- The Washington Times - Friday, April 17, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has defended her department’s outrageous claim that veterans are joining hate groups and threatening public safety. The FBI tells a different story.

In an unclassified July 2008 study, “White Supremacist Recruitment of Military Personnel since 9/11,” obtained by The Washington Times, the FBI determined that “Although some veterans [of the war on terrorism] have joined the extremist movement, they have not done so in numbers sufficient to stem declines among major national extremist organizations, nor has their participation resulted in a more violent extremist movement.”

Unlike the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI Office of Intelligence Assessment cites hard numbers. The Bureau identified a mere 203 veterans involved in extremist movements between October 2001 and May 2008. This is out of a total veteran population of 23.8 million, as illustrated in our graph to the left. The number is a barely noticeable fraction of the population that even a single line on our full-page graph exaggerates. The FBI notes that even the 203 figure may be an overestimate, since some of these people “may have inflated their resumes with fictional military experience to impress others within the movement.”

The Department of Homeland Security’s April 7 report said the willingness of “military personnel to join extremist groups during the 1990s because they were disgruntled, disillusioned or suffering from the psychological effects of war is being replicated today.” The FBI was able to identify only 19 such individuals in the period they analyzed, and only one of these men had a record of “white-supremacy-related violence.” That incident took place prior to his service in Iraq.

Despite the facts, Ms. Napolitano is standing firmly behind her department’s controversial report that veterans are prone to violence and more likely to join extremist movements. She told CBS News: “They’re not accusations. … The contents of that report are not anything that’s inconsistent with what we have seen in the past.” She told Fox News that when she was briefed on the report, it “rang true” to her based on the anecdotal mention of Timothy McVeigh as exemplary of the “disgruntled veteran.”

Ms. Napolitano flippantly blamed the faulty “wordsmithing, Washington-ese that goes on after the fact” as one cause of the public outcry against the smearing of veterans. This shows that she does not understand the issue. The scandal is not a question of Ms. Napolitano’s inadequate, inside-the-Beltway communications skills; the report is offensive and patently wrong. The secretary should repudiate it immediately before it does any more harm.

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