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Military recruiters failed to screen enlistees for criminal gang, ‘extremism’ links, IG says

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Stepan assists U.S. Army Reserve Spc. Alexis Chacon. (Maj. Brandon R. Mace/U.S. Army Reserve)
August 08, 2023

A recent Inspector General audit found that military recruiters skipped multiple steps in the enlistment screening process to reduce security risks and disciplinary problems by rooting out potential recruits who are affiliated with political “extremist” groups or criminal gangs.

According to the audit, the Inspector General’s objective was to “determine whether Military Service recruiting organizations screened applicants for “extremist” and criminal gang behavior in accordance with DoD and Military Service policies and procedures.”

In 2021, in wake of the Capitol storming on Jan. 6, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and the Department of Defense updated policies regarding the screening of potential recruits for “extremist” behavior, according to Military Times.

The updated screening included questions regarding applicants’ past association with “extremist” groups, racially biased organizations and violent activities.

Unless applicants are approved for waivers regarding past association with “extremist” organizations, they are ineligible for service in the U.S. military based on the updated policies enacted in 2021.

The Inspector General’s audit discovered that military recruiters were inconsistent in screening applicants. In some instances, recruiters skipped mandatory interviews, fingerprint checks, reviews of tattoos with potential gang affiliation, questionnaires and background investigations.

“The screening shortfalls may mean recruits with ‘extremist’ or gang associations were allowed into active duty,” the report states.

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Inspector General Robert Storch added, “If the military services are not completing required applicant screening steps, recruiters may not identify all applications with “extremist” or criminal gang associations during the accessions screening process, increasing the potential for security risks and disruptions to good order and discipline within the joint force.”

The Inspector General’s office conducted the audit based on a sample of recruits from 2021 and 2022. The audit discovered that 41% of recruits were not properly screened with questions regarding their affiliation with gangs or “extremist” groups.

The audit noted that recruiters failed to use screening forms 40% of the times they were required to.

In addition to these statistics, 9% of applicants were not forced to complete fingerprint checks or tattoo screenings. Additionally, in one instance, a military recruiter failed to launch a necessary background investigation into an applicant.

The audit indicated that Navy recruiters consistently completed the updated screening procedures; however, the audit noted that Army, Air Force and Marine Corps recruiters did not consistently follow the mandatory screening procedures.

Based on the audit’s findings, the Inspector General recommended that the Pentagon remind recruiters of the importance of screening applicants for any potential affiliation with “extremist” groups.

The audit also recommended that each branch of the military should complete a periodic review of the screening process for applicants. Each of the military branches agreed to conduct periodic reviews by early next year.

In light of the recent audit, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army Jeffrey Angers provided a memo to U.S. Army Recruiting Command.

“Extremist and hate organization ideologies and affiliations are antithetical to Army core values,” Angers stated in the memo to U.S. Army Recruiting Command. “It is important to follow all the required steps for screening applicants for extremist, hate and criminal gang associations during the accessions process… Applicants associated with these beliefs and/or organizations are neither permitted nor suited to access in the United States Army.”