Sebastian Gorka and his distinguished military career.

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Sebastian Gorka is on the right.. badoom-tish!

One of the curious paradoxes of the Trump administration is that, at the very top, there is a mixture of supremely competent professionals – James Mattis and HR McMaster spring to mind – working in the same national security space as quirky ideological warriors like Stephen Bannon.  Sebastian Gorka, the British-born commentator of Hungarian extraction, who was named as a Deputy Assistant to President Donald Trump in January 2017, seemed to straddle this divide:  an academic specialist in counter-terrorism with some radical ideas about how to defeat Jihadi Islamism.

I took a mild interest in Gorka because he had apparently served in an Intelligence Corps unit of the British Territorial Army (TA) in the early 1990s.  For non-British readers, the Territorial Army* was the name of the part-time British Army reserve established in the early years of the 20th century primarily for home defence but which became, during the Cold War, an integral part of the British orbat in our plans to defend western Europe from Soviet aggression as part of NATO; it was and is similar to the US National Guard in many respects.  As it happens, I was commissioned as a regular army Intelligence Corps officer in 1985 and it’s always nice to see chaps from the Corps doing well for themselves.

Last month, someone on twitter posted a link to this profile of Gorka in the Washington Post and my ‘spidey senses’ immediately began to tingle.  It’s a throwaway sentence:  “He went to college in London and spent three years as a reserve intelligence soldier in the British army, focused on the conflict in Northern Ireland”.  This struck me as extremely unlikely: no part of the TA, to my knowledge, was ever committed to the conflict in Northern Ireland.  The only part-time soldiers to be directly involved were members of the Ulster Defence Regiment and their successors in the Home Service battalions of the Royal Irish Regiment, who had a different legal status to the TA.

A little digging revealed that Gorka had actually been a member of 22 Intelligence Company, of the Intelligence and Security Group (Volunteers) between 1990 and 1992, as he told a Hungarian newspaper.  22 Company was a unit I knew well from my own service. Back then, in the dying days of the Cold War, it was a specialist unit of interrogators and ‘tactical questioners’ with a NATO role.  It was an eclectic group of people, recruited largely on the basis of their language skills, who were trained under the auspices of the Joint Service Interrogation Wing at Ashford in Kent.  As the son of Hungarian exile parents and a Hungarian speaker, Gorka would have been a good fit.  But it had nothing to do with Northern Ireland, so if Gorka was claiming this in the US, he was being somewhat economical with the truth.

In itself, this is kinda, sorta understandable.  Gorka took a first degree in Theology and Philosophy at a theological college of London University and his subsequent transformation into a counter-terrorism theorist seems to have taken place whilst he was studying for a Master’s degree, and subsequently a PhD, in Budapest which might be seen by some to lack the credibility of equivalent qualifications from, say, Harvard or Cambridge.  I can see why he might want to have credentials as an operational counter-terrorism specialist from one of the world’s leading armies.  It doesn’t make it true though.

A week or so back I asked a friend, who was in 22 Company at that time, whether he remembered him.  “I don’t recall Gorka immediately, but that’s not to suggest that we may not have collided at some time in the great Venn diagram of life”, was his response.

As it happens, Gorka was profiled (paywalled) today by the Sunday Times in London.  It’s a soft piece, written as a kind of ‘hometown boy makes good’ story, but interestingly, it presents a new version of his military service.  According to the Sunday Times:  “Gorka spent three years from 1990 as a part-time soldier with the Territorial Army. Part of 22 Military Intelligence Company, he used his language skills (he speaks German and some French as well as Hungarian) to collect evidence for the war crimes tribunal set up after the collapse of Yugoslavia”.

Once again, the spidey senses twitched.  Would members of 22 Company really have been collecting war crimes evidence between 1990 and 1992 when Gorka was a member?  It seems unlikely to me: their role was collecting intelligence, a very different task to collecting evidence that could be used in a court.  A couple of other easily checkable facts also seem to suggest this isn’t true: firstly, there were no significant deployments of British military personnel to the former Yugoslavia until September 1992 when 1 Cheshires Battlegroup deployed under the command of Lt Col Bob Stewart (now a Conservative MP) on Operation GRAPPLE as part of UNPROFOR; secondly, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia wasn’t actually set up until May of 1993.

It seems to me possible that Gorka might have been employed interviewing – ‘debriefing’ in intelligence jargon – individuals returning from the former Yugoslavia to gain snippets of information from them.  Members of 22 Company certainly did this with returnees from Iraq and Kuwait at the start of the Gulf War in 1990 (I know this because I was one of the people who organised it) and I’m told the ‘Defence Debriefing Team’ was put on a more formal footing thereafter (by which time I’d moved on).  Even so, at this stage it wasn’t about acquiring war crimes evidence but rather basic situational awareness, so he is evidently dramatising his role, if indeed he ever did this work.

So what?  In the grand scheme of life an individual exaggerating his military service is no big deal. It’s kind of distasteful, I suppose, but it happens an awful lot and most military veterans I know find it funny, more than anything else.  But there are special circumstances in Gorka’s case.  He is a senior advisor to the Commander-in-Chief of the most powerful armed forces that have ever existed.  Gorka’s views appear to have been formed by his studies at a university that is not renowned as a centre for the study of counter-terrorism and, despite his attempts to suggest otherwise, he has never been an operational practitioner of counter-terrorism.  By all accounts that I have read, Gorka has never done any academic fieldwork in counter-terrorism either.  His real expertise seems to be in getting gigs as a ‘talking head’ on right wing news media, the rest is pretty much flim-flam.

It’s up to President Trump to decide who he wants to advise him, of course, but my experience over the years has been that proven bullshitters are rarely a good choice.

*Now renamed the ‘Army Reserve’

27 thoughts on “Sebastian Gorka and his distinguished military career.

  1. There’s definitely something suspect about this.

    I’m working under the assumption that Gorka joined the TA as a recruit rather than as an officer cadet, and if so in three years he would have come out as a Lance-Corporal (to point out to non-British readers, there are no Privates in the British Army’s Intelligence Corps). In terms of his enlistment, there would have been an initial period for his Phase 1 training and also a specialist course for his trade. It would be reasonable to infer that this will take up to six months in all from the moment he was attested to him completing an Int course at Chicksands. There’s also the question of how long it would have taken for his security clearance to come through, particularly as he would presumably have received a far more rigorous vetting than (say) a British-born volunteer like myself who joined an infantry cap-badge as opposed to an MI one.

    Could he have served with the regular Army? As far as I’m aware the first call-ups for the post Cold War period happened as a result of Afghanistan after 9/11, as a TA Infantry Company did get sent to Kabul. Then there were a series of call-ups for TELIC and then HERRICK. So it is extremely unlikely that he would have been mobilised for either Northern Ireland or Yugoslavia.

    During the 1990s TA soldiers did have the option of signing up for regular service with what was known as an S-Type engagement, and this usually meant at least one year attached to a regular unit. I can’t remember if there was a minimum period in-service which a TA soldier would have had to have done before he or she could apply for such an enlistment. What I do remember was that regulars were very picky about who they took on (given the gulf in training and experience), and the Senior Permanent Staff Instructor at his Company would have had to approve it.

    So Gorka may well have volunteered for an S-Type, but it is most unlikely that he would have been doing BANNER and GRAPPLE concurrently or consecutively. I also find it difficult to believe that he would have contributed in any way to operational intelligence-gathering on the basis of one drill night a week, a training weekend a month and two weeks annual training.

  2. Good article. The problem the #orangebuffoon has is that he is a bullshitter himself, and he appreciates having like-minded BSers around him. Who cares if they are incompetent and dangerous? After all it is only global peace at risk.

  3. Everything about Gorka is at best inflated, and at worst massive BS–he’s a Hungarian plant, working on behalf of Orban. He’s a fraud in the extreme.

  4. Soz but there are really only two points here and they don’t amount to anything much once examined.

    Both of those points are based on two short passages from two articles. Neither points are direct quotes (although the second is implied as a quote) and neither were confirmed as approved in final form by SG i.e. You are attributing an apparent inaccuracy to the subject of the article not the writer.

    The first point re the WP extract can be easily dismissed. None of us have any idea where that came from . Is it based on what SG said to the writer or whether it was a result of the writer having googled “Int & Sy” before publishing? It’s too much of a stretch to attribute this to SG.

    Re the second point, as the Author will know from his time at DDT and other things, it was not unusual back then for the organisation to prepare for and execute some activities in anticipation of any formal request for assistance from the eventual end user. In this case the questions appear to be iwhether product that was later collated and sent to the Tribunal in The Hague began before the Tribunal was set up and whether operators were used for this work during 1993 By 1993 SG would have been both fully vetted and A1 qualified in his trade.

    Why couldn’t that same network referred to / relied on by the Author have confirmed that; people were being debriefed on that subject long, long before the Tribunal was formed and/ or whether SG was employed for any of that work.

    Somehow though, based on the tone of the blog, I doubt that asking such questions would have changed the mind of the writer.

    #FAKENEWS

    Oh and hehmax at the other comments ^^^

    • Oh yes, he certainly served and there is no reason to suppose that he didn’t do so entirely honourably. The point is that he wasn’t in any kind of counter-terrorism role.

      • I understand the point but I’m not inclined to believe him unless he produces some kind of documentation.

      • Why is there any reason to think he served in uniform at all? What’s the British equivalent of a DD214? My suspicion is that Gorka’s father may have been used by MI6 in an auxiliary role to ascertain whether Hungarian defectors were legitimate, as opposed to double agents, and that Gorka may have been involved to some degree as well. But Gorka went to Hungary in 1992 at the age of 21, and to have served for 3 years in uniform he would have had to enlist at 18. And that seems unlikely, given that service in the regular Army would have been incompatible with attending university. I just don’t believe a word Gorka says any longer. I’ve seen an interview where Gorka claimed that a friend at uni was in OTC, and Gorka tagged along to a meeting, and that’s what triggered his involvement, but who knows.

      • Which is a well trodden path. London UOTC was housed in an adjacent building to Int & Sy Gp (V) at that time and there is at least one photo of Gorka in Int Corps uniform circulating on the internet. My sources also tell me he was a member of 22 Company although, as you say, it can’t have been for very long, particularly if he joined via the OTC.

  5. Thank you for sharing your insights into Sebastian Gorka’s academic and military background. I would like to see similar analysis of his US military career and his ideological bent.

    From what I gather, as a deputy assistant to the President, Sebastian Gorka was brought into the administration by Stephen Bannon, for whom he worked as an editor at Breitbart. They made podcasts together.

    Gorka’s wife, an American, worked as an interpreter for the notorious Holocaust-denier historian David Irving. Gorka has had ties with members of Jobbik, the extreme right-wing Hungarian party. While in Hungary he formed his own party in Hungary (ineffective) and wrote for a magazine whose editor hunted down Roma. ‘Between 2006 and 2007, Gorka wrote a series of articles in Magyar Demokrata, a newspaper known for publishing the writings of prominent anti-Semitic and racist Hungarian public figures. The editor-in-chief, András Bencsik, is notorious in Hungary for his own long-standing anti-Semitic views. In the summer of 2007, Bencsik became one of the founders of the Hungarian Guard, a now-banned paramilitary organization known for assaulting and intimidating members of Hungary’s Roma community. The perpetrators in a spate of racially motivated murders of Roma in 2008 and 2009 were found to have connections to the Guard.’
    In Hungary, the government went abut “whipping up hatred day in and day out on state television and radio” and almost “succeeded in gripping the population in a state of mass hysteria.” The recent Hungarian referendum on rejecting the EU quota for refugees failed because turnout was too low to make the poll valid; but “an overwhelming majority of voters rejected the EU’s migrant quotas.” The magazine Hungarian Spectrum in an article “Hatemongers in their own words”: writes: “the effects of this indoctrination will not disappear after the referendum. They will linger for many years to come, reinforcing and amplifying an already lamentable Hungarian xenophobia.”

    In at least one Breitbart podcast with Bannon and in a video’d lecture in Florida on “How We Defeat the Global Jihad,” Gorka touts his ties to US military and security. To me, as a civilian, his claims to have made a strong impression on military students sound like reckless boasts. But Gorka’s usefulness to Trump lies in his anti-Islamic Jihad position. And it could be that, as with the effects of hate-mongering in Hungary, Gorka’s self-gratulatory, melodramatic tones will linger in certain military circles for a long time.

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  8. Well said. I also saw a mention to his service in the British Army and wondered why it was so short. His views seem radically bad and certainly concerning. Im not surprised he is where he is having successfully navigated an image to be a talking head of the right.

    Although born in the U.K. He doesn’t come across as very British with what seems to be a manufactured plummy accent.

    Maybe he did spend a few weekends away on a selection weekend with the Int Corp from Handel Street and was issued with some kit that constitutes in his own mind a member of the British Army. If he had studied at SSEES and spent longer in the British Army maybe even getting a commission would help suppprt his resume.

    I was a member of ULOTC during the early 1990’s and do not recall a Seb Gorka. A name of Gorka from a non Nepali soldier would have stood out by itself.

    Interesting how many positions he has had in the US but understandable if his references were not fully checked including becoming a US Citizen. Frightening he was apparently educating some significant figures from the US Marine Corps to the Commander in Chief. Maybe the not so bright Breightbart warrior has come to the end of the road.

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  10. Like John P (who i must have known) i was in ULOTC in the early 1990s and at SSEES. Sebastian wasnt in ULOTC but there were lots of students in Ashford House who never were in the OTC, my classmate Austris being one of them so I wouldnt read too much into that.

    Certainly i remember the cool kids in the Hammer and Sickle bar were in 22 Coy not on my side of the garage

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