By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
A Defense Department database devoted to gathering information on potential threats to military facilities and personnel, known as Talon, had 13,000 entries as of a year ago -- including 2,821 reports involving American citizens, according to an internal Pentagon memo to be released today by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The Pentagon memo says an examination of the system led to the deletion of 1,131 reports involving Americans, 186 of which dealt with "anti-military protests or demonstrations in the U.S."
Titled "Review of the TALON Reporting System," the four-page memo produced in February 2006 summarizes some interim results from an inquiry ordered by then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld after disclosure in December 2005 that the system had collected and circulated data on anti-military protests and other peaceful demonstrations.
The released memo, one of a series of Talon documents made public over the past year by the ACLU under a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, said that the deleted reports did not meet a 2003 Defense Department requirement that they have some foreign terrorist connection or relate to what was believed to be "a force protection threat."
The number of deleted reports far exceeds the estimate provided to The Washington Post just over a year ago by senior officials of Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA), the Defense Department agency that manages the Talon program. At that time, then-CIFA Director David A. Burtt II said the review had disclosed that only 1 percent of the then 12,500 Talon reports appeared to be problematic.
The ACLU said in its own report that past disclosures about Talon "cried out for congressional oversight yet Congress was silent." It said the new memo indicated there "may be even more disturbing" information to discover and declared "it is time for Congress to act."
The ACLU noted the memo showed that Talon reports had a much wider circulation than previously disclosed, with about 28 organizations and 3,589 individuals authorized to submit reports or have access to the database. The organizations with access include various military agencies as well as state, federal and local law enforcement officials.
In early 2006, Burtt also said CIFA had not devised a formal way to notify its users when it decided to delete a Talon report on American citizens. The newly released memo says that a software enhancement was being initiated to permit users to edit and delete entries from the database and that it was scheduled for completion in April 2006.
A Pentagon spokesman said there are 7,700 reports in the Talon database. Some involve U.S. citizens, but the spokesman declined to say how many. Over the past year the program has instituted multiple layers of review for screening which reports should go into the database, the spokesman said.
CIFA has begun a process for analysts to review materials to make sure they fit the program's criteria before being uploaded and made available to Talon users. CIFA was established in 2002 in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, originally to coordinate the counterterrorism and counterintelligence operations of the various branches and agencies of the Defense Department. It has grown rapidly over the past four years, but not without problems. Along with discovery of the Talon data collection, CIFA was linked to the lobbying and earmarking activities that led to the conviction of former congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.). Burtt and his top deputy retired in August 2006, and federal investigators are still looking at CIFA contracting activities.
Last week, the New York Times disclosed that CIFA had been using national security letters to gather financial data on U.S. citizens, but a Pentagon spokesman said yesterday that such information was for particular investigations and not made part of the Talon database.
Talon was started in May 2003 to capture raw, non-validated information about suspicious activity or potential terrorist threats to military personnel or facilities at home and abroad.