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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
July 14, 2006

Pentagon now says gay spying was a mistake

Washington, D.C.--The Defense Department now says that spying on campus gay groups and their allies was a mistake, and that the resulting reports have been purged.

�There were mistakes made,� said a Pentagon source with knowledge. �People saw TALON as a way to gather huge data bases on anything that looked suspicious.�

TALON, which stands for Threat and Local Observation Notice, is a reporting system developed by the Air Force and authorized for wide use by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in 2003.

It was discovered by reporters in late 2005, prompting lawsuits and Freedom of Information Act requests by individuals and organizations worried that they were placed under illegal surveillance.

One of these is the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network, a Washington LGBT watchdog of the military�s �don�t ask, don�t tell� policy.

An initial document release in May showed that Defense Dept. agents, under the TALON program, were monitoring gay campus groups protesting the presence of military recruiters and �don�t ask, don�t tell.�

Additional documents released by the Pentagon in June show that the surveillance was much broader than the first papers showed, and that some of these campus groups had been labeled �potential terrorist� threats by military intelligence agents in 2005.

Pentagon spokesperson Commander Greg Hicks confirmed that TALON had been used improperly, though he would not say if some other surveillance program was now being used in its place.

According to unclassified DOD memoranda and directives released to the Gay People�s Chronicle, TALON �should be used only to report information regarding possible international terrorist activity.�

Hicks said the problem in this case was caused by other policies that allow TALON to be used to provide �force protection of DOD personnel [like the recruiters] and DOD installations.�

�This element was what caused the inclusion of force protection issues that did not have a foreign terrorist threat nexus to be included,� Hicks wrote in an e-mail in response to questions.

The TALON reports were generated from intercepted student e-mail.

Hicks would only say that �a �source� relayed the information to DOD.�

He would not say whether or not the Pentagon had warrants, or whether similar collection was still going on.

A directive issued by then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz in 2003 says, �Information in TALON reports is non-validated, may or may not be related to an actual threat, and by its very nature may be fragmented and incomplete. The purpose of the TALON report is to document and immediately disseminate potential threat information to DOD personnel, facilities, and resources. The TALON mechanism is not designed to take the place of DOD�s formal intelligence reporting process.�

However, later in the same directive, Wolfowitz wrote that TALON reports were to be immediately directed to military commanders and to Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA.

In November 2005, the Washington Post described CIFA as �the Pentagon�s newest counterterrorism agency.� Its budget and actual size are top secret. However, the Post reported �it has grown from an agency that coordinated policy and oversaw the counterintelligence activities of units within the military services and Pentagon agencies to an analytic and operational organization with nine directorates and ever-widening authority.�

Hicks said the data bases were purged of all the TALON reports that should not have been in there, including those generated from spying on gay groups. This was mandated by a March 2006 directive by current Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England that requires an audit, and only reports that �meet the criteria for reporting� be kept.

Hicks would not say what was done with the information on gay groups and their campus activity while it was in the system.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed an additional suit June 14 in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania to force the Pentagon to turn over additional records on other groups wrongly reported on.

�The U.S. military should not be in the business of maintaining secret databases about lawful First Amendment activities,� said ACLU attorney Ben Wizner. �It is an abuse of power and an abuse of trust for the military to play any role in monitoring critics of administration policies.�

 

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