JUNE 30, 2003 MON
Updated 8:19am CST
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Report: 'Talon' to Gather Suspicious Information for DoD

Newsmax June 30 2003

First 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.

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."