Catastrophic Failure: Blindfolding America in the Face of Jihad
By Stephen Coughlin
Center for Security Policy Press, 2015
In this essential guide to the Islamist threat, attorney and decorated intelligence officer Stephen Coughlin puts his finger on the central transgression among our civilian and military intelligence community — as well as that of Federal policymakers responsible for protecting our country: Dereliction of Duty.
Far too many of those who take an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States, he points out, have broken faith with that vow and shrink from their duty to fulfill it.
Given the surging Jihadist threat — the point of the spear for our Islamist enemies — too many of our officials and advisers are putting our freedoms, our heritage, our culture, our safety, and our very lives in danger.
(Your reviewer’s task is a lighter one since twice attending Coughlin’s gripping hour-plus-long briefings.)
In his book, Coughlin has all the room he needs fully to go into some of the topics to which he could only refer briefly in person, such as–
- the inroads the postmodern outlook is making among the faculty of the military academies;
- the consequent denigration of the role of facts in analysis and writing;
- and a general “collapse of critical thinking” among top military leadership.
The first part of Catastrophic Failure is devoted to Coughlin’s Red Pill Brief which, as a recalled Army reserve officer posted to the Joint Chiefs of Staff Intelligence Directorate after the attacks of September 11, 2001, he began presenting in 2002.
“The reference is to the popular 1999 science fiction movie The Matrix, in which the hero is given the option of taking a red pill that will enable him to see the world as it really is. He is warned, however, that if he takes the pill, he can never return to the computer-generated reality to which he is accustomed, made necessary by the requirement to hide the malevolent nature of the world in which he actually lives.” (p. 66) (Highlighting Forum’s throughout.)
Coughlin began in the fall of 2001 by researching authoritative books of Islamic law, 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 when speaking to each other.”
The prevailing theory is that Islamic “extremists” are at the periphery of Islam, hence, all that is needed is to cleave the radicals from the mainstream (left). But if doctrines we brand “extreme” are at the center of Islamic law, then our messaging designed to cleave from the mainstream could end up energizing the base (right). (p. 31)
His work followed the protocols of “traditional threat analysis,” the military intelligence approach into which Coughlin and generations of military personnel before him had been trained.
Classic threat analysis is based on what the enemy says about himself (such as Hitler’s Mein Kampf) and maps that to the enemy’s capabilities and opportunities.
Coughlin’s briefings “easily outperformed competing explanations” — accurately predicting how perpetrators of the Boston Marathon bombing and Fort Hood massacre would explain why they attacked.
The Red Pill Brief tamed the chaos of politically correct “complexity” by using evidence-based arguments, meticulously documented with original sources.
But the Pentagon fired Coughlin** during the Bush Administration in 2008. His Red Pill Brief-approach was banned by the Obama White House in 2012.
“In October 2011, elements of the American Muslim Brotherhood wrote the White House demanding an embargo or discontinuation of information and materials relating to Islamic-based terrorism — even insisting on firings, ‘re-trainings,’ and ‘purges’ of officers, analysts, special agents and decision makers who created or made such materials available.” (p. 21)
A few months later–
“…the FBI then proceeded to undertake the very purging of documents that the Brotherhood had demanded. The Department of Defense followed shortly thereafter with a Soviet-style purge of individuals along with disciplinary actions and re-education.
Not only did the Secretary of State endorse such curbs on speech, the Assistant Attorney general seemed eager to enforce them. As with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) — and through it, our Middle Eastern allies — also seek to embargo all unsanctioned discussions of Islam as a matter of international law.” (p. 22)
Words such as Shariah and Jihad were mandated into oblivion.
And, shockingly, that gag order continues to hold sway over our intelligence community today, with no clear end in sight.
The illustration on the cover of Coughlin’s book — an American eagle blindfolded with a green bandana over the crossed swords of Islam — is an apt metaphor for the official Federal clamp-down on the truth about Islamists.
“While they may seem abstract, these questions are raised because a principle objective we are facing in the War on Terror is the successful manipulation of the First Amendment.” (p. 490)
Coughlin believes there is an underlying philosophical reason why the forces of common sense in the U.S. intelligence community were not able to fight back, remove the blindfold, and prevail.
He points to the corrosive postmodern narrative which claims there is no objective truth, and insists on the need to “balance” arguments based on facts, like Coughlin’s, with the emotional perceptions of trendy subject-matter experts and vetted Islamic “moderates.”
Why are the insidious ideas of post-modern philosophy so dangerous to our country right now?
Coughlin draws on his reading and training —
“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.” (p. 16)
Coughlin calls for the U.S. intelligence community to be guided by a “reality-based threat doctrine analysis.”
“The proposed way forward calls for holding all national security leaders and professionals accountable for what they could have known had reasonable due diligence been undertaken to know.” (p. 502)
He argues that ignorance of the exigent Islamist threat, a tragic failure of America leadership at the beginning of the 21st century, constitutes this very dereliction of duty.
Coughlin points out that it is in our power to heal this self-inflicted weakness.
The “Information Battlespace”
Most of the struggle on the home front battle in the War on Terrorism occurs in the “information battlespace.”
Since “language is the key terrain in information warfare,” the first step is “understanding the enemy and using accurate descriptors.”
This, he writes, “is essential to exposing and countering the enemy’s ‘civilization-jihad’ ‘by our hand.’” (p. 505)
Of course, to implement this step in our country would require a sea change of political will in both political parties and in the military.
We can all be grateful that Stephen Coughlin has created this comprehensive handbook explaining the enemy’s threat doctrine and its immediate implications for us.
It is a hefty volume, but don’t be put off by that.
Every page is as readable and compelling as the courtroom argument of an outstanding lawyer before the jury on the biggest case of his professional life.
It is a user-friendly guide that you can open to any chapter and start exploring, a do-it-yourself kit for self-education, and a survival gift that keeps on giving.
**In 2008, during the Bush Administration, Coughlin’s work in the Pentagon ended because of “opposition to his work for the military by pro-Muslim officials within the office of Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England” according to the Washington Times “Inside the Ring Column”.