The Cast of Characters
Hesham Islam was born in Cairo in 1959. He was raised in Alexandria where he remained until his parents moved the family to Basra during his teenage years. It was in Saddam Hussein's Basra that he completed his High School education and attended the Arabian Gulf Academy, where he purportedly graduated with a BS in Maritime Studies. His native language is Arabic and he is a devout Muslim.
In 1980 he immigrated to the U.S. Considering the era in which this happened, it would be nice to know the particulars of that move but very little is publicly known about the family migration or even under what circumstances they left Iraq.
From 1985-2005 he served in the U.S. Navy first as an enlisted man serving at Groton Connecticut as an Electronics Technician for the Submarine Service before being accepted to OCS in 1987. He was hired by DRS Technologies, a defense industries company in February of 2009. According to his biography, he completed his Master's program in California, earning an M.A. in National Security Affairs. His 139 page thesis about the Middle East, entitled "Roots of Regional Ambition", railed against US policy on Israel and the Middle East region, favoring a more Arab-centric policy. In a story by Claudia Rosett at the National Review dated January 25, 2008 the thesis was anything but even-handed; from the story:
"…he devoted dozens of pages to lambasting Israel, and the influence of American Jews on U.S. politics. He deplored "Israeli activities which have detrimentally affected U.S. objectives but which have continued with impunity." He argued that U.S. support for Israel "has negatively affected the attainment of U.S. objectives in the Middle East." He blamed the influence of American Jews on U.S. policy for a host of ills, ranging from Arab "retaliation" against Americans, to jobs lost overseas, to hampering sales of "defensive arms to friendly Arab states."
It is important to note that he was also accused of 'padding' his personal biography. While those elements of his biography affected by that effort are of very little consequence to the overall story, it raises questions about the man's trustworthiness and particulars of the years prior to his migration to the U.S.
Question: How does an Islamic immigrant from Iraq, during Saddam Hussein's reign, manage to get clearance for Officer Candidate School much less the clearance necessary to be assigned to the Submarine Service?
To give this context; ten years earlier, I had considered applying to the FBI only to be told that I would not pass the first level of scrutiny because my Mother had migrated… from Canada!
Curiously, Mr. Islam's biography is silent as to when he was first assigned to the Staff of the Secretary of the Navy under Gordon England but the two became very good friends during this assignment. It is important to note that England identified Islam as a close personal friend and 'confidante'; "I take his advice," England said, "and I listen to him all the time."
Note: professional relationships that develop into personal friendships are not rare but are traditionally deemed unwise and in some instances, in some organizations, discouraged or made unlawful - especially in the ranks of the highly structured, military and intelligence communities. This is especially true when the friendship crosses lines of authority. The reason for this is the high probability of compromising one's authority and responsibilities. Fraternization across lines from Enlisted to Officer and from Officer to Senior Political Appointee is not allowed within the Armed Forces. Even if we consider England's apparent lack of familiarity with military life as excusable, Islam should have, never-the-less, acted in a way that was in keeping with this protocol. This is, of course, assuming his first priority and first loyalty was to Corps and Country.
Question: Was Hesham Islam sincerely interested in securing a friendship with England or was he softening up a stooge for a future need? The question is valid for a 'man cannot serve two masters'. Any diversion from a full blown examination of all aspects of a society, would certainly render the assessment incomplete and thus invalid. Any true American, loyal to country first, would be most interested in securing the best and most complete information for safeguarding our American troops. But if a man with divergent loyalties were so placed as to influence the process of selecting the information used to assess that society, the entire process would be suspect. Hesham Islam was certainly loyal to the religion of his youth and hence, his fellow worshipers. What other justifiable reason can there be for denying access to an academic study of the very words of the Scholars of that religion and it's likely affect on military operations in a predominately Muslim society, than giving deference to that religion above that of the security of the country?
In 2005, Islam was reassigned to the staff of Deputy Secretary of Defense under the title of Special Assistant for International Affairs, shortly after England himself was appointed as Deputy Secretary. It is during this assignment that Islam's associations and actions came under the intense scrutiny of Federal investigators.
Islam was accused of essentially acting as liaison and setting up meetings with Husam al-Dairi of the Muslim Brotherhood in late 2005 and ISNA (named by the Department of Justice as a member of the U.S. Muslim Brotherhood and an unindicted co-conspirator in the case of the Holy Land Foundation, an Islamic charity indicted in 2005 in Dallas federal court for allegedly providing millions of dollars to the terrorist group Hamas, itself an outgrowth of the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood) with England with the intent of "influencing the process".
The two most egregious points of the story are; (1), England was preparing to meet with them based, remarkably, on Islam's prompting alone; (2) No one except the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs seemed concerned about it even though it was against protocol. From the Story:
At the urging of a subordinate, Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England scheduled at least two meetings with foreign emissaries in direct contradiction of U.S. policy at the time. The meetings date back to 2005. They involved a Lebanese ambassador considered a proxy for the Syrian government and a leading member of Syria's Muslim Brotherhood.
U.S. policy at the time was not to engage in talks with either man, because they represent groups with whom the United States was not to communicate. The meetings were organized by England's special assistant for international affairs, Hesham Islam.
An invitation to Muslim Brotherhood official Husam al-Dairi was canceled in late 2005 after a senior State Department official heard about it and insisted it not take place. That official, J. Scott Carpenter, told IPT News he was shocked that such an invitation was issued, let alone that it was done without anyone consulting the State Department.
Carpenter was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near East Affairs at the time and knew the meeting went against U.S. policy toward the Muslim Brotherhood.
"I said, ‘what are you talking about?'" he remembered in an interview last week. "It was a bad idea."
Without due deliberation, it is easy to send the wrong message "broad and near," Carpenter said. "If something like that were to come up and be blindsided … it's not just a procedural foul up. It could unwittingly create bigger problems for the United States government."
"When you have somebody who has a controversial background," Carpenter added, "you don't want to give the impression that the United States government is standing behind them."
Two discussions should have taken place, he said. One would debate whether the meeting should take place at all. If it was agreed it should, the next question should determine the level of government appropriate to meet someone from the Brotherhood. Deputy Defense Secretary is far too high, Carpenter said.
After Carpenter relayed his concerns to England's office, a staff member called back. She told him it would be "a huge hassle to postpone it" and if that happened, England's office would make it clear this was the result of the State Department "putting its foot down and [saying] the meeting should not take place."
Carpenter said that was fine by him. The episode, including the serendipitous way he learned about it, made him wonder whether other meetings like that took place without State Department consultation, he said.
In a story released by WND released as early as February 2008, the FBI described Islam as a "Trojan Horse" and England's apparent blindness to the tactics of the Muslim Brotherhood and Islam this way; "England doesn't know it's an influence operation that's been laid at his door," he said. "His lack of awareness is irresponsible.".
So what we have thus far, is a devout Muslim and nationalized citizen from Saddam Hussein's Iraq, who manages to get access to a highly confidential area of the Navy, the Submarine Service and eventually a Commission leading to two high level positions within the Department of Defense. During his last appointment under the Deputy Secretary of Defense, he orchestrates meetings between members of the Muslim Brotherhood and the ISNA and his boss, the Deputy Secretary of Defense in direct contradiction of US policy at the time.
Keep in mind that we were in the process of trying to define the nature of an enemy and the local population in a country that is 99% Muslim. Add to this the fact that an Analyst had been hired, by the Department of Defense to produce a study defining not only the religion but it's likely affect on the decision-making process of not only the enemy but the local population as well.
This study would certainly have helped address implications for an American, "Infidel" Force fighting within that society. Let us keep in mind that the "Infidel Force" is made up of the Sons and Daughters of this current generation of Americans - not some nebulous force of drones from space. One assumes that a patriotic "American" would be concerned about that first.
Islam's lack of professionalism and the true object of his loyalty can be summed up in the simple comment he made about the Analyst who had been hired for his expertise in this particular area; "A Christian zealot with a poison pen." is how he described the Analyst. Curious that he didn't see the Analyst as an American investigating a facet of Afghan society that could have a profound affect on the thought processes of the individual Afghan that could negatively affect American Warriors.
As a result of the conversation he had with his boss/friend, Gordon England, the thesis was ignored. Remarkable! A very critical piece of information that would have been used to help formulate a more exacting understanding of the enemy and the population we were about to thrust American Servicemen in the midst of was buried because of the unwise friendship between a subordinate and his boss.
Can you say, compromised?
It is safe to say that Hesham Islam was far more concerned about the implied stigma the Analyst's report would leave on his chosen religious ideology. He was certainly more concerned than for the accuracy of the information provided to men whose study and conclusions would affect the lives of American Warriors working in a 99% Islamic compliant country.
Consider these comments from an FBI agent close to the investigation:
WND has learned that Islam is closely associated with a Muslim military chaplain trained at a radical Islamic school that federal agents raided after 9/11 in connection with terror-financing.
As WND reported, the chaplain, Abuhena M. Saifulislam, studied Islam at the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences in Virginia.
Recently declassified FBI documents reveal its sister organization, an Islamist think tank known as the International Institute of Islamic Thought, or IIIT, is involved in a Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy to wage a cultural and political jihad to eventually take over America from within; most notably, through infiltration of government agencies.
Islam works closely with Saifulislam (Arabic for "sword of Islam") on Pentagon outreach projects involving Middle Eastern embassies and the so-called Wahhabi lobby in Washington.
"He's a Muslim brother," an FBI official said of Islam. "He's a bad actor. He's well-positioned to be where he is, and that doesn't do us any good."
He also said Saifulislam is "definitely Muslim Brotherhood," while noting that Islam "is a lot smoother than Saifulislam," who as a chaplain at Gitmo lobbied for special meals and other privileges for al-Qaida detainees.
The official hastened to add that, at this point, belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood is not criminal, and neither Defense Department employee is the subject of a formal counterterrorism or counterespionage investigation. Both men have refused interviews, and the Pentagon had no comment.
However, the FBI official warned that the Muslim aides are part of a conspiracy by Muslim Brotherhood fronts to run "influence operations" against the U.S. government.
It may be true that the Muslim Brotherhood, the ISNA and several other organizations we could mention, including the KKK, Neo-Nazism, the Black Panthers, the Communist Party, the Crips, Bloods, et al are not illegal to be members of. It is, however, the epitome of arrogance and the very definition of poor judgment for anyone to be actively engaged with organizations like these - especially at the highest levels of government and especially when we are trying to define an enemy, within the borders of a country whose people share that enemy's ideology. Remember; the Analyst we are talking about was hired, by the Pentagon, because of his credentials in this area of study and for the specific purpose of answering those questions and providing counsel and guidance on this narrow aspect of Afghan society.
This study would help round out our understanding of the people of Afghanistan, Afghan custom and courtesy, the home-grown Taliban phenomenon we were preparing to re-engage and whether or not the religion would complicate those efforts.
The Useful Idiot:
Gordon England was sworn in as the Secretary of the Navy on May 24, 2001. His selection for the role was controversial at the time because of his lack of military service and his business background in the defense industry. The rightful concern was that a conflict of interest might arise from the inevitable lobbying attempts from other members of the industry.
Whether his defense contract background is or was an issue is a topic for another day but being selected to serve in one of the top military billets in government without a resume´ including military service is disrespectful of those serving at-the-least.
Whether it is a position in business without any associated experience in that industry or a position of authority in the military lacking the same, questions concerning suitability will and should arise and are certainly justifiable.
The military community is unique from all other walks of life because the professional Warrior is held to a different set of standards than his civilian counterpart. Personal discipline and a personal understanding of selflessness is not only required, but I argue, part of the character makeup of those who seek to serve in this capacity. Those who seek a political appointment lacking that background most likely lack the ability to understand they are not suitable for the position in the first place. While they may 'respect' the Warrior community, they lack an intrinsic understanding of the Warrior ethos and they certainly lack an empathetic respect.
There are also other stated yet subtle reasons why a person not brought up in the military community should be excluded from serving as the head of any branch and Gordon England ran afoul of one of those rules; Fraternization.
Definition. Fraternization is a social or business relationship between Marines of different grades in violation of a custom of the naval service which, in the eyes of one experienced in military leadership, impacts adversely on good order and discipline, or degrades or at least threatens to degrade the character or status of the position that a Marine holds.
While I admit this is a definition from the Marine Corps Fraternization Policy, the spirit of the policy exists in all branches of the service. Many mistakenly attribute this exclusively to male/female relationships across lines of rank, but in fact it covers any gender and in all situations.
The concern is, as the policy definition states, that the higher ranking person's authority may be compromised by restrictions placed on the individual by the relationship. This isn't rocket science; this is simply a classic understanding of human behavior. So how does this fit our current discussion? Because it was during this first appointment that Hesham Islam was assigned to the office of the Secretary of the Navy and during this tenure that the two, purportedly, became friends. It's too bad our naïve Congressional Servants aren't as concerned about things like fraternization as they were about lobbyists in this case.
If there is legitimacy to the concern over an E-3 Lance Corporal having a friendly relationship with an E-6 Staff Sergeant, how much more should we be concerned over a friendship developing between a member of the armed forces and a high level civilian appointee to whom he reports? Legitimate concerns about national security and the effectiveness and security of our Armed Forces are raised. Will the civilian senior be able to hold that relationship in check and not allow it to affect his judgment during a time of crucial decision-making? Considering Gordon England's own words describing his loyalty to his friend and the level to which he shared information and accepted counsel from him, it is clear his judgment was affected by the friendship.
At this point in the story, we have a naturalized citizen from Saddam Hussein's Iraq, who somehow gets accepted not only into the Navy but the Submarine Service and finally as an Officer. He is eventually ushered into two of the highest and most classified areas of the Defense Department, answering directly to the heads of both of those departments. Those heads are in fact the same person and someone whose intrinsic understanding of those departments lacks a history of military service. He allows a friendship to develop in violation of fraternization policies that threatens to undermine his authority and his judgment. By his own words, he uses his friendship with this Naval Officer for counsel and guidance.
Does anyone see a potential problem here?
The next entry to the story will introduce you to the Analyst and his work. I want to remind the reader that his contribution to the assessment of the 'human terrain' in Afghanistan was crucial to rounding out our entire understanding of the very people our Warriors would be surrounded by, day to day. It is unreasonable and sophomoric to arbitrarily exclude any element of a society, the culture, the religion, the economy or the standard of living from the assessment. Any of these can motivate people, in normal times, to act in ways that can lead to violence. Add to this the stresses of War and the inclusion of an outside, uniformed force and all of these elements take on a new dimension. If you consider the possibility that the uniformed force is likely to be seen, as an occupying force of pagans and a religiously defined unclean element and the opportunities for covert and overt violent acts or even a general lack of cooperation should be apparent.
But none of that was possible to be considered because that element of the study was buried by the Deputy Secretary of Defense at the demand of his friend, the naturalized American and pious Muslim, Hesham Islam; a man who was given access to areas of the government not made available to the average American born here.
(Excerpt from his bio with SEG, Inc.) Stephen Coughlin is the Vice President of Strategic Communication Initiatives for SEG, Inc. He is considered to be the leading expert in the United States on Islamic Doctrine, specifically as it relates to the doctrine of jihad. He is a Major in the Army Reserve in Military Intelligence, and was previously assigned to CENTCOM J2 where he worked in strategic communications / information operations problems. He was a consultant to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, J2 (Intelligence) where he supported Joint Staff strategic communications related to Islamic law on jihad in association with OEF, OIF, and the WOT.
He is an attorney with a background in International law and International business. Before starting with Jorge Scientific, he worked at LexisNexis Special Services Inc supporting certain government organizations in the classified domain. Prior to that, he was the International Export Counsel for West Group and a member of the prestigious West Publishing Editorial staff.
Mr. Coughlin holds the JD from the William Mitchell School of Law, and BA degree in history and Russian area studies, from the University of Minnesota. Mr. Coughlin also served on the Board of Governors of the Minnesota State Bar.
In 2006, Mr. Coughlin’s thesis, “To Our Great Detriment: Ignoring What Extremists Say About Jihad,” was accepted by the National Defense Intelligence College, and details the doctrinal drivers of jihad within Islamic Doctrine, and the failure of the United States leadership to learn and understand this doctrine. He has taught, lectured, and briefed senior members of DoD, members of Congress, senior U.S. Government officials, and many law enforcement and intelligence officers in the United States.
It is the substance of the 2006 thesis that caused Stephen Coughlin to run afoul of Hesham Islam and their boss, Gordon England.
Again; keep in mind that He was hired for his expertise in this area and for recommendations and conclusions about the likely affect of Islam on the mission. Apparently, his analysis was a bit more than the DOD and the Pentagon were willing to consider or just maybe, the White House.
In any case, it took very little persuading on the part of Hesham Islam to cause Gordon England to ditch the thesis and the ramifications of it's contents. This was done without any academic rebuttal, any opposing study, any lengthy discourse. All it took was for a friend to convince the Deputy Secretary of Defense, a man who swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States and by proxy, the security of this nation and it's people, to sidetrack the very piece of work Coughlin had been hired to produce.
This thesis was not 'the assessment' but a detailed piece of information that the order writers needed to help fill out a picture of the human terrain in Afghanistan. This assessment in turn would be used by General Grade Officers to determine the best course of action and the best strategy to complete the stated Commander's Intent with the least number of American casualties while inflicting the greatest amount of pain on the enemy.
After all; isn't that the point of warfare? To inflict as much pain on the enemy in as short an amount of time as possible - all in an attempt to convince him of the hopelessness of continuing the struggle? Wouldn't this in fact be the first best way to avert undue hardship and pain on the local population, our Warriors and their waiting families at home?
Or maybe that wasn't of any interest to either man. Maybe Gordon England's first concern was loyalty to his friend rather than his duty to his country. Maybe Hesham Islam's first loyalty was to the religious ideology of his homeland rather than the security of his adopted home; the home that overlooked his questionable background and swept him up into the United States Naval Service and into several of the most critical areas of security in this nation.
In Part III we will look at the Thesis, the perspective of it's author and ask why this was considered too inflamatory to give to the assessors.