The Talon database started as a way for the Defense Department to collect tips on possible threats to military facilities. But as the program grew, those tips of so-called "suspicious incidents" became themselves more and more suspect.
One incident included in the database is a large anti-war protest at Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles last March that included effigies of President Bush and anti-war protest banners. Another incident mentions a planned protest against military recruiters last December in Boston and a planned protest last April at McDonalds National Salute to Americas Heroes a military air and sea show in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.The Fort Lauderdale protest was deemed not to be a credible threat and a column in the database concludes: US group exercising constitutional rights.New documents, obtained by the ACLU, catalog more, previously-undisclosed monitoring of free speech, in the name of force protection. A Veterans for Peace march in Las Cruces, New Mexico, is tagged a "threat to military facilities." A "church service for peace" in New York is labeled "potential terrorist activity.""The Defense Department tightened its procedures earlier this year to ensure that only material related to actual terrorist threats and not peaceable First Amendment activity was included in the database," the New York Times reports.
The head of the office that runs the military database, which is known as Talon, said Monday that material on antiwar protests should not have been collected in the first place.I dont want it, we shouldnt have had it, not interested in it, said Daniel J. Baur, the acting director of the counterintelligence field activity unit, which runs the Talon program at the Defense Department. I dont want to deal with it.When the NSA's warantless wiretapping program was revealed, defenders of the effort told us not to worry. "Before we intercept these communications, the government must have information that establishes a clear link to these terrorist networks," the President said last December.But it's the creeping expansion of a program like Talon, from counterintelligence to counter-dissidence, that gets folks like me so concerned about domestic spying without legal review. Sure, the programs start out with the best of intentions. But it becomes way too easy for a bureaucracy to slide into something that's just plain wrong.