Napolitano Defends Homeland Security Report on Right-Wing Extremism

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 16, 2009

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano responded yesterday to widespread criticism of a leaked domestic intelligence report warning local law enforcement agencies to be on guard for right-wing extremist groups seeking new recruits amid the nation's economic troubles.

"Let me be very clear: we monitor the risks of violent extremism taking root here in the United States," Napolitano said in a written statement issued by her department. "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."

The department's office of intelligence and analysis distributed the report to state and local law enforcement agencies April 7. The office regularly publishes intelligence analyses of domestic and international threats to the nation's borders and infrastructure.

The report drew sharp criticism from Republican lawmakers, conservatives and veterans groups, who said it unfairly targeted returning military veterans and gun rights advocates without citing specific threats. The report said the return of military veterans facing challenges with reintegrating into their communities "could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks."

"To characterize men and women returning home after defending our country as potential terrorists is offensive and unacceptable," House Minority Leader John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) said in a statement. "The Department of Homeland Security owes our veterans an apology."

American Legion National Commander David K. Rehbein sent a letter to Napolitano calling the report incomplete and politically biased. The secretary plans to meet with Rehbein next week when she returns from a series of trips, according to her statement.

Aides said privately that the secretary regrets that critics have construed the report's language to suggest that the department perceives a threat from veterans, noting that the department's various agencies employ thousands of military veterans and that some of Napolitano's deputies once served in uniform.

"We are on the lookout for criminal and terrorist activity but we do not -- nor will we ever -- monitor ideology or political beliefs," Napolitano said in the statement. "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."

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