By Julia Harte
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. House of Representatives on Tuesday approved a measure that would for the first time require the Homeland Security department to use testimonials from former extremists to counter recruiting messages from militant groups.
“Terrorists are radicalizing our citizens online and across borders, which is why we need this legislation," said House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul.
The measure was approved 322 to 79.
International allies of the United States such as Britain have long used testimony by disillusioned former extremists to discourage young people from joining militant groups. Despite support for the technique from U.S. officials including President Barack Obama, the United States has not used it.
Lawmakers clashed because the proposal suggests using testimonials to counter "foreign terrorist organizations" but does not mention domestic extremists.
Concern about domestic extremism has grown more intense since the December shootings by an Islamic State-inspired couple in San Bernardino, California, and the occupation of a wildlife refuge in Oregon by domestic anti-government militants earlier this year.
Republican supporters of the measure emphasized that the bill would not prevent using testimonials from former extremists to combat domestic recruitment.
Congressional aides said on Monday they expect partner legislation to be introduced this week in the Senate.
The Department of Homeland Security declined to comment, but said in a March memo that such a program could place a “significant burden on already limited resources.”
The department also said in the memo that it already has the authority to use testimonials from former extremists, but that it wants to avoid giving the impression that its current community outreach efforts might be used to gather them.
(Reporting by Julia Harte; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)