According to a new report, the phone data from NSA phone surveillance is regularly used to carry out drone strikes — which have killed innocents along the way. The report, published in The Intercept — a new publication led by Glenn Greenwald, who broke many of the original NSA revelations last year — features commentary from an anonymous former drone operator for Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).
The operatorexplains how the NSA “identifies targets based on controversial metadata analysis and cell-phone tracking technologies.” Then, “[r]ather than confirming a target’s identity with operatives or informants on the ground, the CIA or the US military… orders a strike based on the activity and location of the mobile phone a person is believed to be using.”
Part of the JSOC’s High Value Targeting task force — responsible for identifying, capturing or killing terrorist suspects in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and more — the operator admitted that he was “adamant that the technology has been responsible for taking out terrorists and networks of people facilitating improvised explosive device attacks against US forces in Afghanistan.” However, the report goes on to explain that he was “absolutely” sure that innocent people had been killed as a result of the NSA’s use of surveillance data to target attacks. The operator explains:
“Once the bomb lands or a night raid happens, you know that phone is there. 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… People get hung up that there’s a targeted list of people. It’s really like we’re targeting a cell phone. We’re not going after people — we’re going after their phones, in the hopes that the person on the other end of that missile is the bad guy.”
Given the pool of data available to the US military it’s perhaps the best that can be managed — but it’s a chilling thought. Should NSA data like this be used to guide such drone attacks? [The Intercept]