Thursday, April 26, 2007


Washington D.C.--TALON (Threat and Local Observation Notice) was created by the Air Force in the immediate aftermath of the events of September 11th, 2001, probably in early-2002. This program of illegal surveillance is nothing new at the Defense Department. From the misuse of the Secret Service during the American Civil War (1861-65), to the misuse of military intelligence units and agencies like the Pinkerton's in the 19th and 20th century labor-struggles, unconstitutional spying-on Americans is not new.

The 1960s-70s drew-away the veil behind most of this with the 1971 break-in of an FBI field office in Media, Pennsylvania, as well as numerous other "leaks" that uncovered a network of surveillance that had grown in-the-midst of an unprecedented social revolution. Watergate didn't hurt either. What is new is today's statement by Pentagon Intelligence Undersecretary James R. Clapper Jr.'s call to end these programs, and to dismantle the databases that store all the surveillance files on countless Americans. J. Edgar Hoover and Harry J. Anslinger (daddy to the Drug War and pothibition) he is not.

The Pentagon's new intelligence undersecretary is recommending the Defense Department shut down a controversial classified database that has been criticized for improperly collecting information on anti-war groups and citizens. James R. Clapper Jr., who stepped into the job two weeks ago, "does not believe they merit continuing the program as currently constituted, particularly in light of its image in the Congress and the media," said Pentagon spokesman Maj. Patrick Ryder. Clapper forwarded his recommendation to Defense Secretary Robert Gates last week, but no final decision has been made. Gates has been traveling in the Middle East and eastern Europe for most of the last two weeks. (AP, 04.26.2007)

The usual behavior of this type of bureaucratic animal is to grab more power and to thwart oversight, but after only two-weeks on-the-job, Clapper is recommending that the program be ended. What's also strange is just how public this is being made--a radical-break from the past. We know that the Army has done this kind of surveillance in a systematic respect since WWI, but many of these activities were taken-up by the FBI by the mid-1930s. It's always at-the-behest of the Executive branch.

For example, the Army spied-on the Bonus Expedition Marchers when they came to Washington D.C. in some of the worst-years of the Great Depression. They wanted their military bonuses early, there were no jobs anywhere, and the vets of WWI (and their families) were starving. The reaction was to infiltrate and surveil them, culminating in the beating and tear-gassing of the encamped marchers on Capitol Hill by Douglas MacArthur and Dwight Eisenhower, the officers in-charge of the dirty work.

But is this the Bush administration doing this, or is it Clapper acting alone on his own initiative? Is it Cheney/Bush/Rove throwing Congress a bone? Somehow, this writer doubts this highly. It's not in-character for them to do anything remotely like this, and Clapper has forwarded his suggestions to newly-minted Defense Sec. Robert Gates. It's unlikely that Gates will approve this, and that Congress will have to end the programs through legislation (heaping-on one more thing they have to undo by the White House).

The public became aware of TALON in mid-December of 2005, and the former-GOP majority shelved any oversight for almost a year, until they were voted-out. Former-Defense Sec. Donald Rumsfeld refused to even discuss it when MSNBC questioned him on a 400-page document regarding the program that was leaked to them. A pesky 1982 law limits the ability of the Pentagon to spy-on American citizens, but that's never stopped the Bush administration. Who helped-directly in the creation of TALON? One Paul Wolfowitz, Deputy Secretary of Defense at that time. Thanks again, but we on the Left guessed history was going to repeat itself:

The military’s penchant for collecting domestic intelligence is disturbing — but familiar — to Christopher Pyle, a former Army intelligence officer. “Some people never learn,” he says. During the Vietnam War, Pyle blew the whistle on the Defense Department for monitoring and infiltrating anti-war and civil rights protests when he published an article in the Washington Monthly in January 1970. The public was outraged and a lengthy congressional investigation followed that revealed that the military had conducted investigations on at least 100,000 American citizens. Pyle got more than 100 military agents to testify that they had been ordered to spy on U.S. citizens — many of them anti-war protestors and civil rights advocates. In the wake of the investigations, Pyle helped Congress write a law placing new limits on military spying inside the U.S. (MSNBC, 12.14.2005)

No, some people don't learn, but that's because they were on a drinking-binge in college, avoiding the draft. It's a little hard to learn when you avoid all responsibility or any direct-experience with normal people and civil society in-general. That might be why, just a guess.

There is another dimension to all of this--the public's knowledge of such programs can be useful as part of overarching "psyops" programs (psychological operations) to scare anyone from even considering protesting or questioning the White House's agenda in Afghanistan and Iraq. It can be seen as an attempt at creating a "chilling-effect." Sorry, it didn't work on this writer, I was protesting in-the-aftermath of the program's cover being blown. Fear is for fair-weather patriots, after all. I'm not scared so-easily. This is the era of the real whistle-blowers, the government-employee who sees illegal-acts and reports them to the public. The wheel has turned.

AP Today:

MSNBC 12.14.2005: