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NSA Gave Other U.S. Agencies Information From Surveillance

Those Northcom centers conduct data mining, where information received from the NSA, the CIA, the FBI, state and local police, and the Pentagon's Talon system are cross-checked to see if patterns develop that could indicate terrorist activities.

Talon is a system that civilian and military personnel use to report suspicious activities around military installations. Information from these reports is fed into a database known as the Joint Protection Enterprise Network, which is managed, as is the Talon system, by the Counterintelligence Field Activity, the newest Defense Department intelligence agency to focus primarily on counterterrorism. The database is shared with intelligence and law enforcement agencies and was found last month to have contained information about peace activists and others protesting the Iraq war that appeared to have no bearing on terrorism.

Military officials acknowledged that such information should have been purged after 90 days and that the Talon system was being reviewed.

Gen. Michael V. Hayden, deputy director for national intelligence and former head of NSA, told reporters last month that the interception of communications to the United States allegedly connected to terrorists was, in almost every case, of short duration. He also said that when the NSA creates intelligence reports based on information it collects, it minimizes the number of Americans whose identities are disclosed, doing so only when necessary.

"The same minimalizationist standards apply across the board, including for this program," he said of the domestic eavesdropping effort. "To make this very clear -- U.S. identities are minimized in all of NSA's activities, unless, of course, the U.S. identity is essential to understand the inherent intelligence value of the intelligence report." Hayden did not address the question of how long government agencies would archive or handle information from the NSA.

Today's controversy over the domestic NSA intercepts echoes events of more than three decades ago. Beginning in the late 1960s, the NSA was asked initially by the Johnson White House and later by the Army, the Secret Service, and the Bureau of Narcotics and Dangerous Drugs to intercept messages to or from the United States. Members of Congress were not informed of the program, code-named Minaret in one phase.

The initial purpose was to "help determine the existence of foreign influence" on "civil disturbances occurring throughout the nation," threats to the president and other issues, Gen. Lew Allen Jr., then director of NSA, told a Select Senate Committee headed by then-Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho) in 1975.

Allen, in comments similar to recent Bush administration statements, said collecting communications involving American citizens was approved legally, by two attorneys general. He also said that the Minaret intercepts discovered "a major foreign terrorist act planned in a large city" and prevented "an assassination attempt on a prominent U.S. figure abroad."

Overall, Allen said that 1,200 Americans citizens' calls were intercepted over six years, and that about 1,900 reports were issued in three areas of terrorism. As the Church hearings later showed, the Army expanded the NSA collection and had units around the country gather names and license plates of those attending antiwar rallies and demonstrations. That, in turn, led to creation of files on these individuals within Army intelligence units. At one point a Senate Judiciary subcommittee showed the Army had amassed about 18,000 names. In response, Congress in 1978 passed the Foreign Intelligence Security Act, which limited NSA interception of calls from overseas to U.S. citizens or those involving American citizens traveling abroad.


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