Report: ‘Talon’ to Gather Suspicious
Information for DoD
there was Operation TIPS, Attorney General John Ashcroft’s plan to
enlist civilian workers nationwide to report suspected terrorist
activity. Taken offline last year, the controversial program is
reportedly being replaced with “Talon,” a cutting edge Department of
Defense database designed to snare and distribute “raw,
non-validated” reports of “anomalous activities” within the United
States, according to a report in Wired.
Monday, June 30, 2003
Talon, which will collect and share reports “by concerned
citizens and military members regarding suspicious incidents,” was
reportedly outlined in a May 2 memorandum to top Pentagon officials
from Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz.
Directing the heads of military departments and agencies to begin
cranking out Talon reports immediately, Wolfowitz reportedly further
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
hint at intelligence gathering, according to Wired.
The Wolfowitz memo concedes that the Talon reports may be
“fragmented and incomplete,” but that “rapid reporting” is the
mission of the system, which is supposed to supplement the DoD’s
more formal intelligence reporting mechanisms.
Pointedly, says the Wired report, the memo’s language does not
spell out if the Talon reports would integrate with the Pentagon’s
controversial Terrorism Information Awareness program. Furthermore,
it is unclear whether the intelligence data would be shared with the
Department of Homeland Security.
According to the Wolfowitz memo, Talon reports are to be directed
to the DoD’s Counterintelligence Field Activity office using
“automated information systems or via e-mail attachment,” says
Wired. Thereafter, that agency will load the threat information into
a database to be accessed by the Defense Intelligence Agency and
Joint Intelligence Task Force Combating Terrorism.
Ken McLellan, a Department of Defense spokesman, said the
document (obtained by Wired from Kitetoa, a French security site)
“certainly looked authentic,” adding only that the agency was
investigating the matter.
Lee Tien of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an online rights
group, told Wired that Talon is as worrisome as the defunct
Operation TIPs: “What is the value in accelerating the speed of the
rumor mill? 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?”
However, according to Peter S. Probst, a former Pentagon
terrorism expert, the Talon program is necessary to protect DoD
property and personnel. The DoD regularly experiences “a high volume
of probes, casing, and surveillance” from potential terrorists in
the United States, advised Probst. “It would be derelict not to keep
track of anomalous incidents. This is just common sense.”
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