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Pentagon Admits to Spying on Gay Students

UPDATE:

For those stumbling upon this post as a result of my recent comments on other blogs, you can find additional information regarding the alleged problems with the use of TALON for domestic surveillance at these links:

NewsMax article,  SLDN article and Washington Post article.

Additionally, I recently came across another document that sets forth a number of anti-war groups that were monitored by the government and the disposition of the surveillance, which can be found here.

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The Coffehouse Soapbox reports that the Pentagon has admitted to "inappropriately" participating in domestic surveillance against gay and lesbian students who engaged in protests against military recruitment at law schools.  The documents can be found here.

Initially a Freedom of Information Act Request for the documents was rejected by the government, and a federal action was commenced seeking to compel the government to release the requested documents. 

In the documents obtained, it is revealed that the government used a reporting program called TALON to spy on students.  The government admits that although the "TALON reporting system was intended to document suspicious incidents possibly linked to foreign terrorist threats to DoD resources, some came to view the system as a means to report information about demonstrations and anti-base activity that would be of interest to field commanders from a force protection perspective."

I'd like to say that I find this revelation to be unbelievable, but sadly, I can't.  Srcastic at the Coffeehouse Soapbox aptly sums up the situation, such that I don't feel the need to add anything further:

So basically, the Defense Department is admitting that tools created for the purpose of investigating foreign terrorist activities are also being used to monitor gay law student citizens that demonstrate at a private university against compelled military recruitment, which openly discriminates against gay people. The Defense Department goes on to apologize to the congressmembers for the mix-up, and promises that they will be more careful in the future. But why should we trust the military, when the only reason that it admitted to spying on citizens was because secret documents were leaked and subsequently aggressively pursued by nonprofits and educational institutions? How do we know that this was the extent to which they were monitoring citizens? Can we really just take their word for it?

Comments

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slickdpdx

The person you quote implies ( by referring to surveillance "tools") a lot more than the story shows. Its a sad comment on the folks who felt compelled to report innocuous activity to the program for their own reasons/prejudices. On the other hand, just because an organization is associated with a good cause or a group that suffers from discimination doesn't mean they are incapable of qualifying for a legitimate report. If you don't think that there is any place for a program of this nature, I'd be interested to know why.

NBlack

Slickdpdx,

What bothers me about this incident is that the government is using a questionable system that was intended to keep track of terrorist threats and the "war" against terrorism, and is using it to keep track of those who tangentially oppose the war on terrorism.

In further support of my assertion, I offer two articles: http://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2003/6/29/204152.shtml
and
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/12/10/AR2005121000893.html

The first article, from 2003, outlines the government's initial use of Talon reports. From that article: "First there was Operation TIPS, Attorney General John Ashcroft’s plan to enlist civilian workers nationwide to report suspected terrorist activity. Taken offline last year, the controversial program is reportedly being replaced with “Talon,” a cutting edge Department of Defense database designed to snare and distribute “raw, non-validated” reports of “anomalous activities” within the United States, according to a report in Wired."

And, from the second article: "The Talon reports, as they are called, are based on information from civilians and military personnel who stumble across people or information they think might be part of a terrorist plot or threat against defense facilities at home or abroad."

So, Talon reports were intended to keep track of information relating to suspected terrorism plots, as indicated in the documents linked to in my original post.

However, what is bothers me is that the following concern set forth by civil liberties advocates in the second article has clearly come to fruition: "The Pentagon's emphasis on domestic intelligence has raised concerns among some civil liberties advocates and intelligence officials. For some of them, the Talon system carries echoes of the 1960s, when the Pentagon collected information about anti-Vietnam War groups and peace activists that led to congressional hearings in the 1970s and limits on the types of information the Defense Department could gather and retain about U.S. citizens."

The pendulum has swung too far. This administration is wasting valuable resources that could be used to "fight" the war on "terror" to keep track of those who oppose that effort, no matter how tangential that opposition may be.

slickdpdx

Is this a case of overeager tipsters? Hot rhetoric exxagerated by organization members that created an irrational fear? Are there any real domestic terror threats? (Obviously, there are.) The pendulum analogy suggests that a reasonable position can be taken between ignoring domestic threats and improperly interfering in regular civilian society.

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