Three-hour appropriations subcommittee hearing condensed into 2 minutes of NEWS

by Alex Ogle

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Homeland Security chief Janet Napolitano defended Tuesday her agency's 55.1-billion-dollar budget request and reassured Republican lawmakers the agency did not consider returning US soldiers to be right-wing extremists.

The agency came under fire last month for saying troubled veterans returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan "could lead to the potential emergence of terrorist groups or lone wolf extremists capable of carrying out violent attacks."

The agency also said in the internal April 7 advisory for local law-enforcement officials that the economic downturn and the election of the first African American president present unique drivers for right-wing radicalization and recruitment.

But Napolitano, testifying before the House appropriations sub-committee on the agency's budget, told lawmakers the report was designed for "situational awareness" and not targeting purposes.

Grilled by Texas representative John Carter on whether the DHS had clearly withdrawn its report for consideration by law enforcement officials, Napolitano said it had been removed from the DHS's intel websites and is "in the process of being replaced ... in a much more precise fashion."

Asked repeatedly by Illinois lawmaker Mark Kirk whether anyone was fired over the incident, Napolitano said "appropriate personnel action has and will be taken," though she did not say anyone was removed.

In the report, which was not intended for public consumption, "there was no intent of accusing our veterans of being un-American," Napolitano assured.

"What there was," she said, "was an understanding that veterans are sometimes targeted for recruitment -- that is an assessment."

The Pentagon gives instruction to its own commanders about the same phenomenon, the secretary added.

The proposed budget also requested funding for 15 dedicated teams to detect explosives in public spaces and transportation networks, including 400 million dollars to protect critical infrastructure and cyber networks from attack and 94.5 million dollars to detect agents of biological warfare.

Lawmakers also sought reassurance that the agency was disrupting Mexican drug cartels and the flow south of weapons from the United States, along with measures to curb illegal immigration and deport offenders.

Napolitano, who has played a leading role in combatting the recent H1N1 flu outbreak within the United States, was not questioned about the pandemic threat at the committee hearing.