by Eli Clifton
Newly appointed Deputy Assistant to the President Sebastian Gorka has a track record of advising the military and national security elite, including, according to his biographies, the U.S. Special Operations community, the National Intelligence Council, the FBI, the National Counter Terrorism Center and the Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg. He’s also held appointments at the Marine Corps University and the National Defense University.
But a review of his 2016 book Defeating Jihad: The Winnable War raises a series of questions about Gorka’s judgement as a national security analyst and the institutional decisions that led to his impressive looking resumé.
Lectures and academic appointments were not Gorka’s last stop on the way to working in the White House. In all likelihood, his role as national security editor at Breitbart, where President Trump’s Chief Strategist Steve Bannon was executive chair, was his real springboard to the halls of political power.
In that vein, his book reads more like a series of Breitbart opinion columns than a serious examination of Islamic terrorism or an evenhanded evaluation of the national security threat posed by radical Islamic groups primarily active in the Middle East and North Africa.
Gorka stakes out familiar anti-Muslim positions and urges the reinstatement and expansion “of the federal human intelligence counterterrorism methods pioneered by the New York Police Department after 9.11.”
Those surveillance measures did not produce a single lead or terrorism case, but it did result in the City of New York seeking to settle a lawsuit brought by three New York Muslims. The settlement would have imposed safeguards on the NYPD’s practices to bring them in line with the Constitution and the imposition of an anti-religious-discrimination policy. But a federal Judge rejected the settlement as not going far enough to ensure protections against unwarranted police surveillance.
In other words, the policies Gorka wants have been an embarrassment for the NYPD and produced no useable intelligence on terrorism-related threats.
Gorka’s book takes an even stranger turn in the section titled: “What Can You Do To Help Defeat The Global Jihadists?”
Gorka writes (my emphasis):
As I hope I have made clear, the jihadists want to kill infidels here in America as much as they want to purge the “impure” from the territory of the caliphate they have established in the Middle East. This means that you, your loved ones, and your neighbors and colleagues are all potential targets of terrorist attacks here in the United States, and you should prepare accordingly.
If you believe you have the requisite mental fortitude and your local government permits it, consider applying for a concealed-carry permit. But do so only if you are prepared to spend the time (and money) for the training that goes with the heavy responsibility of carrying a gun in public. A gun is just a tool—nothing more, nothing less. Without the necessary training and mindset, it can be more a danger to the innocent than an asset to you and yours.
Gorka appeared to have followed his own advice and was arrested on January 31, 2016, while attempting to bring a handgun through security at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Gorka faced 12 months in Jail and a $2,500 fine but got the case dismissed after meeting the required six months of good behavior as required by his plea deal.
If Gorka’s advice seems questionable, it might be because he gets his information from questionable and conspiratorial anti-Muslim sources.
His book concludes with a section offering a “short list of reading materials and other resources that will help the active citizen better understand our new enemy and allow him to educate his family, friends and colleagues.”
Gorka’s recommended sources include The Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT), which he praises for its pre-9/11 work, writing:
Six years before September 11, 2001, before Operation Enduring Freedom, and before the Patriot Act, there was the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT).
Under the skillful leadership of Steve Emerson, IPT has become one of the greatest collections on jihadi terrorism anywhere in the world, either inside or outside of government.
Approximately “six years before September 11, 2001” was when IPT jumped into the headlines after Steve Emerson spread wildly inaccurate information about the Oklahoma City federal building bombing.
Before reports emerged that Timothy McVeigh perpetrated the bombing, Emerson told CBS, “Oklahoma City, I can tell you, is probably considered one of the largest centers of Islamic radical activity outside the Middle East.” Emerson went on to claim that the bombing had a “Middle Eastern trait.”
Emerson claimed to have “been chastened by that experience” and, in an interview with CBS in 2002, said, “I learned my lesson.” Far from having learned his lesson, Emerson appeared on Fox News after the Boston Marathon bombing claiming that a “Saudi national” was being deported as part of a cover-up, a story that was thoroughly debunked.
Two years later, Emerson was in hot water again following his statement on Fox News that Birmingham, England was a “no-go” zone where Muslim religious police “beat and actually wound seriously anyone who doesn’t dress according to Muslim, religious Muslim attire.”
Then-British Prime Minister David Cameron described Emerson as “clearly a complete idiot.”
Again, Emerson apologized, saying, “I have clearly made a terrible error for which I am deeply sorry. My comments about Birmingham were totally in error.”
Besides Emerson, who must be one of the world’s least reliable self-styled experts on terrorism, Gorka’s praise of the Clarion Fund is also surprising.
The Clarion Fund frequently claimed that it make a distinction between radical Islam and the broader Islamic world. But the group’s films and website rarely make that distinction clear.
The website has published materials claiming violent jihad “is obligatory for Muslims everywhere” and that “Islam not only permits its believers to lie but actually commands it in some circumstances.”
Among their most outlandish and baseless claims (now erased from the group’s website but viewable through Archive.org), the group asserted that “there are 35 Radical Islamic communities spread across the United States.” In a claim that parrots anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney, it warned that the U.S. government has been infiltrated by “Stealth Jihad.”
Before the 2008 election, the group distributed 28 million copies of its documentary Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West to swing state voters. The film featured, among other interviewees, Steve Emerson.
Gorka’s call for readers to purchase handguns and urging them to consult sources with embarrassing track records of over-stating the threat posed by Islamic terrorism, often in parallel with conflating Muslim terrorists with all 1.6 billion Muslims, is shocking for a man advising the 45th president.
But perhaps even more surprising is the remarkable access to military and national security elites he cultivated over the years as a supposedly well-informed source on Islamic terrorism.
Photo of Sebastian Gorka by 7th Army Training Command via Flickr.