Civil liberties officials at the Homeland Security Department did not agree with some of the language in a controversial report on right-wing extremists, but the agency issued the report anyway.
The intelligence assessment issued to law enforcement last week said some military veterans could be susceptible to extremist recruiters or commit lone acts of violence. That prompted angry reactions from some lawmakers and veterans’ groups.
Homeland Security spokeswoman Amy Kudwa said the report was issued before officials resolved problems raised by the agency’s civil rights division. Kudwa would not specify what language raised the concerns.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano defended the report Thursday, but she said the definition of right-wing extremism that was included in a footnote should be changed.
In the report, right-wing extremism was defined as hate-motivated groups and movements, such as hatred of certain religions, racial or ethnic groups. “It may include groups and individuals that are dedicated to a single issue, such as opposition to abortion or immigration,” the report said.
“If there’s one part of that report I would rewrite, in the word-smithing, Washington-ese that goes on after the fact, it would be that footnote,” Napolitano said Thursday on Fox News.
The same definition was included in the agency’s March 26 report on domestic extremism. Both reports were marked “For Official Use Only.”
The report on right-wing extremists cites the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing by military veteran Timothy McVeigh as one instance of a veteran becoming a domestic terrorist.
Several lawmakers, the American Legion and Vets for Freedom took offense to the intelligence review. The Veterans of Foreign Wars defended it as an assessment, not an accusation.
Napolitano said, “We do not mean to suggest that veterans as a whole are at risk of becoming violent extremists.”
She also said: “I apologize for that offense. It was certainly not intended.”
The top Republican on the House intelligence committee, Michigan’s Pete Hoekstra, has asked the director of national intelligence’s ombudsman to investigate the Homeland Security report for “unsubstantiated conclusions and political bias.”
The senior Democrat of the House committee with oversight of the department said the report raises privacy and civil liberty issues. “This report appears to have blurred the line between violent belief, which is constitutionally protected, and violent action, which is not,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., wrote in a letter to Napolitano.
The department’s definition of left-wing extremism in the March 26 report includes a reference to violence, stating these groups that embrace anticapitalist, communist or socialist beliefs seek “to bring about change through violent revolution rather than through established political processes.”
These reports are part of the department’s routine analysis of intelligence information to give to law enforcement agencies guidance on possible security threats.
In February, the department issued a similar warning about possible cyber attacks from left wing extremists. In September, the agency reported that right-wing extremists over the past five years had used the immigration debate as a recruiting tool.
Since September, the agency issued several reports on individual foreign and domestic extremist groups such as al-Qaida and Hammerskin Nation, a skinhead organization. The Hammerskin assessment said many of the group’s members received military training and fought in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The latest report has turned into a “political football,” said Rep. Jane Harman, D-Calif. Harman, who chairs a House subcommittee on intelligence and information sharing, said the report could have been written more artfully, but added that “it was a well-intended effort to describe to law enforcement what things to look for.”
“If the result is to dumb down intelligence products that could prevent the next attack to the homeland, we will all lose,” she said.