the summit on CVE here. We specifically put in a role for civil society, and specifically looked for way to empower civil society groups focused on gender, focused on youth, focused on—you know, sort of different communities of interest. But I think that needs to be our way of doing business, just—you know, not just what we do kind of one day as part of a summit.


Well, I want to just thank you again for joining us today, and for the insights that you shared in terms of what the U.S. government has done and what’s next on some of the biggest security threats that the world is facing.

So please join me all in thanking Amy. (Applause.) Thank you for your time.


This is an uncorrected transcript.

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