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Pentagon revives Rumsfeld-era domestic spying unit

By Daniel Tencer
Saturday, June 19, 2010 19:13 EDT
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The Pentagon’s spy unit has quietly begun to rebuild a database for tracking potential terrorist threats that was shut down after it emerged that it had been collecting information on American anti-war activists.

The Defense Intelligence Agency filed notice this week that it plans to create a new section called Foreign Intelligence and Counterintelligence Operation Records, whose purpose will be to “document intelligence, counterintelligence, counterterrorism and counternarcotic operations relating to the protection of national security.”

But while the unit’s name refers to “foreign intelligence,” civil liberties advocates and the Pentagon’s own description of the program suggest that Americans will likely be included in the new database.

FICOR replaces a program called Talon, which the DIA created in 2002 under then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld as part of the counterterrorism efforts following the 9/11 attacks. It was disbanded in 2007 after it emerged that Talon had retained information on anti-war protesters, including Quakers, even after it was determined they posed no threat to national security.

DIA spokesman Donald Black told Newsweek that the new database would not include the more controversial elements of the old Talon program. But Jeff Stein at the Washington Post reports that the new program will evidently inherit the old Talon database.

“Why the new depository would want such records while its parent agency no longer has a law enforcement function could not be learned,” Stein reports. “Nor could it be learned whether the repository will include intelligence reports on protest groups gathered by its predecessor.”

The Pentagon’s notice states that the database will collect “identifying information such as name, Social Security Number (SSN), address, citizenship documentation, biometric data, passport number, vehicle identification number and vehicle/vessel license data.” As only US residents have Social Security Numbers, it appears the program is being designed at least partly to contain domestic information.

Newsweek cites two unnamed US officials as suggesting that the new program essentially echoes the old one. When CIFA, the DIA division running Talon, was disbanded in 2008, “many of its personnel and some of its functions were transferred” to the new DIA unit running the new database program. The new program will be housed “in the same office space that CIFA once occupied, in a complex near suburban Washington’s Reagan National Airport.”

Mike German, a former FBI agent now working with the ACLU, says “Americans should be just as concerned” about the new database as the previous one under the Bush administration.

“It’s a little hard to tell what this is exactly, but we do know that DIA took over ‘offensive counterintelligence’ for the DoD once CIFA was abandoned,” he told the Post‘s Stein. “It therefore makes sense that this new DIA database would be collecting the same types of information that CIFA collected improperly.”

 
 
 
 
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