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News :: Technology
Government to Restart Program to Watch Peaceful Civilians
12 Aug 2010
by Joseph Caye

TALON(Threat and Local Observation Notice) was a program ostensibly created to track the activities of those deemed potential terrorist threats. The aim was to gather loads of raw, unfiltered data from citizen reports, and use it to stop disruptive or violent activity. The TALON program grew out of Eagle Eyes, a program created by the Air Force Office of Special Investigation that called on the denizens of each air force base to keep an eye on their scheming neighbors and report suspicious activity. TALON was essentially the same thing, but it was run under the Department of Defense, and so was no longer specific to Air Force bases, and it required hundreds of people and more than a billion dollars to collect and catalog the thousands of reports they received every year. While it existed, if you had reason to believe someone was involved in any activity you deemed “suspicious,” you could call the toll free number, 1800-CALL-SPY, and leave an anonymous, unverified voicemail for the Pentagon. Like many government programs created in response to 9/11, it attacked our personal freedoms and instilled anxiety and distrust in many people. This is the program they’re going to revive.
Despite the government’s insistence that this program was for keeping tabs on those that threatened national security—those that would try to create fear and insecurity through violent force—they did not discriminate in their spying. Even the vehemently non-violent were subject to the government’s scrutiny. In a report regarding a group of Quakers near Springfield, IL, a concerned citizen warned the Department of Homeland Security that these potential terrorists were planning an action against a military recruitment center that would involve “raising awareness, education, visibility in community, and visibility to recruiters as part of a national day of action focused on military recruiters. “ When it was discovered that TALON had been policing a large number of lawful anti-war activists, the Department of Defense shut down the program after a lengthy bureaucratic process.

The new government program that watches peaceful US residents is FICOR, Foreign Intelligence and Counterintelligence Operation Records. Foreign is a very broad term that also includes those treading on US soil or in US water. In FICOR’s description, one piece of data they will try to collect are Social Security Numbers of suspects, and since only US citizens have SSNs ,then part of the program’s stated intent is to track US citizens. Although government spokespersons have said that the program will not commit the same civil liberties transgressions as TALON, there is nothing in FICOR’s stated intent that would restrict them from spying on citizens. They only have to identify someone as a person who poses a threat to the US or someone who could potentially become a threat. Threat is a broad term that could mean anything from a genuine violent attack that could harm or kill people to a planned upheaval of the imperialist, blood thirsty, America-the-indomitable mindset via non-violent slogans and educational literature. And potential is every bit as infinite as it is small, and impossible to identify until the potential has been spent.

US officials have tried to divorce the old publicity headaches (keeping records on those exercising a constitutional right and CIFA’s involvement in a major contracting scandal, which if successful, may have created a military secret police organization) from the new program, but there is little to separate the two. The Defense Intelligence Agency is the intelligence branch of the Department of Defense. Under the Bush administration, the DIA started CIFA, Counterintelligence Field Activity, which ran TALON. When CIFA was shut down in 2008 the DIA created the DCHC, the Defense Counterintelligence and Human Intelligence Center. The DCHC will be in charge of FICOR. Not only does the DCHC run out of the same offices that CIFA once occupied, but FICOR will inherit the records from the TALON program, and many of the employees stuck around. “Shutting down” meant little more than that their office ordered new letterhead stationery. There is very little to separate the two programs, and nothing to substantiate claims that they will stop prying into the lives of peaceful citizens. This is the same program that watches pacifists because they’re considered a national security threat. Although the new program will not have law enforcement powers itself, it will share the information it gathers to federal, state and local law enforcement through an electronic database. The violations to our civil liberties they once committed illicitly will now be done with the long arm of the law giving them a pat on the back.

Although Obama professes to run an administration sensitive to the civil liberties of even suspected terrorists, he’s not as transparent as his PR team makes him out to be. Guantamo is still detaining suspects six months after its very public date of closure, and the Department of Defense is taking over the torture facilities Obama’s CIA “closed.” The change between the Bush administration and the Obama is subtle, and doesn’t include more freedom or privacy.

This work is in the public domain.
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