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January 4, 2008
Notes from the Pentagon

Coughlin sacked
Stephen Coughlin, the Pentagon specialist on Islamic law and Islamist extremism, has been fired from his position on the military's Joint Staff. The action followed a report in this space last week revealing opposition to his work for the military by pro-Muslim officials within the office of Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England.

Mr. Coughlin was notified this week that his contract with the Joint Staff will end in March, effectively halting the career of one of the U.S. government's most important figures in analyzing the nature of extremism and ultimately preparing to wage ideological war against it.

He had run afoul of a key aide to Mr. England, Hasham Islam, who confronted Mr. Coughlin during a meeting several weeks ago when Mr. Islam sought to have Mr. Coughlin soften his views on Islamist extremism.

Mr. Coughlin was accused directly by Mr. Islam of being a Christian zealot or extremist "with a pen," according to defense officials. Mr. Coughlin appears to have become one of the first casualties in the war of ideas with Islamism.

The officials said Mr. Coughlin was let go because he had become "too hot" or controversial within the Pentagon.

Misguided Pentagon officials, including Mr. Islam and Mr. England, have initiated an aggressive "outreach" program to U.S. Muslim groups that critics say is lending credibility to what has been identified as a budding support network for Islamist extremists, including front groups for the radical Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr. Coughlin wrote a memorandum several months ago based on documents made public in a federal trial in Dallas that revealed a covert plan by the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian-origin Islamist extremist group, to subvert the United States using front groups. Members of one of the identified front groups, the Islamic Society of North America, has been hosted by Mr. England at the Pentagon.

After word of the confrontation between Mr. Coughlin and Mr. Islam was made public, support for Mr. Coughlin skyrocketed among those in and out of government who feared the worst, namely that pro-Muslim officials in the Pentagon were after Mr. Coughlin's scalp, and that his departure would be a major setback for the Pentagon's struggling efforts to develop a war of ideas against extremism. Blogs lit up with hundreds of postings, some suggesting that Mr. England's office is "penetrated" by the enemy in the war on terrorism.

Kevin Wensing, a spokesman for Mr. England, said "no one in the deputy's office had any input into this decision" by the Joint Staff to end Mr. Coughlin's contract. A Joint Staff spokesman had no immediate comment.

3Com probe
The Treasury Department-led Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) this week extended an initial 30-day investigation into the national security implications of the proposed merger between 3Com and China's Huawei Technologies.

The CFIUS probe is now entering a second, more intensive 45-day investigation, according to U.S. officials close to the review who say that the extension is another sign that the proposed $2.2 billion merger deal is in trouble.

Bush administration officials disclosed earlier that the U.S. intelligence community conducted a required review of the deal and notified CFIUS in November that the merger plan, as currently structured, posed a threat to U.S. national security.

House Republicans in October also passed a nonbinding resolution calling on the White House to block the deal as a threat to U.S. security.

The probe began after reports that Huawei would gain access to computer intrusion technology used by the Pentagon and intelligence community.

The 3Com deal involves a buyout led by Bain Capital Partners, with Huawei holding a minority stake. Bain spokesman Alex Stanton declined to comment on the extended probe but said "Bain Capital is working closely with CFIUS to provide U.S. officials with information about the proposed transaction."

"We believe CFIUS will conclude that the company will remain firmly in the control of an American firm, has only a small minority foreign shareholder, and that the deal presents no risks to national security," he said, commenting on a report of the prolonged investigation first reported by the Financial Times.

Huawei was linked in the past to violations of United Nations sanctions on Iraq by supplying fiber optic communications gear to the Iraqi military under Saddam Hussein. The company, which has close ties to the Chinese military, also was involved in industrial espionage against U.S. and Japanese firms.

Gates' house
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has been living quietly in one of Washington's oldest neighborhoods, dubbed Foggy Bottom as the result of its swamp fog and factories before it was developed, and its more well-known denizen, the U.S. State Department, located a block or so from the majestic Lincoln Memorial.

The nondescript compound where he resides is the Navy's Bureau of Medicine and Surgery and was the original site for the Naval Observatory off 23rd Street Northwest. It is now a high-security facility, guarded with lots of gates and guards with guns.

Mr. Gates is neighbor to Adm. Michael Mullen, who also lives in one of the compound's three 19th-century houses in Observatory Hill. Adm. Mullen lived there since his days as chief of naval operations and decided to stay, rather than move to the Fort Myer residence of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, when he became chairman several months ago.

Pentagon lawyers are making Mr. Gates pay the overpriced fair market value of $6,500 a month for the old house that is conveniently located minutes by car from his office. The monthly rent consumes a big chunk of Mr. Gates' $191,000 annual salary.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said Mr. Gates chose to live at the house on what is called "Bu-Med," rather than buy a new house, and thinks it could become a permanent home for future defense secretaries, if a less-costly personal payment system is worked out.

"The secretary thought this would be the ideal place to live because it is situated within an existing secure compound; is conveniently located between the White House and the Pentagon; and now has the secure communications equipment needed for his job," Mr. Morrell said.

"But it also made sense because he has no intention of staying past January, 20, 2009 [Inauguration Day] and therefore he decided not buy."

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is also said to be eyeing the Observatory Hill compound as the new site for its offices, currently located at Bolling Air Force Base.

China missiles
The Pentagon's latest estimate of Chinese missile deployment opposite Taiwan is that there are now more than 1,000 missiles aimed at Taiwan.

"China has deployed roughly 1,000 mobile CSS-6 and CSS-7 short-range ballistic missiles to garrisons opposite Taiwan," said one knowledgeable defense official.

The official declined to comment on a Tuesday speech by Chen Shui-bian, president of the Republic of China (Taiwan), who stated that Taiwanese military intelligence now counts 1,328 Chinese missiles deployed within range of Taiwan, an increase of more than 300 from earlier estimates.

The China missile buildup has drawn no criticism from the Bush administration, which appears to have shifted its policy away from supporting Taiwan to backing communist-ruled mainland China.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last month echoed Beijing in calling Taiwan's plan for a vote on United Nations membership as "provocative." By contrast, Miss Rice and other administration officials have said nothing about the missile buildup, which the Pentagon says is designed for a massive "decapitation" strike against Taiwan in any future conflict.

Defense officials said the policy tilt toward Beijing is due to the growing power of pro-China and anti-Taiwan policy and intelligence officials located at key posts within the National Security Council staff, the State Department, Treasury Department and within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

  • Bill Gertz covers national security affairs. He can be reached at 202-636-3274, or at

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