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New Snowden Docs Confirm NSA's Role In Drone Killings

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This article was written by Joe Wright and originally published at Activist Post

While the world is rightly concerned about the wholesale dragnet spying of citizens across the planet, another program has emerged which shows how “intelligence” gathered by the National Security Agency (NSA) is being used in a lethal manner.

Leaked documents from Edward Snowden in October revealed a secret unit of the NSA that was designed to process the communications of certain targeted individuals.

Chillingly, as detailed in the video below, this intelligence unit actually led to the confirmed death of Hassan Ghul, an alleged associate of Osama bin Laden. Now, however, new documents released by Glenn Greenwald and his new project The Intercept indicate that the targeting of individuals is far less precise than previously believed, leading to incorrect target identification and the documented killing of innocent people.

The NSA continues to assert the benign collection of “metadata” vs. the worry of the general population that actual conversations are swept up in dragnets and listened to. The new report from The Intercept indicates that cell phone metadata collection can have lethal implications:

An anonymous former drone operator for Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) told The Intercept — a new publication helmed by Glenn Greenwald, who broke the first of many NSA revelations last year — that the US military and CIA use the NSA’s metadata analysis and phone-tracking abilities to identify airstrike targets without confirming their veracity on the ground. (Source)

This use of signals intelligence (SIGINT) as opposed to human intelligence ground confirmation (HUMINT), is leading the CIA and military to order strikes based on tracking data alone. Although the source is anonymous, Greenwald states that leaked documents from whistleblower Edward Snowden confirm what the former drone operator is purporting, and is also supported by the testimony from Brandon Bryant, another former drone operator who revealed his identity.

The problems with assigning metadata to human targets are many:

One problem, he explains, is that targets are increasingly aware of the NSA’s reliance on geolocating, and have moved to thwart the tactic. Some have as many as 16 different SIM cards associated with their identity within the High Value Target system. Others, unaware that their mobile phone is being targeted, lend their phone, with the SIM card in it, to friends, children, spouses and family members.

Some top Taliban leaders, knowing of the NSA’s targeting method, have purposely and randomly distributed SIM cards among their units in order to elude their trackers. “They would do things like go to meetings, take all their SIM cards out, put them in a bag, mix them up, and everybody gets a different SIM card when they leave,” the former drone operator says. “That’s how they confuse us.”

As a result, even when the agency correctly identifies and targets a SIM card belonging to a terror suspect, the phone may actually be carried by someone else, who is then killed in a strike. According to the former drone operator, the geolocation cells at the NSA that run the tracking program – known as Geo Cell –sometimes facilitate strikes without knowing whether the individual in possession of a tracked cell phone or SIM card is in fact the intended target of the strike.

“Once the bomb lands or a night raid happens, you know that phone is there,” he says. “But we don’t know who’s behind it, who’s holding it. It’s of course assumed that the phone belongs to a human being who is nefarious and considered an ‘unlawful enemy combatant.’ This is where it gets very shady.”

The former drone operator also says that he personally participated in drone strikes where the identity of the target was known, but other unknown people nearby were also killed.

[…]

As the former JSOC drone operator describes – and as classified documents obtained from Snowden confirm – the NSA doesn’t just locate the cell phones of terror suspects by intercepting communications from cell phone towers and Internet service providers. The agency also equips drones and other aircraft with devices known as “virtual base-tower transceivers” – creating, in effect, a fake cell phone tower that can force a targeted person’s device to lock onto the NSA’s receiver without their knowledge.

That, in turn, allows the military to track the cell phone to within 30 feet of its actual location, feeding the real-time data to teams of drone operators who conduct missile strikes or facilitate night raids.

The NSA geolocation system used by JSOC is known by the code name GILGAMESH. Under the program, a specially constructed device is attached to the drone. As the drone circles, the device locates the SIM card or handset that the military believes is used by the target.

Relying on this method, says the former JSOC drone operator, means that the “wrong people” could be killed due to metadata errors, particularly in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia. “We don’t have people on the ground – we don’t have the same forces, informants, or information coming in from those areas – as we do where we have a strong foothold, like we do in Afghanistan. I would say that it’s even more likely that mistakes are made in places such as Yemen or Somalia, and especially Pakistan.”

As of May 2013, according to the former drone operator, President Obama had cleared 16 people in Yemen and five in Somalia for targeting in strikes. Before a strike is green-lit, he says, there must be at least two sources of intelligence. The problem is that both of those sources often involve NSA-supplied data, rather than human intelligence (HUMINT).

(Must-read full report is here)

The complete lawlessness of the NSA, the drone program, and everything that the military-industrial-surveillance complex is involved with continues to become more obvious with each new revelation.

One can only imagine what comes next.

The injustice being committed overseas is an extreme version that very well could creep into domestic NSA operations if the NSA is not thwarted.

Fortunately, an increasing number of states are asserting their rights to be free of this federal intrusion. Please read the latest from The Tenth Amendment center and the OffNow Coalition, as citizens aim to Nullify the NSA.


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2 comments

  1. “The injustice being committed overseas is an extreme
    version that very well could creep into domestic NSA
    operations if the NSA is not thwarted.”

    Don’t be so sure that it is “an extreme version”.

    “could” –What’s “could” about it.

    The overseas work is just “practice” for domestic
    NSA operations as it refines its technique. Bring
    on the drones and the follow-up technology. –And
    the technology will only be getting a lot “better”.

    And all the while “our” Congress supplies the money.

  2. @ Remember the Alamo, “And all the while “our” Congress supplies the money.”

    That is a crime that we CAN and SHOULD hold them accountable for: Misappropriation of Funds.
    Clause 12 specifies that there shall be no (standing) military beyond that of two years. The Militia of each state is charged with our nations defense here within the USA until and unless the congress has declared war and a “standing” military is raised. Drones attacking, etc is us making war on other nations. Which those in our governments are ONLY allowed (lawfully) to DEFEND our nation, not attack others:

    US Constitution, Article 1, Section 8, Clause 12: “To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years”.

    The money that the congress has illegally spent beyond the lawfully allowed time of two years for the support of a “standing military” was/and still is a misappropriation of funds (misappropriation n. the intentional, illegal use of the property or funds of another person for one’s own use or other unauthorized purpose, particularly by a public official…

    My understanding of that is we can take those funds from their PRIVATE and personal accounts after we prosecute and win. That is something most of them definitely deserve and would hurt them where it counts – to them.

    Congress was NEVER Given the authority to fund undeclared wars of aggression!

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