Republicans Won’t Back Off Criticism of DHS

Posted November 18, 2009 at 7:03pm

Clarification Appended

Updated: 12:12 p.m.

Seven months ago, House Republicans decried as offensive a Homeland Security Department report that listed returning war veterans as possible recruits for “right-wing extremists.—

But following the recent shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, several Republicans have seemingly changed their tune as to whether radicalized soldiers could be potential national security threats and whether authorities should watch them more closely.

On Nov. 5, a gunman opened fire on unarmed American soldiers at the military base in Texas, leaving 13 dead and dozens more injured. Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, a military psychiatrist, has been charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder.

Senior House Republicans have said they believe it was clearly the work of a radicalized terrorist and have called for multiple investigations.

But Republicans said this week that the incident had little to do with the DHS warning in April.

Rep. John Carter (R), whose district includes Fort Hood, said the shootings did nothing to change his revulsion about the contents of the DHS report.

“The difference is we have his behavior,— Carter said. “I’m not saying you presumed this before … but now there is circumstantial evidence to presume— his radical leanings.

“Now if you make a presumption that because you wear the uniform of the United States Army that you are a right-wing radical and you need to be watched by the government, I think it’s offensive and I still think it’s offensive,— Carter added.

The DHS report warned of the dangers of attacks by right-wing extremists who will “attempt to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to exploit their skills and knowledge derived from military training and combat.—

At the time, Republicans were livid — some called for DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano’s resignation, while others demanded she apologize to the men and women in the military for diminishing their service by naming them as suspected threats to the country they volunteered to protect.

“No one has more love for this country than a returning military veteran,— Carter said on the House floor in April. “And here we have our own Department of Homeland Security calling these people potential domestic extremists, terrorists? This is unbelievable. I don’t think any of us can believe it.—

Seven months later, many of those Republicans are now charging that Democrats aren’t doing enough to investigate how many other threats may be lurking within the military’s ranks.

At a press conference Tuesday, Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee argued that a Congressional investigation was critical to determine how to prevent another radicalized service member from repeating this kind of tragedy.

“I think there’s a lot of evidence that would lead reasonable people to believe that this was potentially an act of terrorism, but that’s why we have the investigation to get to a better understanding and a more definitive conclusion as to why Hasan did what he did two weeks ago,— said Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee.

“Think about what a person like Hasan had to offer: He had clearance, he had a passport, he had complete access to military facilities, he had access to military records,— Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said. “Where is the threshold when you get information [about a soldier like Hasan] about going and seeking an investigation or raising a red flag?—

“Our concern is, are there any other Maj. Hasan’s out in the armed forces today?— asked Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.), ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee.

Asked Wednesday how Hasan’s radicalization differed from those mentioned in the April report, King explained that Hasan’s alleged contact with a radical cleric in Yemen made his situation unique.

“The difference here is the radicalization and being in contact with … at the very least an al-Qaida supporter — a person who was advising him was a dangerous person,— King said. “I mean, obviously we are always concerned about soldiers coming back. … It’s very traumatic what soldiers go through … [but] it did not warrant that report.—

King added, “I do not recall that [Napolitano] mentioned Islamic terrorists.—

In an April 15 statement, Napolitano said the report on right-wing extremism was “one in an ongoing series of assessments— created to keep law enforcement officials at all levels of government informed of the “phenomenon and trends of violent radicalization in the United States.—

“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.—

Clarification: Nov. 20, 2009

The original version of the article stated that DHS officials did not return phone calls and e-mails seeking comment. In fact, a technical issue prevented Roll Call from receiving messages from DHS officials by press time.