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February 1, 2008
Notes from the Pentagon

Islam probed
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,

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.

China's real Pentagon

A recent Pentagon report identified China's most secret underground emergency command post and military center in western Beijing code-named Elephant Nose Valley.

Defense officials said the facility is part of a large military complex that's considered China's real Pentagon, but has been kept off-limits to visiting U.S. military and defense officials by Chinese military leaders for more than a decade.

The complex is hardened against military attack and accessible by a two-lane underground highway used by communist and military leaders who can make the 10-mile trip from the central Beijing leadership compound called Zhongnanhai.

Google Earth photos of the Western Hills area show only the Beijing Botanical Garden, the closest landmark to the Elephant Nose Valley complex.

Successive secretaries of defense and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff have sought to visit the facility since the late 1990s, but have been told various lies why it cannot be seen, from claims that the facility does not have toilets appropriate for westerners to a claim that the facility was closed and its functions moved to the defense ministry.

Chinese military leaders have denied granting access to the facility because they fear it could aid U.S. wartime targeting or assist intelligence gathering on China's military.

Defense officials said the report containing data on Elephant Nose Valley was written by Pentagon consultant Michael Pillsbury. China's refusal to permit U.S. visits has been a key element in Pentagon complaints about China's lack of military "transparency."

The report is based on Chinese military writings and interviews and stated that the Central Military Commission, the highest authority, reorganized the military's operations department in 2004 based on Chinese military visits to the Pentagon. Chinese military visitors have been permitted to visit some of the most sensitive U.S. facilities.

China exports
Threats to U.S. national security from the Bush administration's unrestricted engagement policy with China have been all but ignored by Congress. Now at least one member is taking on the administration over its recent decision to loosen military exports to China.

Rep. Edward J. Markey, Massachusetts Democrat and a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce and Homeland Security committees, announced this week that he is investigating the Commerce Department's recent decision to loosen controls on sales of sensitive U.S. technology to companies linked to the Chinese military.

The department recently identified five Chinese companies as "verified end-users" (VEU) who can more easily obtain sensitive U.S. technologies without export licenses. Two of the Chinese companies have "significant ties" to the Chinese military and one is "majority owned by Beijing's communist-ruled military, Mr. Markey said, in response to published reports.

Mr. Markey wrote to Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez asking him to explain a series of questions about the Chinese military ties to the designated companies and whether the department knew in advance about the ties before granting them access to sensitive exports.

He said that "if the VEU program results in allowing the Chinese military to improve its weapons systems with U.S. technologies, as has been reported, this program may very well need to be scrapped."

China, according to U.S. officials, does not distinguish between military and civilian production and technology and the risk that sensitive U.S. technology will be diverted to the military is high, as is the danger that it will be exported to some of China's main clients, including Iran and North Korea.

Asked about Mr. Markey's investigation, Commerce spokesman Eugene Cotilli said the department looks forward to working with the lawmaker.

Mr. Cotilli did not say whether the Chinese companies are linked to Beijing's military but said the export program "protects national security by using a strict vetting process that includes Departments of defense, state and energy for companies, involving items they were already approved to receive, in conjunction with rigorous onsite inspections and continued oversight."

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

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