Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano apologized directly today to Commander Dave Rehbein, head of the American Legion, after a recently leaked DHS intelligence report suggested that right-wing extremist groups might recruit military veterans returning from overseas deployments. The 45-minute meeting occurred at DHS headquarters in Washington this afternoon.
A detailed account of the meeting from the American Legion states that "Hunched forward with head bowed, the Secretary of Homeland Security looked the National Commander of The American Legion straight in the eye and said, very quietly, 'I’m sorry, Dave.'"
“The report was not worthy of this department, or of veterans,” Napolitano said to Rehbein, according Legion spokesman Craig Roberts, who attended the meeting. "It was very badly written and should never have been released," she said....
In a statement of support issued this afternoon, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, called Napolitano "a superb choice to lead the Department of Homeland Security." He noted that the report on extremists was started during the Bush administration by career DHS employees and that he did not consider it politically motivated.
OK: a note here before we start in earnest. Senator Lieberman is running with what has become a favorite talking point, narrative, or meme (depending on whether one is a disciple of Carville, Lakoff, or Dennett) of many progressive and liberal commentators: the report was a Bush-era holdover, so it is not fair to blemish the new administration for it.
That's crap. The report was released on 7 April 2009, with direct reference to the Pittsburgh police shooting on 4 April, and plenty of direct and indirect references to the FBI's February 2009 draft report on Vigilant Eagle [a study of the potential for rightwing extremists recruiting veterans]. In other words, substantial portions of this report were in fact generated well after the Inauguration, and the entire document obviously was (or should have been) vetted by the new regime.
But why is Janet Napolitano out there apologizing in the first place? If it were just that the political fall-out of saying something true but unfortunate, I could understand that. It's part of the politicization of virtually all facets of American policy these days.
That's not the problem with the report. The problem with the report is that it makes one logical assertion [that violent extremist groups would like to recruit military talent], buttresses that with a vague, unsubstantiated reference to post-1991 militia recruting, and completely ignores the fact that previous FBI reports have discovered that such recruitment is statistically almost insignificant. In fact, the most complete report the FBI has ever issued only claims that a maximum of 19 combat veterans may have been recruited by such groups, out of a potential pool of only 203 people, all of whom may not have been veterans.
For even that to mean anything, it would have to have some sort of comparison attached. For example: how many former police officers, border guards, or military contractors are known to have been recruited into violent extremist groups?
So it was not--Napolitano's apology aside--that the report was badly written, but that the report was absolutely useless to law enforcement officials. It did not identify specialities being recruited, characteristics of troops being recruited, specific organizations or types of extremists doing the recruiting....
I'd like to believe that we're all fixating on a generalized report, and the kind of specific information that I'm asking for is circulating right now through law enforcement channels.
But I don't believe that for a moment. Nothing in the long-term track record of DHS or its fusion-center partners around the nation suggests that this is the case.
So here's what I'd like Janet Napolitano to talk about, instead of apologizing for reports, ticking off the Canadians, or getting into the question of whether or not illegal immigration is a crime: I'd like Janet Napolitano to admit what many people inside the homeland security/intelligence field have known for years: The Department of Homeland Security is an ineffective bureaucracy that presently exists more as a revenue-sharing mechanism for Federal dollars than to keep us safe.
I'd like her to admit that DHS and its affiliated agencies have done far more to destroy Constitutional civil liberties in this country than to stop either foreign or domestic terrorists.
The irony is that she could do this, and with a straight face blame it all on the Bush administration, because to do so would be completely true.
If, however, she waits more than a few more months to make such an acknowledgement, it will have become her department, and it will be politically impossible for her to make any real changes.
While I am bashing Napolitano, I need to be intellectually consistent and give her plaudits for coming out against Real ID, even if she's not real specific about what she wants instead.