08/21/2007

Pentagon will close controversial anti-terror database

By Robert Burns
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Pentagon said Tuesday that it will shut down an anti-terror database that has been criticized for improperly storing information on peace activists and others whose actions posed no threat.

It will be closed on Sept. 17 and information collected subsequently on potential terror or security threats to Defense Department facilities or personnel will be sent by Pentagon officials to an FBI database known as Guardian, according to Army Col. Gary Keck, a Pentagon spokesman.

Keck said the Pentagon database is being shut down because "the analytical value had declined," but not because of public criticism of how it was used. Eventually the Pentagon hopes to create a new system—not necessarily a database—to "streamline such threat reporting," according to a brief statement issued Tuesday.

The decision to end the program, which had been recommended in April by the Pentagon's new intelligence chief, James R. Clapper, Jr., was approved by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England, Keck said.

The program, known as TALON, was created after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and was designed to maintain a base of information on reported potential threats to military facilities and personnel.

In December 2005 it was disclosed that the system included data on anti-military protests and other peaceful demonstrations.

Anti-war groups and other organizations, including a Quaker group — the American Friends Service Committee — protested after it was revealed that the military had monitored anti-war activities, organizations and individuals who attended peace rallies.

Pentagon officials have said the program was productive and had detected international terrorist interests in specific military bases. But they also acknowledged that some officials may not have been using the system properly.

The TALON reports — collected by an array of Defense Department agencies including law enforcement, intelligence, counterintelligence and security — are kept in a large database and analyzed by an obscure Pentagon agency, the Counterintelligence Field Activity. CIFA is a three-year-old outfit whose size and budget are secret.

Keck said that after the TALON database is shut down in September, a copy of the data it contains will be maintained at the Pentagon "in accordance with intelligence oversight requirements."

Last year, a Pentagon review found that as many as 260 reports in the database were improperly collected or kept there. At the time, the Pentagon said there were about 13,000 entries in the database, and that less than 2 percent either were wrongly added or were not purged later when they were determined not to involve real threats.

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