Jim Clapper, the new (since February 2007) Undersecretary of Defense for intelligence over at the Pentagon, is apparently going to try to end the TALON threat reporting system. This is a good thing, as TALON is basically just a database of unsubstantiated rumor. Here's an excerpt from a paper I wrote on TALON last year:
TALON is a database of raw intelligence managed by CIFA. It, too, has recently been subject to media and Congressional scrutiny.(16) It is a database used by both civilian and military personnel designed to report suspicious activities and possible terrorist threats to military installations. Its original purpose was “a means to capture non-validated threat information, flow that information to analysts, and incorporate it into the DoD threat warning process.”(17) However, once NBC got a hold of four hundred pages of TALON reports, they reported that there were hundreds of reports of Constitutionally-protected activities being monitored through TALON reports.(18) Among these include protests of military recruiters, nuclear weapons, missile tests, the Iraq war, and air show, a planned march down Hollywood in Los Angeles, and “Planned Civil Disobedience”, as well as internet discussion boards and mass emails.(19)
The Department of Defense and CIFA admitted that “mistakes were made” in the retention of the threat reports. The Pentagon said that TALON reports are viewed as “dots” to be validated or connected later in order to prevent a terrorist attack. If the “dots” are not validated as threatening within ninety days, they must be scrubbed from the TALON database.(20) However the dates on the individual TALON reports that NBC released on its website ranged from November 10th, 2004 to May 5th, 2005 – a period of time well over ninety days.
David A Burtt II, the Director of CIFA, chalked the errant TALON reports up to “ambiguity in the sense of the way people interpreted [TALON] policy.”(21) In response to media pressure, the Defense Department ordered “refresher training on the policies for collection, retention, dissemination and use of information related to U.S. persons.”(22) However, even according to CIFA director David Burtt there remained doubt as to whether anything can be totally scrubbed from government databases once it is uploaded to TALON.(23)
(16) During the recent debates over the USA PATRIOT Act extension, Senator Robert Byrd from West Virginia, in response to disclosures that CIFA had monitored anti-war protests, asked on the Senate floor questions such as “The question is not, is Big Brother watching? The question is, how many big brothers have we?” February 15, 2006. Transcript available at http://byrd.senate.gov/speeches/2006_february/wiretap_speech.html.
(17) Paul Wolfowitz. Memorandum. Subject: Collection, Reporting, and Analysis of Terrorist Threats to DoD Within the United States. May 2nd, 2003. Available at http://blogs.washingtonpost.com/earlywarning/files/depsecdef_memo_on_talon_terrorist_reporting_may_2003p.pdf.
(18) Lisa Myers, Douglas Pasternak, Rich Gardella, NBC Investigative Unit. Is the Pentagon Spying on Americans? Secret database obtained by NBC News tracks ‘suspicious’ domestic groups. NBC Nightly News, December 14th, 2005. Available at http://msnbc.msn.com/id/10454316/.
(19) TALON excerpts, provided by NBC Nightly News. Available at http://msnbcmedia.msn.com/i/msnbc/sections/news/DODAntiWarProtestDatabaseTracker.pdf.
(20) Steven Aftergood. Pentagon Will Review Domestic Surveillance Procedures. Secrecy News, Volume 2005, Issue 114, December 15, 2005. Available at http://www.fas.org/sgp/news/secrecy/2005/12/121505.html and http://www.fas.org/sgp/news/2005/12/dod121405.html.
Privacy Act of 1974 (5 U.S.C. 552a), available at http://www.usdoj.gov/foia/privstat.htm.
(21) NOW with David Brancaccio. PBS, March 24th, 2006. Available at http://www.pbs.org/now/transcript/transcriptNOW212_full.html.
(22) Gordon England. Memorandum. Subject: Retention and Use of Information for the TALON System. January 13th, 2006. Available at http://blogs.washingtonpost.com/earlywarning/files/talonmemojan2006osd_0053606.pdf.
(23) “BRANCACCIO: Can you assure law abiding Americans that the data that was in TALON that shouldn't have been there didn't percolate out elsewhere into other government databases?
BURTT: I can never 100% assure that. I can tell you that this is what we have done. We have looked at the database. We have taken out the information that didn't belong. We have then gone back to the entities that are involved in the database and let them know that that information is out, and they should take it out of theirs.” From NOW with David Brancaccio. PBS, March 24th, 2006.
Here's an eight-page excerpt (pdf) of TALON reports that monitor recruiting protesting, etc.
Clapper is also a professor in my program.