WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Pentagon’s new intelligence chief is seeking to end a system for tracking suspicious activity around U.S. military bases which critics say has been used to spy on peaceful antiwar activists.
James Clapper, U.S. undersecretary of defense for intelligence, said in an April 18 memo to Defense Secretary Robert Gates that the so-called TALON program should end, in part due to its poor public reputation. The memo was obtained by Reuters on Tuesday.
“I have assessed results of the TALON program during the last year and I do not believe they merit continuing the program as currently constituted, particularly in light of its image in the Congress and the media,” Clapper said in the memo.
“I plan to submit a memo to the department for the Deputy Secretary of Defense’s signature next week announcing the termination of the program,” wrote Clapper, who took up his position earlier this month.
Under the TALON program, which was set up in 2003 and is short for Threat and Local Observation Notices, Defense Department civilian and military personnel are asked to report on activities they deem suspicious.
These reports go in a database handled by a Pentagon agency called the Counterintelligence Field Activity.
The Pentagon declined to make any official comment on the memo. But a U.S. defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity because no formal decision had yet been taken, confirmed TALON was under review.
“The undersecretary of defense for intelligence is looking at the program,” the official said. “We’ll certainly inform the public if there are changes.”
Clapper said reports of suspicious activity could be handled through other systems.
“We will not have a reporting void,” the memo said.
“We must have mechanisms to document and assess potential threats to DoD (Department of Defense) resources, but we must lay to rest the distrust and concern about the department’s commitment to civil rights that have been sustained by the problems found in the TALON reporting system.”
The Pentagon said last April that a review had found the database included reports on peaceful civilian protests and anti-war demonstrations that should have been deleted.
At that time, the Pentagon also said it had introduced safeguards to prevent such information ending up in the database but it stood by the system, saying it was valuable tool for detecting potential terrorist threats.