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Pentagon to Shutter Anti-Terrorism Database

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Pentagon to Shutter Anti-Terrorism Database


Pentagon to Shutter Anti-Terrorism Database

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The Pentagon is shutting down a controversial anti-terrorism database known as TALON. It's been criticized for often casting too wide a net, one that ensnared anti-war protesters and other people who did not pose a threat.

NPR's Dina Temple-Raston reports.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Kot Hordynski was home for his 2005 Christmas break, when a disturbing e-mail came over the transom. Apparently, the Department of Defense had decided that he and a handful of his friends at the University of California Santa Cruz, were a threat to the nation.

Mr. KOT HORDYNSKI (Member, U.C. Santa Cruz Students Against War): There was a disclosure by MSNBC of a partial list of anti-war and peace groups that were considered as threats to the - of terrorists - were a potential threat of terrorism to the government. And so we found ourselves on that list, our group, Students Against War.

TEMPLE-RASTON: TALON stands for Threat and Local Observation Notice. It was a program created by former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, and it was envisioned as the Department of Defense's early warning system database. It was supposed to capture raw information about suspicious activity and then find a way to track it.

Hordynski and his friends had staged a protest at the Santa Cruz campus when Army recruiters came to a job fair at the student union in 2005. Their peaceful protest was deemed threatening to the military. And their group, Students Against War, landed on the TALON list.

Mr. HORDYNSKI: Well, we thought that we were just exercising our rights, but they thought that we were a credible threat. We were definitely very stunned and taken aback, in fact, and we knew that, you know, something wasn't right, and that we had to do something about it.

TEMPLE-RASTON: There wasn't anything nefarious about the Defense Department's database. The truth was TALON's original mandate was somewhat vague. It started as an offshoot of an existing Air Force program called Eagle Eyes, which basically had Air Force members and their families reporting anything that looks suspicious around military installations, like a neighborhood watch program for bases. That meant that a lot of unsuspecting people got caught up in the TALON reports.

Ben Wizner is an attorney at the ACLU.

Mr. BEN WIZNER (Attorney, American Civil Liberties Union): What began as perhaps a well-intentioned attempt to find a better way of reporting threats against the military became a sort of catch-all for information that had not been screened, of any kind of activity that was perceived as anti-military.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The DOD did admit it had made a mistake in Hordynski's case. Students Against War was eventually removed from the list. And today, the Defense Department went a step further. Pentagon spokesman Col. Gary Keck said in a written statement that DOD would pull the plug on the TALON program altogether.

On September 17th, all the information now on TALON will be moved to an FBI database known as Guardian. And Special Agent Richard Kolko says the FBI has systems in place to make sure innocent Americans aren't caught in the database.

Special Agent RICHARD KOLKO (FBI): We have a strict set of guidelines for the information that needs to go in there, that's allowed to go in there. And we've met each bit of information that goes into Guardian. So the way it's set up, we work hard to assure that civil rights and liberties are protected for all Americans.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The Pentagon made a point of saying that the TALON database was being pulled because its analytical value had declined. It said the public criticism surrounding the database was not the reason behind their decision.

Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News, Washington.

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