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from here on June14, 2009
|APRIL 17, 2009|
WASHINGTON -- 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.
The documents outlining Operation Vigilant Eagle cite a surge in activity by such groups. The memos say the FBI's focus on veterans began as far back as December, during the final weeks of the Bush administration, when the bureau's domestic counterterrorism division formed a special joint working group with the Defense Department.
A Feb. 23 draft memo from FBI domestic counterterrorism leaders, obtained by The Wall Street Journal, cited an "increase in recruitment, threatening communications and weapons procurement by white supremacy extremist and militia/sovereign-citizen extremist groups."
The FBI said in the memo that its conclusion about a surge in such activities was based on confidential sources, undercover operations, reporting from other law-enforcement agencies and publicly available information. The memo said the main goal of the multipronged operation was to get a better handle on "the scope of this emerging threat." The operation also seeks to identify gaps in intelligence efforts surrounding these groups and their leaders.
The aim of the FBI's effort with the Defense Department, which was rolled into the Vigilant Eagle program, is to "share information regarding Iraqi and Afghanistan war veterans whose involvement in white supremacy and/or militia sovereign citizen extremist groups poses a domestic terrorism threat," according to the Feb. 23 FBI memo.
Michael Ward, FBI deputy assistant director for counterterrorism, said in an interview Thursday that the portion of the operation focusing on the military related only to veterans who draw the attention of Defense Department officials for joining white-supremacist or other extremist groups.
"We're not doing an investigation into the military, we're not looking at former military members," he said. "It would have to be something they were concerned about, or someone they're concerned is involved" with extremist groups.
Mr. Ward said that the FBI's general counsel reviewed the operation before it began, "to make sure any tripwires we set do not violate any civil liberties."
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.
The FBI documents show the bureau was working with investigators inside the nation's uniformed services "in an effort to identify those current or former soldiers who pose a domestic terrorism threat." The other agencies working with the FBI are the U.S. Army Criminal Investigative Division, the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service.
Documents detailing the operation are unclassified, but were meant for internal distribution only.
—Evan Perez contributed to this article.
Write to Cam Simpson at email@example.com and Gary Fields at firstname.lastname@example.org
Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A3
2nd Article from WSJ from here on June 15, 2009
|JUNE 15, 2009|
The recent killings of a U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum guard and a Kansas abortion doctor came a few months after the Federal Bureau of Investigation stepped up efforts to pre-empt violence committed by just such political extremists working alone.
"Lone-wolf offenders continue to be of great concern to law enforcement," the agency said in a February memo reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. The FBI is "trying to identify a potential lone wolf before he or she would act out violently," Michael Ward, the bureau's deputy assistant director for counterterrorism, said in an interview earlier this year.
The lone-wolf initiative is one element of a broader strategy to fight domestic terrorism, dubbed "Operation Vigilant Eagle," launched late last year in response to what the memo identified as "an increase in recruitment, threatening communications, and weapons procurement by white supremacy extremist and militia/sovereign citizen extremist groups."
Vigilant Eagle's creation was first reported by the Journal in April.
The memo, and the recent killings, also show the limits of the lone-wolf effort. Both James von Brunn, who is charged with the Holocaust Museum shooting, and Scott Roeder, the man arrested in the murder of George Tiller in Kansas, had openly expressed to associates and on Web sites their extremist views, on anti-Semitism in Mr. von Brunn's case and on abortion in the case of Mr. Roeder. The FBI, in fact, was aware of Mr. von Brunn because of the postings but wasn't tracking him.
Neither man appears to have been active in groups that might have tipped off authorities to the danger. In the search for potentially violent individual extremists, "an emphasis should be placed on the identification of individuals who have been ostracized from a group for their radical beliefs," the FBI memo said. It added that officials should look for "those who have voluntarily left a group due to their perception of the group's inactivity, or those forced from the group for being too extreme and or violent." That description doesn't appear to have fit either Mr. von Brunn or Mr. Roeder.
"The lone wolf is arguably one of the biggest challenges to American law enforcement," said Mike Rolince a former FBI counterterrorism official who spent years focused on domestic extremists. "How do you get into the mind of a terrorist? The FBI does not have the capability to know when a person gets up in middle America and decides: 'I'm taking my protest poster to Washington or I'm taking my gun.' "
While much of the focus in recent years has been on international terrorism and on militant groups, authorities say the lone-wolf syndrome has always been a major concern, borne out by high-profile incidents such as the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the 1996 Olympic bombing in Atlanta and the series of bombings carried out over nearly two decades by Theodore Kaczynski, who lived in a remote cabin in Montana.
The stepped-up attention to the issue in recent months is part of a broader worry about rising threats and violence from political extremists. There are no concrete data showing recent trends. The FBI's hate-crime reports are more than a year behind. Still, the most recent data showed that from 2005 to 2007, the number of such incidents rose more than 6%.
In addition to the recent killings in Washington, D.C., and Kansas, recent lone-wolf cases include the killing of a soldier in Little Rock, Ark., last month, allegedly by a converted Muslim extremist, Abdulhakim Muhammad. Last August, a Florida man attending bail-bondsman training was arrested for making threats against then-Sen. Barack Obama and President George W. Bush. And in October, two men who identified themselves as skinheads were arrested in Tennessee where they were plotting to go on a nationwide killing spree targeting African-Americans.
The FBI memo also noted the scant academic study to date of violent individual extremists, and said the agency had recently stepped up efforts to analyze their actions. A study launched in partnership with Harvard University, the memo said, would seek to define characteristics and behavior that signal a potential lone-wolf offender.
Harvard spokesman who contacted various departments to ask about the study said he was unaware of it. The FBI said there was no date for completion.
The FBI memo also called on bureau offices around the country to assess whether the leaders of known extremist groups might be open to cooperating with law enforcement in identifying potential lone offenders. The FBU [sic] advised its offices not to initiate contact at this time.
Meantime, the bureau has been working with the U.S. military and with prison authorities to identify people who may raise concerns, hoping that "anyone who would be inclined to act out, we'd have a sporting chance to take any kind of preventative measures we can," Mr. Ward said.
One constraint facing authorities is the need to balance monitoring of potential violent extremists with the protection of a suspect's civil liberties. The memo noted that the study had been cleared by the FBI's "institutional review board, which reviews all FBI research involving human subjects in order to help protect the rights and welfare of those subjects."
"Their hands are tied a little bit," said Heidi Beirich, of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors hate groups. "We have to protect freedom of speech. It's kind of complicated."
Write to Gary Fields at email@example.com and Evan Perez at firstname.lastname@example.org
Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page A3
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