Published April 19, 2009
WASHINGTON -- The head of homeland security said Sunday she regrets that some people took offense over a report warning that right-wing extremist groups were trying to recruit disgruntled troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
But Secretary Janet Napolitano added that "a number of groups far too numerous to mention" want to commit domestic terrorism attacks and are looking for new recruits.
She told a cable news network the warning report that went out to American law enforcement agencies was consistent with reports that were issued before.
"Here is the important point. The report is not saying that veterans are extremists. Far from it. What it is saying is returning veterans are targets of right-wing extremist groups that are trying to recruit those to commit violent acts within the country. We want to do all we can to prevent that," she said.
The intelligence assessment released to law enforcement on April 7 claims news of recession, the election of an African American president, rumors of new gun restrictions and the inability of veterans to reintegrate create fertile ground for radicalizing and recruiting right-wing extremists
Of particular interest among radicals is possible recruitment of returning troops with "combat skills and experience" so as to boost their "violent capabilities," the report said.
It added that new restrictions on gun ownership and the difficulty of veterans to reintegrate into their communities "could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks."
On Thursday, Napolitano apologized for some of the wording in the report, after civil liberties officials at the Homeland Security Department said the report was issued without a change in some of the language that had been subject for dispute.
"To the extent veterans read it as an accusation ... an apology is owed," Napolitano said during an on-air interview on FOX News Thursday. "This was an assessment, not an accusation."
But American Legion National Commander David Rehbein, who is to meet with Napolitano on Friday, told FOX News on Sunday the evidence suggests that troops are more likely to be first responders than extremists during an attack on the homeland. He added that he is less concerned about the apology than about the way the department reached its conclusions.
"I'm hoping we can talk about the methods the department used as they begin to continue their job of assuring hoped secured and they have a big job, an important job and we need to make sure they are really going about it in the right way, so they can be most effective," he said.
"Trying to monitor a group of several million veterans, is frankly going to cost them a lot of time and resources, they don't have, that they could better spend monitoring already identified groups," Rehbein said.
Napolitano said that in retrospect anything in the report could have been written differently, but "a fair reading of the report" would show that it is not trying to "give offense" but providing "situational awareness."