Terrorist database victim of "mission creep," stored data on protest groups

Facing increased criticism for "mission creep" and inappropriate data entry, the Threat and Local Observation Notices (TALON) database maintained by the U.S. Department of Defense will be shut down on September 17, 2007.

Created in the aftermath of 9/11, the database was originally created to gather intelligence on possible threats to U.S. defense operations, both stateside and overseas. However, over its lifetime, TALON’s scope expanded considerably, eventually finding use for purposes far beyond its original mission. TALON’s out of control nature was aided by unverified reporting, data which grew to include peaceful domestic protest groups, nosy tourists and "Be on the Look Out" (BOLO) reports used by law enforcement

In a series of Freedom of Information Act requests made in February 2006, the ACLU found that TALON was used by the highly-secretive Counterintelligence Field Activity Agency (CIFA) to accumulate information and surveillance on nearly four dozen peaceful war protests. One February 2005 TALON report, centered on the War Resisters League’s protests near New York City recruiting stations, described the WRL as using "Ghandian nonviolence." In 2006, Newsweekpublished news of a TALON report used to store information on peace activists wearing papier-mâché masks and handing out peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches to Halliburton employees as they got off work.

Late last June, the Department of Defense Inspector General issued a damning evaluation (PDF) of TALON in response to audit requests from congress and previous negative press. While data used in TALON was collected legally, the report said, 1,131 of the 13,000 reports were found to be irrelevant to terrorism and subsequently purged. Additionally, it also found that the database did not consistently follow its 90-day retention review policy as set by the U.S. Department of Defense.

According to Pentagon spokesman and Army Colonel Gary Keck, TALON was determined to no longer hold analytical value, as reports coming into to the system had declined significantly.

TALON’s closure does not mark the end of the government’s data collection efforts. The DoD reported that they will retain the database for "intelligence oversight requirements" and that work has begun on a newer, improved system to take TALON’s place. In the interim, all of TALON’s remaining data will be moved to the FBI’s Guardian database, says Keck.

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