SecDef plans new screening, training to weed out extremism

Pentagon photo by Air Force Tech. Sgt. Ned T. Johnston 

The Defense Department has ordered several personnel policy changes to address extremism in the military, ranging from updating intake questionnaires for recruits to training to prepare service members for potential targeting by extremist groups.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a memo April 9 calling for several "immediate actions" to "proactively" address extremism in the military, including the creation of the Countering Extremism Working Group to implement them.

The extremism working group will have senior representation from each military department and work on four main lines of effort, including evaluating military justice and policy, improving DOD's law enforcement organizations, information collection and sharing programs, and screening abilities.

One line of effort will make recommendations on the possibility of, "incorporating algorithms and additional processing into social media screening platforms" as part of the push to vet candidates for national security positions.

The working group will also review existing training and make recommendations to address issues such as First Amendment-related activities, such as "reading and liking extremist material and content in social media forums."

Austin also instructed military departments to employ several immediate actions. Each of the military departments are charged with adding extremism vulnerability training to the checklists given to service members preparing to leave the military.

The mandate also requires the services to work across the federal government and "create a mechanism by which veterans have the opportunity to report any potential contact with an extremist group should they choose to do so," the document states.

Military departments are also directed to update screening questionnaires for recruits "to solicit specific information about current or previous extremist behavior." Those questions, the memo states, have to include questions that gather "actionable information" and clarify the repercussions of providing false answers, the document states.

The memo also calls for further study of "extremist behavior within our total force" and the updating the official definition of extremism and "prohibited extremist activities among uniformed military personnel." That review would also include policy recommendations for civilian employees and contractors.

About the Author

Lauren C. Williams is senior editor for FCW and Defense Systems, covering defense and cybersecurity.

Prior to joining FCW, Williams was the tech reporter for ThinkProgress, where she covered everything from internet culture to national security issues. In past positions, Williams covered health care, politics and crime for various publications, including The Seattle Times.

Williams graduated with a master's in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park and a bachelor's in dietetics from the University of Delaware. She can be contacted at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @lalaurenista.

Click here for previous articles by Wiliams.


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