Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano said Wednesday that she was briefed before the release of a controversial intelligence assessment and that she stands by the report, which lists returning veterans among terrorist risks to the U.S.
But the top House Democrat with oversight of the Department of Homeland Security said in a letter to Ms. Napolitano that he was “dumbfounded” that such a report would be issued.
“This report appears to raise significant issues involving the privacy and civil liberties of many Americans - including war veterans,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, in his letter sent Tuesday night.
The letter was representative of a public furor over the nine-page document since its existence was reported in The Washington Times on Tuesday.
In her statement Wednesday, Ms. Napolitano defended the report, which says “rightwing extremism” may include groups opposed to abortion and immigration, as merely one among several threat assessments. But she agreed to meet with the head of the American Legion, who had expressed anger over the report, when she returns to Washington next week from a tour of the U.S.-Mexico border.
“The document on right-wing extremism sent last week by this department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis is one in an ongoing series of assessments to provide situational awareness to state, local and tribal law enforcement agencies on the phenomenon and trends of violent radicalization in the United States,” Ms. Napolitano said in her statement.
“I was briefed on the general topic, which is one that struck a nerve as someone personally involved in the Timothy McVeigh prosecution,” Ms. Napolitano said.
Ms. Napolitano insisted that the department was not planning on engaging in any form of ideological profiling.
“Let me be very clear: We monitor the risks of violent extremism taking root here in the United States. We don’t have the luxury of focusing our efforts on one group; we must protect the country from terrorism whether foreign or homegrown, and regardless of the ideology that motivates its violence,” Ms. Napolitano said.
“We are on the lookout for criminal and terrorist activity but we do not - nor will we ever - monitor ideology or political beliefs. We take seriously our responsibility to protect the civil rights and liberties of the American people, including subjecting our activities to rigorous oversight from numerous internal and external sources.”
The Times reported Tuesday that the department’s Office of Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) issued April 7 the nine-page document titled “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment.” Outcry from veterans groups, Republican lawmakers and conservative activists followed, but the reaction spread Wednesday to Democratic lawmakers and liberal-leaning groups.
In his letter to Ms. Napolitano, Mr. Thompson demanded that Homeland Security officials explain how and why they wrote the report and whether it poses any threat to civil liberties.
“As I am certain you agree, freedom of association and freedom of speech are guaranteed to all Americans - whether a person’s beliefs, whatever their political orientation, are ‘extremist’ or not,” Mr. Thompson said.