DOD to purge some debated security information from database
ARLINGTON, Va. — After reviewing a controversial program to collect information about individuals and groups suspected of presenting a terrorist threat to U.S. military bases and personnel, Defense Department officials have decided to purge “less than 2 percent” of the information in the database, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said Wednesday.
More than 13,000 entries have been logged since the TALON Reporting System went into effect in May 2003, Whitman told Pentagon reporters.
TALON, or Threat and Local Observation Notice, was created after defense officials realized there were systems in place to identify, report and analyze information about terrorist threats overseas, but none for threats within the U.S., according to a 2003 memo by then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, who established the program.
TALON “is for the purpose of force protection of the United States military facilities in the United States of America, which is a legal obligation of the Department of Defense,” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told Senators on March 9.
Last fall, media outlets began reporting that the program was collecting the names of individuals and groups who were protesting the war in Iraq at stateside military bases.
Members of Congress, including Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., began asking questions.
In January, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England ordered a review of TALON.
Leahy had become interested after reading that a group of Vermont Quakers was supposedly part of the classified database.
“We find from the press, not from our own government, that a number of peaceful protest groups, like the Quakers, have somehow ended up in the department database,” Leahy told Rumsfeld at the March 9 hearing. “I worry about the department spying on citizens that goes beyond any reasonable or legal effort to protect Defense Department personnel or installation.”
The result of England’s review was a March 30 memorandum that concluded that while “the program has been productive,” it should also be reviewed on an annual basis, with the first review due May 30.
In the memo, England also directed Stephen Cambone, Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence, to convene a working group to look at TALON’s policies and recommend changes across DOD’s intelligence, counterintelligence, law enforcement, force protection and security communities.
That group’s first report is due to England on Sept. 15.
The memo does not mention the purge, but Whitman confirmed Wednesday that approximately 260 entries would be removed from the database.
Asked whether the Quakers were among those whose names will now be purged from TALON, Whitman said he “didn’t look specifically, but I assume that they were in that 2 percent.”