- - Monday, February 27, 2017

World War II bomber pilots liked to say that taking flak proved you had arrived at the target. By any measure, Sebastian Gorka, a counterterrorism adviser to President Trump, is in the eye of an unprecedented flak storm from liberal press outlets. The enemy fire proves he must be doing something right.

“Look, these attacks are just too predictable,” Mr. Gorka said in an interview. “As they say in the military, ‘You’re only taking flak if you’re over the target.”

For Mr. Gorka, the most revealing aspect of the many column inches devoted to the criticism is that “it’s never truly about our policies or the issues that matter most.”

“It’s always personal, always ad hominem,” he said in an interview at the Conservative Political Action Conference. “That tells you all you need to know about the other side’s true weakness. They can’t win on the merits of their case, so they ‘play the man, not the ball.’”

For the new president, Mr. Gorka is an antidote to the politically correct counterterrorism policies of the past eight years under Barack Obama.

The shift has set off controversy. Several news articles in recent weeks about Mr. Gorka, from the upper levels of the mainstream press including The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, were laced with personal attacks, innuendo and caustic comments. Lesser publications like Politico piled on; Vanity Fair labeled him Mr. Trump’s “jihad whisperer.”

All promoted a common — and to many observers false — narrative asserting that Mr. Gorka, deputy assistant to the president and member of the new Strategic Initiatives Group, is unqualified, anti-Islam, racist, fascist or worse.

“I would be very concerned if the likes of Politico, The New York Times and Washington Post were not attacking me. And Trump voters would be too,” he said.

Mr. Gorka said the goals for the Trump administration’s counterterrorism program and policies are simple. “As the president said [Friday], we will ‘obliterate’ groups like ISIS and wipe the scourge of radical Islamic terrorism from the face of the earth,” he said.

The media attacks prompted friends and supporters of Mr. Gorka on Capitol Hill and in the military and special operations communities to voice their support.

“The bottom line is Sebastian Gorka’s work is a necessary tool for all special operations forces in developing critical thinking,” said an Army special operations officer familiar with Mr. Gorka’s counterterrorism lectures in Tampa, Florida, and at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

The officer said Mr. Gorka has been most valuable in helping hundreds of commandos properly identify and understand the nature of the threat posed by Islamist terrorists.

“Our biggest threat we face is tied to radical Islam,” the officer said. “We teach our Special Forces how to think, not what to think. [Mr. Gorka‘s] speeches have been 100 percent factual, and the reason he has spoken so often is that he has been able to connect with warrant officer candidates.

“We’ve lived the last decade and half of war and this is our lives. Having someone like Mr. Gorka, who connects with our groups, gives us a solid foundation.”

Retired Army Lt. Gen. John M. Mulholland, a career Special Forces officer, said he has known Mr. Gorka from his counterterrorism lectures.

“Seb has always been first and foremost a patriot, dedicated to this country,” Gen. Mulholland said in an interview. “He has been very supportive to us in helping us understand the threat so we can apply our capabilities to support the nation against the unconventional warfare threat, in this case the terrorism threat.”

Gen. Mulholland, former deputy commander of the U.S. Special Operations Command, said Mr. Gorka has helped special operations commandos better understand the terrorism threat environment.

“Seb is one of those guys we always turn to to help us understand the threat, and he’s a great friend and supporter of our community and our mission and in helping us in our own endeavor to master the environment,” he added.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Charles T. Cleveland, former commander of the Army Special Operations Command, also praised Mr. Gorka.

“What distinguished [Mr. Gorka] was the time he took to understand how the special operations soldiers, many who had multiple tours in the fight, saw the challenges and were dealing with them,” Gen. Cleveland said. “As a result, his instruction was crisp, relevant and a useful part of their education on how to think about today’s threats, especially terrorism.”

Mr. Gorka also sometimes took part in the commander’s advisory group sessions, which included former senior civilian and military officials and academic experts.

“These events provided outside opinion on command doctrine and organizational proposals, and I greatly appreciated Dr. Gorka’s participation,” Gen. Cleveland said.

Stephen Sloan, professor emeritus at the University of Oklahoma, said he has known Mr. Gorka since the 1990s.

“Over the years, I have served as an informal adviser on his dissertation and was one of his mentors as he pursued his career,” Mr. Sloan said. “Sebastian has always impressed me as a man of integrity who has strong feelings and is willing to state them. I believe his concerns about the threat of terrorism as to what he regards to be the new totalitarianism, in part, reflects his family history. His father was imprisoned and almost killed as a result of his opposition to Soviet occupation in Hungary.”

Mr. Sloan said Mr. Gorka has strong loyalties to America and is proud of his work with the U.S. military and “is concerned about meeting threats to U.S. national security. I appreciate and respect his dedication.”

Mr. Sloan said he does not agree with some of Mr. Trump’s policies and is concerned about Mr. Gorka’s views on how to respond to terrorism. “However, even though we may disagree during this time of intense political debate, I support his right to state his opinions without being condemned,” he said.

The unusual political attacks were not confined to newspapers. On social media, a little-known counterterrorism expert, Michael S. Smith, has launched Twitter broadsides against Mr. Gorka. Mr. Smith also recorded a call from the White House adviser questioning why Mr. Smith was criticizing Mr. Gorka so loudly when he had never met him.

The criticism prompted Rep. Robert Pittenger, North Carolina Republican and chairman of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism, an advisory group for which Mr. Smith said he worked, to issue a statement of support.

Dr. Sebastian Gorka is a friend and trusted adviser on efforts to combat radical Islamic terrorism and increase the safety and security of American families,” Mr. Pittenger said in a statement.

Mr. Pittenger said Mr. Gorka has spoken to more than 600 parliamentarians from 60 nations on how to combat terrorism financing, money laundering and other national security topics.

Dr. Gorka has provided expert testimony at these forums, and I applaud President Trump for bringing him to the White House,” he said.

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