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Pentagon bins home-front threat database

Nobody in it but boring pacifists

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The Pentagon moved yesterday to shut down a controversial military database used to record possible threats to the US services inside America.

Reuters reports that officials gave a cutoff date of 17 September for the so-called Talon system. After this, defence personnel will still report suspicious activities around military bases - the main source of Talon information - but the data will henceforth be sent to the FBI.

Talon has been understood to stand for Threat and Local Observation Notices, but a Pentagon spokesman said yesterday that originally it was just a name.

The system has been widely criticised in America for maintaining information on harmless anti-war protesters, rather than potentially violent threats to US forces and facilities. The Pentagon itself said in 2006 that there was information of this kind in the system which should have been deleted, and pledged to do so in future cases.

Opponents of the system criticised the decision to maintain Talon in operation at that point, but it went ahead anyway. Now the Pentagon says it is closing Talon, not due to criticism but because it isn't any use.

"The analytical value of it was pretty slim," Colonel Gary Keck told reporters yesterday.

Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence James Clapper assessed the results of a year's Talon collections this April and concluded that the system wasn't worthwhile. It wasn't clear whether this was because the database was still full of worthless reports on peacenik hippies, or because it didn't have anything in it at all.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) watchdog was glad the database had been shut down, but said there were still questions to be answered.

"The TALON program could be just the tip of the iceberg," according to a statement by Caroline Fredericks of the ACLU Washington legislative office.

"It remains critical that Congress investigate how the abuse of the TALON database happened in the first place and conduct proper oversight of other intrusive surveillance by the executive branch."

The Reuters report is here. ®

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