Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England cleared his special assistant of any wrongdoing related to a run-in with former Joint Staff analyst Stephen Coughlin, and amid questions about the Muslim aide’s background.
“The deputy secretary’s office has thoroughly reviewed the issues of concern raised by a few members of Congress and the media and has concluded there is no reason to question Cmdr. Hesham Islam’s credibility or his allegiance to his country,” Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell told Inside the Ring.
Mr. Islam, a retired Navy commander, came under criticism after a meeting last fall with Mr. Coughlin, a leading specialist on the relationship between Islamic law and terrorism, when Mr. Islam told associates that Mr. Coughlin was a “Christian zealot with a pen” because of his hard-line views on the ties between extremism and Islam.
Additionally, journalist Claudia Rosett wrote a National Review Online article questioning Mr. Islam’s official biography that had been posted on the official Pentagon Web site and was removed after her article ran.
Miss Rosett noted that Mr. Islam claimed to be in Cairo when it was bombed by Israel in 1967, but there are no records of bombing the Egyptian capital, only the airport near Cairo.
Mr. Islam also claimed to have been on board a freighter sunk by an Iranian torpedo in the Persian Gulf, but that could not be verified.
Investigators determined there are some things that are “unknowable” about Mr. Islam’s background.
Some defense security officials said the discrepancies raise concerns because Mr. Islam holds a security clearance.
Mr. England’s investigators also denied that Mr. Islam or Mr. England got Mr. Coughlin fired from the contractor position as a Joint Staff analyst, which happened after the contentious meeting between Mr. Islam and the analyst. Mr. Coughlin left the Joint Staff last month and is working for the Office of the Secretary of Defense shop for special operations and low-intensity conflict.