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TALON, Guardian, Insert Your Name of the Week

Several people noted the announcement that DOD was shutting down the TALON database, wondering if the database was just going to be renamed down the line, as TIA seems to have morphed. Apparently they missed this detail:

It will be closed on Sept. 17 and information collected subsequently on potential terror or security threats to Defense Departmentfacilities or personnel will be sent by Pentagon officials to an FBIdatabase known as Guardian, according to Army Col. Gary Keck, aPentagon spokesman.

Give credit to William Arkin, who actually listed this database when he appeared on Democracy Now to talk about the Talon database:

AMY GOODMAN: Does this concern you?

WILLIAM ARKIN: What do you think? Of course, itconcerns me. I mean, I think that this is just one tiny picture of theactual amount of information which is collected by the F.B.I. and theintelligence community. We know that there are dozens of thesedatabases, Cornerstone, TALON, [inaudible], the Coast Guard ICCdatabase, the F.B.I. Guardian database, the F.B.I. TRRS database, theJoint Intelligence Task Force Counterterrorism Homeland Defensedatabase, the SSOMB database, the BTS summary, the C.I.A. TD database,the NSA traffic database called Criss-Cross. I mean, we know that thesedatabases are out there and that they all deal with domestic issues.

What is particularly worrisome right now is that the NationalCounterterrorism Center, which was set up as part of the Office of theDirector of National Intelligence, is now working to conglomerate allof these databases and that the Counterintelligence Field Activities,CIFA of the Department of Defense, is working to ensure that themilitary gains access to all of these databases, as well. So each ofthese, which goes into the creation of various watch lists and varioustip-offs for the military or the intelligence community to surveilcertain people, that determine the key words that the NSA or the F.B.I.then uses in its surveillance to catch certain emails or certaintelephone conversations or certain international communications, all ofthese are now becoming more and more efficiently employed, the notionbeing that somehow we’re going to catch the next Mohammed Atta, but thereality being that huge numbers of innocent, non-threatening Americancitizens are being sweeped up in this gigantic swirl.

So while this particular database is out of control of CIFA and under control of the FBI (anyone thinking of how well FBI managed the National Security Letters), that may just mean the data is now accessible to more people. And like the TALON database, the Guardian database is apparently not very well-suited to perform its function (or at least wasn’t, last year).

While the FBI has created the Guardian Threat Tracking System(Guardian) to manage the resolution of threats and suspiciousincidents, this system is neither easily searchable nor a useful toolfor identifying trends in types of incidents. As a result, during ouraudit the FBI could not identify the number of maritime-related threatsfrom 2002 to the present.

I can’t decide which is worse. That they have these databases. Or that they can’t build them to be effective.

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Marcy Wheeler aka Emptywheel is an American journalist whose reporting specializes in security and civil liberties.