The Pentagon is looking into conflicting statements about the background of Hesham Islam, a special assistant to Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England who was the focus of a dispute with a Joint Staff counterterrorism analyst.
Mr. Islam faced tough questions about his background posed by veteran journalist Claudia Rosett, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who covered the United Nations oil-for-food scandal with Iraq. Last week, Miss Rosett took the Pentagon to task by uncovering serious discrepancies about the Egyptian-born Islam that no one at the Pentagon seems willing to answer.
Writing in National Review Online, Miss Rosett revealed that certain claims about Mr. Islam’s background don’t fit.
Shortly after she wrote about the discrepancies contained in a Pentagon-written article on Mr. Islam’s background, the Pentagon removed the biography from its Web site, DefenseLink.mil.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said “that piece was taken down in an attempt to reduce the rhetoric and the emotion surrounding this issue while we try to determine the facts.”
The Pentagon does not comment on such personnel matters, he noted. “That said, we are looking into the matter and trying to reconcile conflicting statements.”
Mr. Morrell called later to clarify that the conflicting statements being probed relate to whether or not Mr. Islam used the term “Christian zealot with a pen” in describing Mr. Coughlin, and not about discrepancies in Mr. Islam’s background.
Mr. Islam has come under fire from supporters of Stephen Coughlin, the Joint Staff analyst on counterterrorism whose contract was not renewed. The action followed a meeting between Mr. Coughlin and Mr. Islam several weeks ago when the two clashed over Mr. Coughlin’s views on the Islamic law roots of terrorism.
After refusing comment to Inside the Ring, Kevin Wensing, a spokesman for Mr. Islam, now says that reports in this space that Mr. Islam called Mr. Coughlin a “Christian zealot with a pen” did not take place during the meeting.
Queries to other Pentagon officials familiar with the issue said the phrase was used by Mr. Islam after the meeting, not during it.
No action was taken against Mr. Islam, a Muslim adviser and confidant of Mr. England, for the anti-Christian comments.
Mr. Islam could not be reached for comment.
Miss Rosett tried — and failed — to get straight answers from Mr. Wensing about why Mr. Islam claimed that when he was 7 his family was bombed by Israeli jets at his home in Cairo, when there is no evidence the Israelis bombed the Egyptian capital during the 1967 war.
Also, Mr. Wensing could not explain why Mr. Islam said in his biography that he was on a freighter sunk by an Iranian torpedo in the Persian Gulf when there is no record of the ship being sunk.
According to his 1992 master’s thesis at the Naval Postgraduate School, Mr. Islam is highly critical of Israel and the influence of American Jews on U.S. politics, noting that U.S. ties to Israel have harmed relations to other states in the Middle East.
One Pentagon official suggested that any security concerns about Mr. Islam are misguided, noting that someone in his position would have to face a background check.