The Federal Bureau of Investigation earlier this year launched a nationwide operation targeting white supremacists and “militia/sovereign-citizen extremist groups,” including a focus on veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, according to memos sent from bureau headquarters to field offices.
The initiative, dubbed Operation Vigilant Eagle, was outlined in February, two months before a memo giving a similar warning was issued on April 7 by the Department of Homeland Security.
Disclosure of the DHS memo this week has sparked controversy among some conservatives and veterans groups. Appearing on television talk shows Thursday, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano defended the assessment, but apologized to veterans who saw it as an accusation.
“This is an assessment of things just to be wary of, not to infringe on constitutional rights, certainly not to malign our veterans,” she said on NBC’s Today Show.
Some Republican lawmakers, talk-show hosts and veterans groups complained this week after the internal DHS assessment cited the potential for the same extremists groups to target returning combat veterans for recruitment. The Democratic chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, also echoed the concerns.
The separate DHS assessment, leaked this week after being sent to law-enforcement agencies, said 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.” Veterans could draw special attention, the report said, because of their advanced training.
Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, the House Republican leader, said Wednesday he was offended that veterans were characterized as potential domestic terrorists.
Amy Kudwa, a DHS spokeswoman, said Thursday the report was issued before an objection about one part of the document raised by the agency’s civil-rights division was resolved. She called it a “breakdown of an internal process” that would be fixed.