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ISIS Puts Together Effective Propaganda Team


One of the hallmarks of ISIS as a terrorist organization has been its effective use of social media and video. Washington Post national security correspondent Greg Miller recently spoke with ISIS defectors who'd been part of the Islamic State's media team, and he joins us now to talk about how that group crafts its image and branding. Good morning.

GREG MILLER: Good morning.

WERTHEIMER: Now you interviewed more than a dozen defectors who were, at one point, involved in the Islamic State's media division. How big an operation is that?

MILLER: It's an enormous operation, and one of the defectors that we spoke to described it as an army unto itself, an army of propagandists. And, you know, it's a professional class within the Islamic State that gets special perks. Its media operatives get better cars, better pay, better houses. It's a very high priority for the Islamic State.

WERTHEIMER: Now I assume they must have videographers, crews, all kinds of sets, staged events.

MILLER: Right. Not only do they have videographers, but videographers will go through a month of training after their initial military training upon arrival in Syria. And then you're right. A lot of the events that we end up seeing on the videos that come from the Islamic State are highly orchestrated. They're staged and scripted. And even ones that are not aimed at a Western audience this is true. There was - one of the defectors talked to us about seeing a public execution in a city near Aleppo. And having a propaganda team show up ahead of time with cue cards that the public official who's presiding over this awful event is expected to read from, he has to do it in multiple takes while they hold up the cue cards. Then when the execution gets underway, it's a beheading. They have the executioner hold, you know, raise and lower his sword repeatedly so that they can get the right angle from their cameras of that blade. And only when they say go does he finally proceed.

WERTHEIMER: Some of the defectors you interviewed said they saw American members of the media team. What exactly did they tell you?

MILLER: Right. So this has been a focus of a special attention, obviously, for our reporting and for U.S. national security agencies. The defectors referred to two or possibly three Americans in the mix. One we sort of knew about. He appears at the end of a prominent video that the group released a year and half ago, and the FBI has information about him or is requesting information about him, I should say, on their website. But there are two others. One was described as an American who is behind the scenes in one of their main propaganda production facilities. He doesn't appear on camera, but he's an expert editor, and he does a lot of the assembling of the raw footage into videos, including for one of the most prominent videos that the group released, a film called "Flames Of War." That's like an epic movie for them. It's an hour long. Another one has surfaced more recently. The Islamic State has daily radio broadcasts in multiple languages. One of them is English. When you listen to that broadcast, it's a distinctly American or at least North American voice.

WERTHEIMER: Greg Miller is The Washington Post's national security correspondent. Thank you very much for joining us.

MILLER: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.