Bait and Switch: TALON and its Replacement

Slashdot is carrying a story by Layer 8 entitled US kills controversial anti-terror database.

My first reaction was “ok, what are they going to replace it with?”.

Does anyone remember Carnivore?

The software grew from an earlier FBI project called Omnivore. Omnivore began in February 1997, and was then rebranded. After prolonged negative coverage in the press, the FBI changed the name of its system from “Carnivore” to the more benign-sounding “DCS1000.” DCS is reported to stand for “Digital Collection System”; the system has the same functions as before. The three separate packages Carnivore, Packeteer and CoolMiner, are referred to as the DragonWare Suite.

Turns out that’s all they are planning on doing: replacing the system with something new.  How they are going about this is not unusual, but it is very instructive.  They start by denying anything was wrong with the old system:

The Defense Department Inspector General reviewed TALON, and in a report dated June 27, 2007, found that the program legally gathered and maintained information on individuals and organizations.  It is being closed because reporting to the system had declined significantly, and it was determined to no longer be of analytical value, said Army Col. Gary Keck, a Pentagon spokesman said I a release.

The Pentagon is essentially saying they are closing the database because of a lack of input.  If that is the case, why bother with a replacement?

The department is working to develop a new reporting system to replace TALON, but in the interim, all information concerning force protection threats will go to the FBI’s Guardian reporting system.

If the only reason for shutting down TALON was there wasn’t enough incoming data to make it worthwhile, why bother spending resources building a replacement?  That just doesn’t register.  Either you keep gathering information using the existing system, turn the data over to an existing system (Guardian), or ignore the data altogether.  You don’t put time and money into building a new system to house data that isn’t there.

So what data is there?  What is this “legally gathered and maintained information on individuals and organizations” referred to?

Anti-war groups and other organizations, protested after it was revealed last year that the military had monitored anti-war activities, organizations and individuals who attended peace rallies.

The New York Times, TPM Muckraker, have more, but the essential bent of the reporting is the same.  “Pentagon to Close Disputed Database” and “DOD ‘Talon’ Database Declawed”.  This isn’t what’s happening.  They are simply going to build a new system to replace TALON.  And this leaves us with a few important questions:

  1. If TALON is being replaced due to a lack of data, why?
  2. If the data gathering on peaceful political groups was legitimate, will those groups now be entered into the FBI’s database under Guardian?
  3. Will the new system have a manly sounding name that doesn’t immediately evoke comparisons to 1984?

With the current government’s record on domestic spying and government transparency, we can only wait with baited breadth for a leak or an investigation after the fact.  Go Go Gadget Fascism!

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One Response

  1. I remember Carnivore very well.

    Do you remember who helped the FBI develop Carnivore?

    AOL. Yep, AOL turned over subscriber files to the spy agency so they could data mine the information and build Carnivore.

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