Pentagon says improper data in security database
The Pentagon said on Wednesday a review launched after revelations that it had collected data on U.S. peace activists found that roughly 260 entries in a classified database of possible terrorist threats should not have been kept there.
But the review reaffirmed the value of the so-called Talon reporting system on potential threats to Pentagon personnel or facilities by international terrorists, said Bryan Whitman, a senior Pentagon spokesman. He said the Pentagon was putting in place new safeguards and oversight intended to prevent improper information from going in the database.
Whitman said "less than 2 percent" of the more than 13,000 database entries provided through the Talon system "should not have been there or should have been removed at a certain point in time."
Whitman disputed critics' assertions that the program amounted to Pentagon domestic spying, although he declined to state the nature of these entries or the people they involved, saying the database's contents are classified. Whitman stressed that to be properly placed in the database, a threat must have a suspected link to international terrorism.
Under the Talon system, Defense Department civilian and military personnel are asked to report on activities they deem suspicious. These reports go in the Cornerstone database, handled by a Pentagon agency called the Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA.
The review was ordered in December by Stephen Cambone, under secretary of defense for intelligence, after revelations that the database included information on U.S. citizens including peace activists and others who did not represent a genuine security threat.
NBC News and defense analyst William Arkin disclosed at the time a sample of the database containing reports of 1,519 "suspicious incidents" between July 2004 and May 2005, including activities by antiwar and anti-military protesters.
This included a military intelligence unit monitoring a Quaker meeting in Lake Worth, Florida, on plans to protest military recruiting in high schools.
The Pentagon is legally restricted in the types of information it can gather about activities and individuals inside the United States.
A memo from Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England said the Talon system "has detected international terrorist interest in specific military bases and has led to and supported counterterrorism investigations." It called the data "unfiltered and non-validated potential threat information."
Whitman said data reported through Talon could be turned over the FBI or local law enforcement.
The Pentagon said it will conduct annual oversight reviews of the Talon program, designate supervisors to review each Talon report before submission to the database, and direct CIFA to review submissions to ensure they are proper.
Whitman said he did not know if the Pentagon had disciplined anyone for putting improper information in the database, but was "not aware of any malicious or deliberate attempts" to use the Talon system against a specific person or group.
Some critics have noted similarities in the Pentagon's activities during the Iraq War and those of the Vietnam War period, when it spied on antiwar activists.
"If the Pentagon has been collecting information improperly on Americans, it should provide a full accounting of what kind of information it collected, on whom and why, subject only perhaps to protecting the privacy of individuals," said Kate Martin, director of the Center for National Security Studies, a civil liberties group interested in government surveillance.