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Military recruiters skipped steps to screen out extremist enlistees, DOD investigation finds

August 7, 2023

Matthew Adams

Stars and Stripes

By Matthew Adams, Stars and Stripes / August 7, 2023

WASHINGTON – Military recruiters sometimes skipped steps to screen out enlistees affiliated with criminal gangs or extremist groups, according to a Pentagon audit published Monday.

The inspector general for the Defense Department investigated the military’s recruiting process to see whether service branches were applying policies ordered by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in 2021 to stamp out extremism in the ranks. The required screening includes interviews, questionnaires and forms, tattoo reviews and background checks.

The report comes as the Pentagon continues to wrestle with how to handle extremism within its ranks.

Austin has made the issue a priority within the Defense Department, including efforts to train troops to recognize and report indications of extremism among their fellow service members.

The Pentagon's focus on extremism came largely in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump. The attack included a handful of service members and dozens of veterans among the hundreds in the mob that sought to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden's election victory.

Pentagon officials have said they know extremist groups, especially far-right and anti-government organizations, seek out military veterans and push their young followers to enlist so they can receive military training.

The IG report was conducted by selecting a random statistical sample of applicants from each service from July 1, 2021, through Jan. 31, 2022. The audit found 53 out of 129 applicants, or 41%, weren’t interviewed about their ties to extremist groups or gangs. Recruiters did not administer screening forms in 40% of cases and did not complete required tattoo screenings in nine percent of applicants.

“We recommend that the secretaries of the military departments issue a policy memorandum to recruiting personnel reiterating the importance of completing all required steps for screening applicants for extremist or criminal gang associations,” the report said.

The audit also found Air Force recruiters incorrectly entered data on 34% of applicants. The recruiters entered information claiming applicants disclosed extremist or gang associations when they did not make such disclosures.

“Air Force recruiters stated that they mistakenly checked boxes in the system indicating applicant extremist or gang associations,” the report said. “Additionally, the system did not automatically stop the application process because of a lack of system controls.”

The report includes a letter dated Aug. 3 from Richard Vasquez, assistant inspector general for audit readiness and global operations, that states the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force have 90 days to submit a response to the office concerning specific issues or completed recommendations.