- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 16, 2009


Civil-liberties watchdogs within the Homeland Security Department (DHS) raised concerns about a security assessment of “rightwing extremism” but the report was released anyway, leading to the furor that Thursday had Secretary Janet Napolitano apologizing to veterans.

Objections were raised about language in the report by its Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL) before the nine-page document was sent to law enforcement officials nationwide.

“CRCL did object to a part of the document, which was not resolved before the product went out. This was a breakdown of an internal process that we will fix in the future,” said spokeswoman Amy Kudwa.

Homeland Security officials declined to elaborate on or describe in detail the objections of its civil liberty officials, or say whether Ms. Napolitano was made aware of the objections when she was briefed on the general nature of the threat before the report’s release on April 7.

However, Rep. Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, is demanding answers on how this report was cleared with privacy and civil liberty officials.

“I am dumbfounded that (DHS) released this report,” Mr. Thompson said in a letter to Ms. Napolitano.

Ms. Napolitano appeared on several morning news shows in an effort to damp down criticism on both sides of the political aisle over the report, titled “Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment,” which states that veterans are likely recruits for use in attacks against the government.

“I know that some veterans groups were offended by the fact that veterans were mentioned in this assessment, so I apologize for that offense. It was certainly not intended,” Miss Napolitano told CNN’s “American Morning.”

In an appearance on “Fox and Friends,” Ms. Napolitano spoke similarly, saying “The last thing we want to do is to offend or castigate all veterans.”

On Wednesday, Ms. Napolitano made her first public statement on the security analysis of emerging threats among white supremacists, and said she would meet with American Legion National Commander David K. Rehbein who criticized the report as negatively stereotyping veterans.

Ms. Napolitano stands behind the intent of the report but conceded to Fox News that some of that language was unfortunate.

In particular, a footnote at the beginning of the report that defines “rightwing extremism” as “broadly divided into those groups, movements and adherents that are primarily hate-oriented (based on hatred of particular religions, racial or ethnic groups), and those that are mainly antigovernment, rejecting federal authority in favor of state or local authority, or rejecting government authority entirely.”

“It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration,” the report continued.

“Let me be very clear: If there’s one part of that report that I would rewrite in the wordsmithing ‘Washingtonese’ that goes on after the fact, it would be that footnote,” Ms. Napolitano told Fox News.

Mr. Rehbein accepted Ms. Napolitano’s apology and is expected to meet with her next week over the report’s findings.

The commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) defended Homeland Security officials for assessing all possible threats to the U.S., but said the report should have been worded differently.

“A government that does not assess internal and external security threats would be negligent of a critical public responsibility,” said VFW Commander Glen M. Gardner Jr.

“The report should have been worded differently, but it made no blanket accusation that every soldier was capable of being a traitor like Benedict Arnold, or every veteran could be a lone wolf, homegrown terrorist like Timothy McVeigh. It was just an assessment about possibilities that could take place, Mr. Gardner said.

Mr. Gardner said that in the future, such assessments should include other professionals who have paramilitary training including police, Secret Service, FBI, and DHS’ own Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.

He said DHS should “tone down the ‘disgruntled military veteran’ angle in its next edition, and includes other professionals who have paramilitary training, such as the police, Secret Service, FBI, and DHS’ own Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents.”

Under the heading “Disgruntled Military Veterans,” the assessment said that “rightwing extremists will attempt to recruit and radicalilze returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat.”

“The willingness of a small percentage 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 report said.

The assessment cited only a few examples, most prominently Timothy McVeigh, and also a 2008 FBI report stating “that some returning military veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have joined extremist groups.”

The FBI report found 159 veterans with “confirmed or claimed” military service active in Aryan, Skinhead, Ku Klux Klan or other white supremacist groups from a period between October 2001 and May 2008, from among nearly 24,000 veterans. A number it described as “minuscule.”

The DHS assessment also cited a 2006 report, credited only to an unnamed “prominent civil rights organization,” but quoted that group as having said that “large numbers of potentially violent neo-Nazis, skinheads, and other white supremacists are now learning the art of warfare in the (U.S.) armed forces.”

That same clause appears as part of a July 2006 “Intelligence Project” report by the Southern Poverty Law Center titled “A Few Bad Men.”

Pete Hegseth, Chairman of Vets for Freedom, criticized the singling out of veterans, saying that veterans fight for their country, not against it.

“America’s veterans are not helpless victims, or damaged goods that become pawns for extremist groups,” Mr. Hegseth said.

“They fight extremists that threaten our nation. It is beyond disappointing to see our heroes portrayed in such a fashion in an official government report. Our veterans have pledged to support and defend the Constitution, not extremist groups,” Mr. Hegseth said.

Seven Republican senators on Thursday sent a letter to Ms. Napolitano defending others described in the report as potential terrorists.

The report identifies those individuals who believe in such issues as pro-life legislation, limited government, legal versus illegal immigration and limited federal government as potential terrorist threats, the senators said.

We can assure you that these beliefs are held by citizens of all races, party affiliations and sex, and should not be listed as a factor in determining potential terror threats. A better way to describe them is as citizens exercising their First Amendment rights, the senators said.

The letter was signed by Sens. Jim Inhofe and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, David Vitter of Louisiana, Sam Brownback of Kansas, Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Richard Burr of North Carolina, and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

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