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Top Stories This Week in the Chronicle.
June 15, 2007

Pentagon disputes link from DIA to spying on gays

Pentagon disputes link from DIA to spying on gays

Washington, D.C.--The Pentagon is disputing a report that connected the Defense Intelligence Agency to a program that spied on gay groups inside the United States.

The program, Threat and Local Observation Notices, or TALON, was established in 2002 to collect information about people and organizations that might be threats to the armed services and their resources.

Two years ago it was used to spy on campus groups protesting the military’s ban on openly gay members. That surveillance was discovered last year when news reports revealed the program.

TALON was recommended for shutdown in April after several groups sued over it and new Pentagon officials said it doesn’t merit continuing.

The “don’t ask, don’t tell” watchdog group Servicemembers Legal Defense Network was one of the groups that sued. The SLDN’s successful suit named the Defense Intelligence Agency among the defendants.

But a Pentagon spokesperson disagreed with a May 4 Gay People’s Chronicle story on the possible TALON shutdown that connected the DIA to the program.

Defense Intelligence Agency Chief of Public Affairs Donald Black sent an email saying the report, headlined “Pentagon may end program that spied on gay groups,” has “so many errors in fact.”

“I am disappointed because I would have expected an outlet such as yours that is so quick to criticize other organizations and people would do a better job of getting its facts right,” wrote Black.

“You appear to have a genuine desire to serve a select community,” Black continued. “I challenge you to do a better job of providing accurate information to your members.”

The basis for Black’s criticism, however, is a matter of interpretation of the relationship between TALON and the DIA.

Black’s four objections stem from two statements in the Chronicle article:

“SLDN sued the Defense Intelligence Agency, which oversees TALON,” and “Through intercepted student e-mails and other surveillance methods, the DIA used TALON to infiltrate student groups, often misinterpreting the information they got.”

Black called the statements incorrect because “DIA is not now and has never been affiliated with TALON, nor had DIA obtained information from the program.”

“DIA was one of several federal agencies included in a lawsuit filed by the SLDN in 2006,” Black wrote, “but it was not about TALON.”

He said the DIA is mostly interested in foreign surveillance.

The lawsuit, in which SLDN prevailed against the Department of Defense, was about obtaining public records of illegal domestic surveillance.

DIA is named in the suit because SLDN was looking for Pentagon collection of data on protesters by any means, not in any one program exclusively.

In that suit, DIA filed statements supporting the Pentagon’s right to maintain TALON.

When pressed in a phone interview, Black moved away from his written statements that the two operations had no affiliation, and that DIA got no information from TALON.

Black said he “had no idea” whether information gathered by TALON was ever used by DIA.

Pressed more, Black said, “There’s always a database that could be useful intelligence created. It’s possible that information for military intelligence [gathered by TALON] may have been available for our [DIA] analysts.”

 

 

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