Major Stephen Coughlin, an attorney, decorated intelligence officer and the man known as the Pentagon's leading expert on Islamic law has been warning America for years about our inability or unwillingness to know, let alone define our enemy, and the disastrous consequences we will face as a result.
In spite of his groundbreaking work for the Pentagon's National Military Command Center, the National Military Joint Intelligence Center, the National Security Council’s Interagency Perception Management Threat Panel and the Joint Chiefs of Staff Intelligence Directorate, along with lectures at practically all of America's leading national security institutions, by his own admission Coughlin's work is no longer welcomed in much of Washington D.C.
Fearing such censorship, he has decided to bring his critical work to the public, in the form of a forthcoming book titled "Catastrophic Failure: Blindfolding America in the Face of Jihad."
Below is a Blaze exclusive excerpt from "Catastrophic Failure," illustrating the dire state of America's national security and what the country can and must understand to effectively counter our enemies.
What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling sea coasts, our army and our navy. These are not our reliance against tyranny. All of those may be turned against us without making us weaker for the struggle. Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands everywhere. Destroy this spirit and you have planted the seeds of despotism at your own doors. Familiarize yourselves with the chains of bondage and you prepare your own limbs to wear them. Accustomed to trample on the rights of others, you have lost the genius of your own independence and become the fit subjects of the first cunning tyrant who rises among you.
Abraham Lincoln Speech at Edwardsville, Illinois
September 13, 1858
[sharequote align="center"]Senior leaders remain profoundly unaware of the Islamic doctrines that frame the War on Terror[/sharequote]
I did not set out in life to be a student of jihad and Islamic-based terrorism. In the fall of 2001, I was a reserve officer in the United States Army, called to active duty from the private sector due to the events of September 11.
My posting was to the Joint Chiefs of Staff Intelligence Directorate (JS-J2). As I watched America respond to events across the world, I noticed with alarm that decisionmaking seemed to be increasingly less focused on the threat as it presented itself and more on the narratives that reduced the threat to a nameless abstraction.
As a mobilized officer brought into the heart of the strategic intelligence world, I knew there would be a large learning curve involved in formulating the threat doctrine of an enemy that had brought down the Twin Towers in the name of Islam and according to Islamic law.
I made a point of going to the source. I found actual books of Islamic law. I read them and found they could be mapped, with repeatable precision, to the stated doctrines and information that groups like al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood disclosed about themselves and used when speaking to each other. My analysis helped me develop a threat doctrine, an understanding of the enemy as he understands himself unconstrained by the influences of the environment – Sun Tzu’s "Know your enemy." That threat analysis was in line with all the standard doctrines on threat development I had been taught when I learned to do intelligence analysis. Because the declared enemy stated that his fighting doctrine was based on the Islamic law of jihad, Islamic law had to be incorporated into any competent threat analysis. When assessing al-Qaeda in light of the jihad doctrines that the group’s members actually cite, I came to realize that such doctrines did exist, they are generally cited properly, and that al-Qaeda made plausible claims to be actually following those doctrines. In legal parlance, al-Qaeda’s claims to be operating in accordance with mainstream Islamic law could at least survive summary judgment. By the same token, any analysis of al-Qaeda that failed to account for such a self-disclosed component of an identified threat doctrine could not be competent. I assumed everyone with whom I worked in the intelligence directorate was aware of the most basic aspects of intelligence, such as threat identification.
I was wrong. I had entered the Intelligence Directorate adhering to the traditional methods of analysis. Soon, however, I discovered that within the division there seemed to be a preference for political correctness over accuracy and for models that were generated not by what the enemy said he was, but on what academics and "cultural advisors" said the enemy needed to be, based on contrived social science theories.
[sharequote align="center"]There seemed to be a preference for political correctness over accuracy[/sharequote]
It seemed the enemy was aware of this as well. Forces hostile to the United States in the War on Terror appeared to have successfully calculated that they could win the war by convincing our national security leaders of the immorality of studying and knowing the enemy. It is not our fault that the threat we face identifies its doctrine along Islamic lines, but it is our fault that we refuse to look at that doctrine simply because our enemy wishes to blind us to its strategic design.
Some time ago, I had an opportunity to analyze the Muslim Brotherhood in North America’s strategic documents, which were entered into evidence in a federal terrorism trial. In those documents, the Muslim Brotherhood explicitly states its designs for "civilization-jihad" and its intent to sabotage America by getting us to do the job for them. This doctrine of subversion could likewise be mapped to mainstream Islamic law. Individuals and organizations named in the Brotherhood’s documents were shown in the government’s investigative files, surveillance photos, audio recordings, and wiretaps to have been aligned with or members of the Muslim Brotherhood. But while the government was identifying many of these people and entities as providing material support to terrorism in a federal court, it was also seeking out those same people as cultural experts, "moderates," and community outreach partners.
As early as 2003, I began putting together briefings that easily outperformed competing explanations for the enemy’s doctrinal motivations. My briefings have always spoken to verifiable and authoritative facts. Others, however, were based on social science modeling and depended on dubious academic constructs—which, of course, were needed to satisfy the overriding requirement that we avoid associating the war we were fighting with the very Islamic concepts that the enemy self identified as the justification and basis for their actions.
Before demobilizing from the Joint Staff in 2004, I wrote a forecast of adverse events that would occur because of our refusal to undertake evidentiary threat analysis. Eighteen months later, while standing on a Metro platform in downtown Washington, D.C., I happened to run into the senior civilian in the Joint Staff Intelligence Directorate, retired Marine Corps Colonel David Kiffer. He told me he was impressed by my briefs, particularly by how the presentations accurately frame emerging events to that day.
When asked how I could identify emerging threats with such precision, I explained that there is no crystal ball. It’s just that al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the Muslim Brotherhood, and others have knowable threat doctrines. Forecasting is as simple as mapping their stated objectives to the doctrines they follow in conjunction with their known capabilities. At the core of those doctrines, of course, was Islamic law.
As a retired Marine Corps officer, the senior civilian intelligence officer understood my concern for the lack of basic analysis. He asked me to come to the Pentagon and brief the Flag and General officers on the J2 Staff. I accepted the offer but insisted that I be able to present what I believed to be the central problem in the War on Terror. He agreed, so I put a briefing together and spoke at the Pentagon around Christmastime in 2005. The briefing culminated in a slide that raised two central questions:
Can overdependence on “moderates” to explain non-Western motivations and beliefs lead us to (overly) depend on them for the decisions we make?
Is there a point where the outsourcing of an understanding of events leads to the outsourcing of the decisionmaking associated with those events?
Underlying both questions was my concern that decisions central to the warfighting effort are based solely on the inputs of experts on subjects that the decisionmakers themselves do not understand. When such a practice becomes chronic, actual decisionmaking shifts from those responsible for making decisions to the experts they rely on for information. It is a subversion of both the decisionmaking and the warfighting processes.
[sharequote align="left"]It is a subversion of both the decisionmaking and the warfighting processes[/sharequote]
At the Pentagon, after I had expressed my opinion on these issues directly, I was asked to join the Intelligence Directorate as a full-time consultant. Since then, while I repackaged my presentations and restated them in many ways with greater demonstrated foreseeability, the central issue has remained the same: Senior leaders remain profoundly unaware of the Islamic doctrines that frame the War on Terror. Tragically, not knowing these doctrines kills Americans and undermines our security.
By late summer 2006, the presentations I put together were in high demand at the Pentagon and throughout the law enforcement and national security communities. Word spread to the legislative branch as well, and I was soon briefing members of Congress and their staffs. The core presentation—the presentation which mirrored Nidal Hasan’s—came to be called The Red Pill Brief. It earned this nickname thanks to its ability to shift the audience’s understanding of the nature of the threat in the War on Terror in ways that—like the "Red Pill" given to Keanu Reeves’s character in the science-fiction movie The Matrix—enabled them to see the enemy in the War on Terror as it really is. And it gave them an understanding that ensured they would never go back to the false "virtual reality" constructed by outside advisors and enforced by our seniors.
At the core of The Red Pill was an evolving analysis of the relationship between the Islamic legal doctrine of abrogation and a Muslim Brotherhood strategic doctrine based on a book called Milestones by Muslim Brother and Islamic thinker Sayyid Qutb. Those who attended these presentations left with the realization that there is no understanding Islamic terrorism and jihad without understanding the Milestones doctrine; similarly, there is no understanding the Milestones doctrine if one doesn’t understand that it seamlessly merges with Islamic law through the doctrine of abrogation. To demonstrate that this concept is based on authoritative shariah and not personal opinion—and to underscore the lethal consequences of ignoring it—after the Fort Hood attack, I superimposed MAJ Hasan’s slides over my own on the same point to show how closely they mirrored each other.
Gradually, the material I covered expanded to include a little-known international organization known (at that time) as the Organization of Islamic Conference, made up of all the self-defined Islamic states, including those claiming to be our coalition allies. Here was an organization that considers itself the arbiter and authority for all Muslims on matters ranging from what constitutes international human rights to defining terrorism. This organization, which was unknown to most of the senior officials I briefed, was asserting its right to claim to be the arbiter of what could or could not be said about Islam by non-Muslims in the non-Muslim world in an effort to stifle what has come to be known as "Islamophobia." Further, their declarations and programs, like those of al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood, could be understood by examination through the lens of Islamic law. What I discovered was an organization for whom "human rights" meant Islamic law, and for whom "terrorism" did not necessarily mean the jihadis we were fighting. I also discovered that when the Organization of Islamic Conference echoed Islamic legal pronouncements that called for violence against non-Muslims, typically in regard to statements about Islam, these calls to violence were answered by Days of Rage.
[sharequote align="right"]There has been a purposeful ratcheting down of analytical standards in this war[/sharequote]
During my time at the Pentagon, I explained that there has been a purposeful ratcheting down of analytical standards in this war, to the point where they ceased to meet minimum standards of professionalism. From the beginning, my briefings reflected a preference for factual analysis that maps to evidentiary data; events are explained in plain terms and within the context of the picture that emerges from such analysis. I disfavored a reliance on academic and overwrought intellectual constructs that, while creating the illusion of scientific methodology, only mask what are otherwise incoherent ideations. One need only watch a competent joint staff officer have to defer to an anthropologist or "cultural expert" on mission-critical concerns to understand how this works. Scientism is the Gnosticism of our time.
The more popular my briefings became with military officers and special agents directly engaged in the War on Terror, the more senior leadership resisted them. Sensing that these briefings could at some point be banned in the national security space, the Center for Security Policy approached and asked if I would convert my briefings to book form. I agreed.
Unfortunately, my concern about a future banning has proven just as legitimate as my other forecasts. Much of the information presented in my briefings, and which is available to readers of this book, is no longer welcome in the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security, or within the Intelligence Community. Professional analysts and trainers in counterterrorism, intelligence, and asymmetrical warfare have had their slides edited or censored, their names maligned, and, in some cases, their jobs threatened. Even elected officials, the members of Congress whom I briefed, have been aggressively criticized by the media and by their fellow legislators for discussing issues related to the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic law.
[sharequote align="center"]The time has come to present this case to the American people[/sharequote]
This book is based on briefings that have explained the current situation while forecasting future activity accurately enough to provide warning. Importantly, all of it is based on open source information. While this analysis has consistently outperformed the prevailing paradigm, national security decisionmakers have nonetheless ignored, disfavored, or even prohibited it.
Ignorance kills. In war, ignorance brings defeat, especially for those who are sworn to support and defend us. While ignorance is not a crime for the average person, it is for professionals concerning subject matter that is the object of their professions. Why shouldn’t this hold true for national security professionals? For them, one requirement is that they know the enemy by undertaking real threat identification of entities that constitute actual threats to the Constitution and people of the United States.
None of this is complicated; it is, in fact, quite simple.
The time has come to present this case to the American people. I hope to offer to the reader the same quality of information and analysis that has been presented to national security professionals and which has been studiously ignored. I will provide the necessary citations to Islamic law, both historical and contemporary, from books written in English for Muslim consumers of Islamic law (also called shariah), and will explain the key principles for interpreting these laws, particularly as they relate to non-Muslims and jihad. We will go through, in detail, the Islamic legal concept of abrogation and how it impacts the actions of Muslims who have chosen to wage jihad. We will examine the impact of Islamic scholar and Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb, and how his understanding of abrogation led to what I call "The Milestone Process," which guides the performance of jihad for our enemies in the War on Terror. We will discuss what is called the "Islamic Movement" and how the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other groups oriented on the Milestone Process view themselves as unified by varying degrees against us. We’ll examine the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation and see how their understanding of themselves as a kind of “Proto-Caliphate” may be accurate, even though our decisionmakers don’t even know they exist.
With this understanding of the rules and the players achieved, we’ll discuss how each of these groups works in accordance with Islamic law as they understand it, to the great detriment of those who fail to recognize the threat they pose. We’ll examine the postmodern world of American national security policymaking, where fidelity to political correctness, the need for “balance,” and standards that put assumptions and social science theories before facts have left us dangerously exposed.
And we will examine how our failure to understand these factors has repeatedly led to tragedy and real loss of life, leaving America vulnerable to those who wish to destroy us.
I hope to show that returning to traditional standards of threat analysis—bolstered by common-sense professional standards and grounded in the obligations we have to support and defend the Constitution—will enable us once again to know our enemies and develop methods to defeat them.