Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano on Thursday dismissed criticism of an intelligence assessment by her agency that says some military veterans could be susceptible to extremist recruiters or commit lone acts of violence.
Napolitano described the report, issued last week, as part of the department's routine of analyzing intelligence information to give law enforcement agencies guidance on possible security threats.
During a series of interviews on network news programs, she was asked about the report's assertion that some U.S. military veterans could be seen as potential converts to right-wing extremism during a down economy.
The report was "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."
Napolitano suggested that critics have taken the report's findings out of context and that there has been a lot of political spinning "out there in Washington, D.C. land."
Several lawmakers and the American Legion took offense to the report. The Veterans of Foreign Wars defended it as an assessment, not an accusation.
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 at least four reports on individual domestic extremist groups such as Hammerskin Nation, a skinhead organization.
In the September 26, 2008, Hammerskin assessment, the agency says that a number of the group's members have received "extensive military training" and served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The report said the veterans have the training needed to build large scale bombs, like the type used in the Oklahoma City bombing.
The senior Democrat of the House committee with oversight of the department said the most recent 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.
Thompson issued a report in 2005 urging the department to do more to counter the activities of right- wing extremists. But the report did not mention the military or veterans.
House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, assailed Napolitano's department for the report and pressed the agency to apologize to veterans. "To characterize men and women returning home after defending our country as potential terrorists is offensive and unacceptable," Boehner said Wednesday.
Asked about Boehner's remarks, Napolitano said, "He wants to make some political hay."
Napolitano appeared in interviews Thursday on CBS's "The Early Show," ABC's "Good Morning America," NBC's "Today" show, CNN and MSNBC.