January 11, 2008
officials, are quietly rallying to support ousted Joint Staff
counterterrorism analyst Stephen Coughlin.
Pentagon officials said a number of generals and admirals who share Mr.
Coughlin’s well-reasoned assessment of the Islamic law underpinnings of
Islamist terror are voicing support for the lawyer and former military
Mr. Coughlin was fired as a Joint Staff contractor after his
confrontation with Hasham Islam, a special assistant to Deputy Defense
Secretary Gordon England, was reported here last month.
Mr. Islam, a Muslim, referred to Mr. Coughlin as a “Christian zealot
with a pen” during the meeting several weeks ago, a slur rejected by
Critics of Mr. Coughlin are spreading word – falsely – that he is being
let go because he talked out of school to the press. One official
suggested the action was due to budget cuts.
But defense and military officials supportive of Mr. Coughlin said the
real reason is that critics, like Mr. Islam. want him sidelined because
they oppose his hard-to-refute views on the relationship between
law and Islamist jihad doctrine. Those views have triggered a harsh
debate challenging the widespread and politically correct view of Islam
as a religion of peace hijacked by extremists.
“Steve Coughlin is the most knowledgeable person in the U.S. government
on Islamic law,” said retired Air Force Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney. “The
secretary of defense should ensure that he stays at DOD.”
Another booster is Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland, commanding
general of the 1st Marine Expeditionary Corps, who said in November
Mr. Coughlin’s briefing for Marines bound for “hit the mark in
explaining how jihadists use the to justify their actions.”
“Your presentation has armed service men and women with more
intellectual ammunition to take the fight to the enemy,” Gen. Helland
said in a letter.
A U.S. Central Command analyst, Neal Harper, stated in an e-mail to
friends, that if Mr. Coughlin is allowed to become a casualty in the
of ideas “then I’m deeply concerned about the future course of the war
“Ignoring Steve Coughlin’s honest assessments and terminating his
contract sets a dangerous and disturbing precedent,” Mr. Harper stated.
“We struggled for many years to get our heads around radical Islam, and
Steve has been a leader in the effort.”
Mr. Harper said Mr. Coughlin should be promoted, but instead “Hasham
Islam is allowed to insult him publicly.”
“How is it that he is allowed to call anyone a Christian zealot?” he
asked. “This alone exposes his bias, his poor perception of Christians,
and a complete lack of professionalism, at best. Should we instead be
asking who is this guy and how did he get inside? Is he representative
of those who are leading this Muslim outreach? Does Muslim outreach
that we are not allowed to question or confront those we are trying to
communicate with and the doctrine upon which they stand? When speaking
the truth gets one fired, we all should be concerned and at the very
least need to ask why.”
Army Lt. Col. Joseph C. Myers, commandant’s Army adviser at the Air
Force Air Command and Staff College in , said in a letter posted
on the Internet that the Joint Staff is losing its only Islamic law
scholar if the firing stands.
Col. Myers said Mr. Coughlin should continue to educate the military
the war on terrorism. “If we don’t understand the war and the enemy we
are engaged against, we remain vulnerable and we cannot win,” he
Unlike during the
his education at , “can anyone show me where the equivalent
the Soviet threat doctrine series for the global war on terror is
published?” he asked. “It has not been done.”
Col. Myers said the military is fighting a war that “from doctrinal
perspective, we fundamentally do not understand.”
Mr. Myers also stated that U.S. counterintelligence failures should
people to “wonder and question the extent we are in fact penetrated in
government and academia by foreign agents of influence, the , Islamists and those who truly in essence do not share our
The firing of Joint Staff counterterrorism analyst Stephen Coughlin
is having a negative impact throughout the U.S. intelligence and
Analysts are watching closely to see if the firing of the Islamic law
specialist over his views of the Islamist law basis for extremism will
be allowed to stand and thus hamper the production of honest
intelligence analysis of terrorist threats throughout the 16-agency
Officials critical of Mr. Coughlin’s firing, following a verbal
confrontation with Hasham Islam, a special assistant to Deputy Defense
Secretary Gordon England, said he is being punished for telling the
“The analyst now sees two threats to their work: the enemy and the
uninformed policy-maker,” said one analyst.
Officials said that if the situation had been reversed and an analyst
who supported politically correct Muslim outreach programs by the U.S.
government were fired, the hue and cry would have been loud inside
government and within the press.
Instead, Mr. Coughlin, who has questioned whether such outreach
are legitimizing extremist front groups and their supporters, has
received little support from senior Bush administration policy-makers,
the Congress, or the liberal news media.
Bush administration officials said the National Security Council staff
is in the final stages of producing a new presidential order on the
Treasury Department-led Committee on Foreign Investment in the United
States. The latest draft was circulated late last month and is expected
to be published shortly.
One official said the latest draft is “not appreciably different” than
contentious version produced in October that was opposed by officials
the Justice Department, and the
because it lessened the clout of security agencies in reviewing foreign
purchases of U.S. companies.
The new order grew out of congressional reform legislation and is
supposed to strengthen the hand of the three security departments.
Critics say instead, it’s being watered down by pro-business officials
who see the security review as hampering U.S. business interests.
White House spokesman Tony Fratto said he is “not sure” when the new
order will be finished and disputed officials who said the order has
changed substantially from the October draft.
A multi-agency memorandum on the order in October stated that recently
passed CIFIUS reform legislation was “security focused” but that the
administration’s draft order weakens the role of security agencies in
reviews of foreign companies that seek to buy U.S. firms.
While Navy officials are praising the restraint, discipline and
of sailors on the warships passing the Strait of Hormuz that
recently were approached by Iranian speedboats, other defense officials
say privately that the Navy sent the wrong signal to in not
attacking and sinking the threatening craft.
“They should have taken action since there is no way of knowing what
kind of threat those speedboats posed,” said one official.
The officials said the failure to sink the Islamic Revolutionary Guards
Corps boats was a missed opportunity to signal that such
threatening actions will be met with immediate action. The boats
approached within 500 yards of the ships and were seen dropping things
into the water, which officials said could have been high-technology
mines designed to sink or damage the warships.
Instead, the boats were allowed to conduct a threatening action in the
strategic strait with no penalty. One of the Iranian boats radioed the
message to the Navy ships “I am coming to you … you will explode.”
An intelligence official said weapons operators on the three Navy
warships were within seconds of firing shipboard guns on the five
Iranian boats. But the sailors held fire after the boats turned away,
apparently fearing the Navy would be accused of being aggressors by
firing at retreating small boats.
Chief Navy spokesman Rear Adm. Frank Thorp said in the speed boat
incident “commanding officers did not believe that the threat at hand
warranted firing on the Iranian boats.”
c Bill Gertz covers national security affairs. He can be reached at
202/636-3274, or at
<mailto: > .