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Blunting TALON

This is disturbing, but not alarmingly so:

The Pentagon's new intelligence chief intends to dismantle an anti-terrorism database that civil liberties groups have criticized for gathering information about antiwar groups, churches and student activists, Defense Department officials said.

The database was begun in 2003 to house intelligence reports about possible threats to military bases within the United States, but it was expanded to include reports by local law enforcement agencies and military security personnel about nonviolent demonstrations and rallies.

The decision disclosed Tuesday was one of the first moves by James Clapper since he took over as the Pentagon's top intelligence official earlier this month. Department officials said Clapper had recommended to Defense Secretary Robert Gates that the database, called Talon, be dismantled.

When “religious” and “peace” activists think nothing of storming military bases and damaging combat equipment, perhaps keeping at least nominal tabs on them in the interest of both troop safety and national defense isn’t exactly unwarranted.

Claims about a return to the bad old days of COINTELPRO and CHAOS have been inflated if not outright unfounded. On the off chance that no one has noticed, we have two major shooting wars going on. If a military intelligence trooper or law enforcement agent isn’t deployed in support of those missions, he or she is just coming off of deployment or gearing up to go again. The amount of time and resources needed to “spy on Americans” is more limited now than it ever has been.

The key graph comes later in the article:

A lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union, Ben Wizner, called Clapper's decision a "positive step" but said he was concerned that the Pentagon could carry out similar activity in the future under different names.

Read the government’s own report – courtesy of the ACLU – about TALON, its missteps, its shortcomings, and its value. If anything the report documents your standard government response to a pressing new need for which there are no new resources: shoe-horning an existing system in an attempt to kludge together a solution.

There is a very good chance that TALON will be shut down, and Mr. Wizner is almost assuredly right in thinking that it will be revived under a new name. Hopefully, when it does reappear, it will have all the proper features, and come with a clearer set of policies, necessary to support legal and necessary force protection and domestic intelligence missions.

2 Comments

We don't have a problem with not having enough intel. We have a problem with not effectively mining the petabytes of data already collected. Personally, I'd rather see what little money is available for this to go into more effective data mining and less into more intel gathering or the creation of new databases.

Actually, they are both problems . . .

Unless you keep up the flow you are merely mining/analyzing history.

Unless you deal with the data properly you might as well just pick files at random.

Domestic intel (in the best possible connotation) has been lacking for a long time; likewise analysis related to same. Doing this smart from the beginning would have been nice, but it is the government we're talking about here.