Screenshot via BBC Newsnight

In his current life, Sebastian Gorka is a deputy assistant to Donald Trump, a job that involves going on television a lot and defending the president’s ideas about terrorism and national defense. According to his résumé, Gorka has some experience in that arena as a veteran of the British Territorial Army in the early 1990s. But over the years, he has given several different versions of precisely what his military service entailed. After three weeks of painstaking, fruitless effort, I cannot figure out which version is correct, or get Gorka or the White House to tell me. Nor have I been able to find a single source to independently verify Gorka’s service history.

Some defense and counter-terrorism experts have years of military experience. Not so for Gorka; beyond his reported time in the Territorial Army, the former national security editor at Breitbart has little by way of direct credentials beyond authorship of academic papers, think tank gigs, and teaching positions at Defense Department-backed institutions. As several profiles have pointed out, he doesn’t speak Arabic, hasn’t lived, worked or studied in the Middle East, and was, according to Politico, virtually unknown in counterterrorism circles before taking his Trump administration job.

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Gorka was born in England to Hungarian parents, and moved to Hungary in 1992 or 1993, where he attempted to establish a far-right political party. He’s now fending off allegations that, during that the time, he cheered on the formation of anti-Semitic militias and became a sworn member of a Nazi-affiliated group. Gorka denies that; the group itself, Vitezi Rend, begs to differ. 

Gorka earned a degree in Theology and Philosophy at Heythrop College, London University. He says that during university, he served in the Territorial Army as part of 22 Company of the Intelligence and Security Group. (The Territorial Army is now called the Army Reserve; like the Army Reserve in the United States, it’s an active-duty volunteer force. The 22 Company has since been incorporated into the 3rd Military Intelligence Battalion, whose current commanding officer didn’t respond to a request for comment.)

To be clear: There is no solid evidence to suggest that Gorka didn’t serve in the Territorial Army as he has claimed. He has posted two photos of himself in fatigues, smiling tightly while holding assault rifles. The photos themselves aren’t dispositive of military service; they could easily have been taken at a civilian gun range. Gorka’s Facebook post apologetically notes that his uniform, which features neither a nametag nor any rank insignia, betrays an “iconoclastic attitude to the British Army uniform.”

What does raise questions about Gorka’s account of his service is the fact that at various times, he has said categorically different things about his mission, none of which quite fit together.

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In 2002, Gorka reportedly told a Hungarian publication that his duties in the army were related to counterterrorism, that his old company was a “uniformed anti-terrorist unit,” and that he “never did intelligence work.”

“During university, I was a reservist in the British army’s uniformed anti-terrorist unit. This lasted for three years, and this was one of the reasons why during the Antal-government I got a job at the Ministry of Defense. I never did intelligence work. We received security assignments to defend important objects, for example to defend an IRA attack. My responsibility was to evaluate the possible threats terrorists could cause.”

A somewhat critical Washington Post profile published this year gives a slightly different account, reporting that Gorka’s military service had to do with Northern Ireland and included intelligence work:

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.

That version—that Gorka was somehow focused on intelligence-gathering related to Northern Ireland and the IRA—is repeated several times in various articles about Gorka. (The far right Christian fundamentalist website Renew America got even more exotic, describing him as having served in “a British counter-terrorism unit specializing in radical Islamic organizations.”)

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Biographies of Gorka for speaking engagements, teaching appointments, and other miscellaneous gigs don’t say that he served in a capacity related to Northern Ireland, but they do frequently mention counterterrorism. In a 2014 written analysis of the Boston bombers’ motivations that was filed in federal court during their trial—which, according to Gorka, constituted service as an “expert witness” for the prosecution, despite the fact that he never testified and his analysis was never shared with jurors—he said he “served in the British Territorial Army’s Intelligence and Security Group (V), which was a reserve military unit with counterterrorism responsibilities.”

But the most recent and most detailed account of Gorka’s military service comes via a very friendly profile in the Rupert Murdoch-owned Sunday Times by reporter Toby Harnden, and it is very different:

In Britain, 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.

The difference between Northern Ireland and Yugoslavia—and counterterrorism and war crimes investigations—seems, well, sizable. So I set out to obtain Gorka’s military records from the British army, to confirm his account and to see precisely what his duties were.

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In the United States, basic details about military service are publicly available. Not so in England. In response to a public records request, the British Ministry of Defence refused to confirm or deny whether Gorka ever served. “The MOD will confirm military service to those who have a right to know,” a spokesperson wrote. “As you are a third party, you do not have that right.”

After an exhaustive search of the available evidence, I have found precisely one instance of someone claiming to have verified Gorka’s service with someone other than Gorka himself: Harnden, the Sunday Times reporter, wrote in his March profile that “the Ministry of Defence confirmed that [Gorka] served from March 1990 to November 1993.”

There’s something curious about that piece, though. It was published in the Sunday Times on March 5, and then re-published, with permission, to the U.S. web site Real Clear Politics on March 10. The original version on the Times’ web site makes no mention of the Ministry of Defence confirming Gorka’s service.

The Times version reads:

In Britain, 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.

The Real Clear Politics version reads:

Gorka spent three years - the Ministry of Defence confirmed that he served from March 1990 to November 1993 - as a part-time enlisted soldier with the Territorial Army. Part of 22 Intelligence Company, he used his language skills (he speaks fluent Hungarian as well as French and German) collecting information for the war crimes tribunal set up after the collapse of Yugoslavia.

(Emphasis added.)

According another records request we filed with the Ministry of Defence, one of the journalists who sought out confirmation of Gorka’s service—and was denied, just as we were—was from the Times. On March 1, a Times journalist whose name is redacted in the emails released to us wrote to the Ministry of Defence “on behalf of our Washington correspondent” (that would be Harnden), seeking to “confirm that Sebastian Gorka served with the 22 Intelligence Company of the territorial army from 1990 to 1992.” The correspondent received the same non-response we did: “The Ministry of Defence neither confirms nor denies whether it holds any information in the scope of your request.”

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Harnden tells us via email that he was able to confirm Gorka’s service, although it’s not reflected in the Times’ records requests.

“The MOD told The Sunday Times verbally that Sebastian Gorka served in 22 Intelligence Company of the Territorial Army from March 1990 to November 1993,” he wrote. (Harnden initially explained why the original version of his story omitted that confirmation in an email exchange that was off the record at his request. After this post was published, he emailed to add that “the precise dates and unit of Gorka’s service and the MOD attribution were edited from the original published version in the Sunday Times…and restored in the RealClearPolitics version.” The Ministry of Defence did not respond to questions about Harnden’s claim.)

I asked the White House and Gorka in early March if Gorka could provide records to substantiate his military record or expound on what he did during his service. A White House spokesperson gave us the following statement:

“It is no secret that Sebastian Gorka was a member of the British Territorial Army’s Intelligence Corps.”

That’s unhelpful, and it doesn’t quite clear up the issue. Neither Gorka nor the White House responded to several subsequent requests for clarification.

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Some former British soldiers have expressed skepticism about Gorka’s version(s) of his service. A former Intelligence Corps officer named Adrian Weale wrote a sarcastic blog post about Gorka’s “brilliant military career,” saying Gorka’s claim to have been involved in counterterrorism efforts related to Northern Ireland makes little sense:

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.

An expert on British military history who asked not to be identified by name confirmed to me that Northern Ireland would’ve been the purview of the regular army, not the reserves:

[22 Intelligence Company] was a UK-based Reserve unit that up until the 1990s deployed individuals/small groups in support of the regular Intelligence Corps, largely in NATO operations. [22 Company] support was specialist and involved languages. As for N. Ireland, the Regular Army was the main component. Constitutionally, the Reserve Army was not allowed to provide support or reinforcements and that applied to TA units based in N Ireland. He may well have spent his fortnight annual camp in N Ireland, but I doubt that he was operational.

If 22 Company was, as it appears, a specialist languages team, that roughly tracks with what Gorka told Harnden. Except that Harden’s profile adds that 22 Company was tasked with “collect[ing] evidence for the war crimes tribunal set up after the collapse of Yugoslavia.”

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The war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia was established in May of 1993. Which brings us to the question of where Gorka was during that year. According to the broad strokes of his profile, he left London in the early 1990s and returned to Hungary, where he joined the Ministry of Defense. As this highly sympathetic Jerusalem Post op-ed puts it:

When the chance to help Hungary achieve freedom and prosperity arose in the early 1990s, Seb left the safety of London to work for the Ministry of Defense of Hungary’s first free government. He joined the Hungarian Democratic Forum (MDF), the old-school conservative party of Prime Minster József Antall, Jr.

Several other reports confirm that Gorka served under Antall. The thing is, Antall died in mid-December 1993. Several outlets, including the Times of Israel and IBT, have reported that Gorka moved from London to Hungary in 1992, which would give him plenty of time to work in Antall’s administration. (Gorka’s Wikipedia page also says that he “lived in Hungary from 1992 to 2008,” which under normal circumstances wouldn’t constitute reliable evidence—except for the fact that it appears that Gorka has actively edited his own Wikipedia entry.)

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So if Gorka was in Hungary working for the Defense Ministry in 1992, how was he collecting evidence of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia on behalf of the British army in May 1993? Gorka won’t say. And how, if Gorka actually served in the Territorial Army until November 1993, did he manage to also serve in the administration of Antall, who died two weeks later? Gorka won’t say. Is it possible that he worked for both the British army and the Hungarian Defense Ministry in 1993, traveling back to England for his periodic reserve stints? Gorka won’t say.

Since taking his job in the Trump White House, Gorka has been the subject of a number of critical articles, focused on both his alleged penchant for resume inflation and his past Islamophobic statements. In return, Gorka has frequently accused his critics of being liars, “fake news,” as he told the BBC, or haters and losers, in the parlance of his boss. He told Harnden he’s been stunned by the “vituperation and the depths of the falsehoods” leveled against him.

Gorka also made a furious phone call to a terrorism expert who clowned him on Twitter, demanding that the man, Michael S. Smith II, stop it. Smith told Newsweek that Gorka threatened him with legal action: “Gorka asserted my tweets about him merited examination by the White House legal counsel.”

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He’s clearly sensitive, then, about any indication that he’s not honest about his résumé. But Gorka’s refusal to provide comment on basic matters of public interest like what he was doing in the army only raises doubts. I had the same experience previously, when I asked about his describing himself as an expert witness in the Boston bombing case, despite not having testified, and when I contacted the White House to ask about his being detained for carrying ammunition through an airport in 2004. The first time, neither Gorka nor the White House ever responded to my inquiries; the second, Gorka accidentally included me in a reply-all email, instructing White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer not to comment.

It would’ve been perfectly easy in both cases to offer a response, just like it would have been possible to do so here. (Gorka, as we learned last time around, clearly reads requests for comment about himself sent to the White House). Private citizens might experience questions about their military service or their previous arrests as attacks on their character, but appointed officials in public roles don’t have that luxury. They’re accountable to the public and the press, no matter how conveniently hazy they’d rather keep the details of all the lives they lived before today.

This story was produced by Gizmodo Media Group’s Special Projects Desk.