DoD Logging Unverified Tips
To track domestic terrorist threats against the military, the Pentagon is creating a new database that will contain “raw, non-validated” reports of “anomalous activities” within the United States.
According to a Department of Defense memorandum, the system, known as Talon, will provide a mechanism to collect and rapidly share reports “by concerned citizens and military members regarding suspicious incidents.”
Talon was described in a May 2 memorandum to top Pentagon brass from Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. In the memo, Wolfowitz directed the heads of military departments and agencies to begin producing Talon reports immediately.
A similar reporting system proposed by Attorney General John Ashcroft was shelved last year following opposition from privacy groups and others. Known as Operation TIPS, the Department of Justice system was intended to enlist civilian workers nationwide to report possible terrorist activity.
The Talon antiterrorism database was first reported by Kitetoa, a French security site. An anonymous source, who said he obtained a copy of the Talon memo from a website operated by the Department of Defense, provided Wired News with access to a copy marked “official use only.”
Ken McLellan, a Department of Defense spokesman, said the document “certainly looked authentic,” but he declined to discuss the contents of the memo or the potential intrusion into DoD’s network. McLellan said the agency was investigating the matter.
According to Peter S. Probst, a former Pentagon terrorism expert, the Talon program is necessary to protect DoD property and personnel.
“It would be derelict not to keep track of anomalous incidents. This is just common sense,” said Probst, currently a Virginia-based terrorism consultant and program director for the Institute for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence.
In the memo, Wolfowitz instructs DoD personnel to report — “in accordance with existing policy and law” — suspicious activities, including surveillance of DoD facilities, tests of security and “elicitation” attempts that suggest intelligence gathering.
The memo acknowledged that Talon reports may be “fragmented and incomplete,” but that “rapid reporting” is the goal of the system, which is not designed to replace the DoD’s formal intelligence reporting process.
Lee Tien, staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online rights group, said Talon raises many of the same questions as those that plagued the unsuccessful Operation TIPs.
“What is the value in accelerating the speed of the rumor mill?” said Tien. “You have a wealth of really weak data that ends up percolating its way through the system. How will they ensure that there’s no opportunity for people’s dossiers to become tainted?”
It was not clear from the memo whether Talon reports would become part of the Pentagon’s controversial Terrorism Information Awareness (TIA) program, or whether the data would be shared with other government agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security.
According to the Wolfowitz memo, reports of potential threats are to be sent to the DoD’s Counterintelligence Field Activity office using “automated information systems or via e-mail attachment.”
The CIFA will be responsible for incorporating the information into a database that will be accessed by DoD organizations, including the Defense Intelligence Agency and Joint Intelligence Task Force Combating Terrorism, according to the report.
The Talon system appears to have grown out of Eagle Eyes, an antiterrorism project developed by the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Launched in April 2002, Eagle Eyes is a neighborhood watch-type program that “enlists the eyes and ears of Air Force members and citizens in the war on terror,” according to the OSI website.
Since hijackers crashed an American Airlines jet into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, no reports have been published of terrorist attacks within the United States on military personnel or facilities.
However, the DoD regularly experiences “a high volume of probes, casing, and surveillance” from potential terrorists in the United States, according to Probst.
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