21 August 2007

Pentagon ditches Wolfowitz's baby--TALON threat database

Pentagon ditches Wolfowitz's baby--threat database

by Frank James

The nation may be having difficulty figuring out how to extricate itself from the Iraq War which Paul Wolfowitz, the one-time Deputy Defense Secretary, played a role in helping get the nation into.

But the Pentagon had a far easier time ditching another Wolfowitz legacy, the controversial terrorism threat database with the aptly fierce name: TALON.

The Pentagon said today it was declawing TALON, basically pulling the plug on the database of threats against U.S. military servicemembers and civilian workers at the agency as well as defense facilities because it had outlived its usefulness.

The database drew protests because the Pentagon was collecting data on regular run-of-the-mill protesters and organizations, similar to what the federal government did during the Vietnam War era.

In a move rare in Washington where turf is usually zealously defended, the Defense Department said that while it works on a better system, all reports will go to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Guardian system.

That says a lot since if there were decent information coming through TALON, there's no way the Defense Department would allow the FBI to essentially take control of it.

Here's the Pentagon's bare bones press release:

DoD to Implement Interim Threat Reporting Procedures
DoD’s Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA) will close the TALON Reporting System effective Sept. 17, 2007, and maintain a record copy of the collected data in accordance with intelligence oversight requirements.

To ensure there is a mechanism in place to document and assess potential threats to DoD resources, the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Homeland Defense and Americas’ Security Affairs will propose a system to streamline such threat reporting and better meet the Defense department’s needs.

In the interim, until this new reporting program is adopted, DoD components will send information concerning force protection threats to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Guardian reporting system.

Evidently, reports from the field were drying up, making the database less than useful. It must've really turned into a waste of time since one would think if it had any utility Robert Gates, the former Central Intelligence Agency director who knows the value of good intelligence and now heads the Pentagon, would've held on to it.

Likewise, the Defense Deputy Secretary Gordon England who approved ending the program, was at the Homeland Security Department, and also would've held onto the program if intelligence of any real value was coming out of it.

Here's how the Associated Press reported on the announcment.

By ROBERT BURNS, AP Military Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Defense Department said Tuesday that it will shut down an anti-terror database that has been criticized for improperly storing information on peace activists and others whose actions posed no threat.

It will be closed on Sept. 17 and information collected subsequently on potential terror or security threats to Defense Department facilities or personnel will be sent by Pentagon officials to an FBI database known as Guardian, according to Army Col. Gary Keck, a Pentagon spokesman.

Keck said the Pentagon database is being shut down because "the analytical value had declined," but not because of public criticism of how it was used. Eventually the Pentagon hopes to create a new system - not necessarily a database - to "streamline such threat reporting," according to a brief statement issued Tuesday.
Keck said that after the TALON database is shut down in September, a copy of the data it contains will be maintained at the Pentagon for record-keeping purposes but not for further analytical use.

The decision to end the program, which had been recommended in April by the Pentagon's new intelligence chief, James R. Clapper, Jr., was approved by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, Keck said.

The program, known as TALON, was created after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and was designed to maintain a base of information on reported potential threats to military facilities and personnel.

In December 2005 it was disclosed that the system included data on anti-military protests and other peaceful demonstrations.

Anti-war groups and other organizations, including a Quaker group — the American Friends Service Committee — protested after it was revealed that the military had monitored anti-war activities, organizations and individuals who attended peace rallies.

Pentagon officials have said the program was productive and had detected international terrorist interests in specific military bases. But they also acknowledged that some officials may not have been using the system properly.

The TALON reports — collected by an array of Defense Department agencies including law enforcement, intelligence, counterintelligence and security — are kept in a large database and analyzed by an obscure Pentagon agency, the Counterintelligence Field Activity. CIFA is a three-year-old outfit whose size and budget are secret.

Keck said that after the TALON database is shut down in September, a copy of the data it contains will be maintained at the Pentagon "in accordance with intelligence oversight requirements."

Last year, a Pentagon review found that as many as 260 reports in the database were improperly collected or kept there. At the time, the Pentagon said there were about 13,000 entries in the database, and that less than 2 percent either were wrongly added or were not purged later when they were determined not to involve real threats.

The American Civil Liberties Union welcomed the announcement:

ACLU Applauds Decision to Shut Down Pentagon Database of Secret Information on Peaceful Groups
Group Says Congressional Review and Future Vigilance Still Needed


August 21, 2007

NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union today applauded the decision of the U.S. Department of Defense to shut down its TALON anti-terrorism database.

Though the Defense Department began the program in 2003 to house intelligence reports about possible threats to military bases in the U.S., the DoD strayed from its intended mission and expanded the database to include reports by local law enforcement agencies and military security personnel about nonviolent demonstrations and anti-war rallies.

“It was high time for this program to be shut down,” said Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU. “There should have been no place in a free democratic society for the military to be accumulating secret data on peaceful demonstrators exercising their First Amendment rights.”

In December 2005, major media outlets began reporting that the DoD was storing and maintaining information on peaceful groups, many of which were protesting the war in Iraq and holding anti-recruitment events and protests. In February 2006, in the face of congressional inaction, the ACLU and some of its affiliates filed multiple Freedom of Information Act requests seeking records relating to Pentagon surveillance under the TALON program. When the Pentagon failed to respond, the ACLU filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania resulting in the release of hundreds of pages of documents revealing in far greater detail the extent to which the U.S. military improperly kept tabs on lawful, non-violent, First Amendment activities.

“There is still too much that remains unanswered about the Pentagon’s surveillance activities in this country,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “The TALON program could be just the tip of the iceberg. It remains critical that Congress investigate how the abuse of the TALON database happened in the first place and conduct proper oversight of other intrusive surveillance by the executive branch.”

A copy of the ACLU’s report on the TALON database, No Real Threat: The Pentagon’s Secret Database on Peaceful Protest, is available online at: http://www.aclu.org/safefree/spyfiles/27988pub20070117.html

More information on the ACLU’s FOIA requests regarding the TALON database is available online at:


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