When NSA Error Leads to Innocent People's Deaths

"Death by unreliable metadata."


Glenn Greenwald, Jeremy Scahill, and Laura Poitras' new site The Intercept went live today. In one of the outlet's first stories, Greenwald and Scahill look at one link between NSA surveillance and the government's drone assassination program:

Garbage in, garbage out.

The National Security Agency is using complex analysis of electronic surveillance, rather than human intelligence, as the primary method to locate targets for lethal drone strikes—an unreliable tactic that results in the deaths of innocent or unidentified people.

According to a former drone operator for the military's Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) who also worked with the NSA, the agency often identifies targets based on controversial metadata analysis and cell-phone tracking technologies. Rather than confirming a target's identity with operatives or informants on the ground, the CIA or the U.S. military then orders a strike based on the activity and location of the mobile phone a person is believed to be using….

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.

"Based on his experience," Greenwald and Scahill write, "he has come to believe that the drone program amounts to little more than death by unreliable metadata." Read the rest here.

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  1. But they wouldn’t be doing that if it wasn’t for the evil leekers. So it is totally the fault of the traitors who leaked this information and the deaths are on them


    Generic National Security idiot.

  2. Look, drone process would’ve been described in the Constitution if the Founders had had drones. The Constitution is a living, breathing, and killing document.

  3. Meanwhile, the white house is considering killing another American.


    I am sure the NSA has it right though, top men and all.

    1. Two of the officials described the man as an al-Qaida facilitator who has been directly responsible for deadly attacks against U.S. citizens overseas and who continues to plan attacks against them that would use improvised explosive devices.

      Prove it!

    2. [Obama shakes Magic Disposition Matrix Ball and asks, “Should I kill target NGX3-198?” Magic Disposition Matrix Ball replies, “Reply is hazy. Try again.” Obama orders the drone to attack.]

      1. Obama looks at Valarie Jerrett in the Oval Office and say,

        I am excellent killer. I have to watch Wapner now.

    3. It’s really disturbing that there isn’t more outrage at the killing of Americans by the executive branch.

      1. Look, if it’s done by someone with a D after their name it was obviously righteous and not worthy of worrying about. It’s not like government agents are killing people right here in the US.. oh, wait..

    4. Amen, that old scrap of hemp paper isn’t a suicide pact you know !!!

  4. “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.”

    So the answer is to bomb every one of the SIM cards on the Kill List? I’d like to see president ‘awake at night’s’ signature on the orders: “I, BHO, authorize termination of targets TF64SIMCS, TF783SIMCG and TF645SIMCH’. All found guilty in a secret court.

    1. Really? I’d like to know how this works.

      After the meeting, everyone has the phone number of some other random dude from the meeting.

      *ring *ring

      No this is Yusef


      *ring *ring

      No this is Saeed


      *ring *ring

      No this is Mohmammed


      1. And I’m pretty sure they don’t actually clue the drone operators in on *why* a target has been selected.

        ‘Just fly over the zone until we spot our guy, monkey. Press the red button when you’re told to.’

        1. As a *former* drone operator I do not like being referred to as “monkey” and we do not pull the trigger on the joystick unless there is an imminent threat to our forces many of whom are close friends whom I had spent 80 plus days living with. I made sure my friends came home at the end of the day, its a shit situation but the bottom line is whose life has more value to you. ackmed the dirt famer or your brothers- no this does not justify anything but its not a simple situation and we’re not fucking robots/monkeys or whatever simplistic comparison you make up. In near-infrared light the look of a gun is unmistakable and also in the same spectrum clothes are next to invisible. We are not murderous wackos, we are highly trained and specialized technicians who have been picked from the top of their respective classes and screened like hell to make sure we aren’t sociopaths, that want to make sure our friends don’t end up going home in body bags.

          1. Ok

            1. That was supposed to represent the level of contempt those ordering you to kill people that *you* haven’t identified as a threat to anyone.

            2. These guys aren’t being killed because they are an imminent threat to US troops. They’re being killed because someone in Washington says ‘this guy needs to die’ – *you* may have never been involved in that sort of situation, but that’s what’s happening.

            3. I never said that the troops are bloodthirsty – I’m *saying* that there’s a political class that *is* bloodthirsty giving you the orders that you follow.

            4. Highly trained or not, I doubt anyone is actually clueing you in on the reasons behind the methodology used to pick assassination targets.

          2. You sound like a murderous wacko to me with features often associated with an idiot savant.

    2. Is this any different from using a radar-seeking missile against a SAM position?

      Or using radar to see a plane and firing at it without a visual confirmation that its an enemy plane?

      These are war zones, not areas under our control where we can serve warrants.

      American citizen targets are a little more iffy, but not much, as they have taken up arms against the USA.

      Are we going to try to arrest Americans who joined Waffen SS volunteer units? No. We just kill them.

      1. Earth to Harun: The Waffen SS ceased to exist 69 years ago.

  5. Oh! You said ‘people’. Drones don’t kill people, they kill terrorists.

  6. Note to self, don’t ask to borrow Muhammad’s phone anymore.

    1. Or let him borrow your phone.

    2. I knew I should not have borrowed Waheed’s Roshan phone!

      *dives into bomb shelter*

  7. ‘When *Obo’s illegal actions* Leads to Innocent People’s Deaths’

    Let’s be honest, here.

    1. Hey, to make an omelet you have to break a few eggs.

  8. When NSA Error Leads to Innocent People’s Deaths

    What do you mean innocent? If they were innocent then the NSA wouldn’t have killed them!

    1. Innocent? Innocent of what?

      /Little Bill Daggett

      1. There are no innocent people, just those whose crimes we haven’t found yet.

  9. And Wikileaks has already started criticizing Firstlook on twitter. I wonder if we’re going to see a battle of egos as the folks in the “intelligence” agencies look on with an evil smile.

  10. Awful lot of Error 503 going on at that there Intercept website.

  11. Is it wrong of me to hope that Eric Snowden is Glenn Greenwald’s ‘John Savage’?

  12. This seems a lot like basic cyber (and/or virus) attacks and defenses. Once one method is discovered a new attack/defense is implemented. Except the NSA doesn’t appear to be escalating/improving their methods – not sure if that is good or bad.

  13. Scanning the comments it seems like the machine is very worried about Greenwald and Reason.

    Half of our “warrior-heros” seem to have been assigned to light duty this morning with orders to troll Reason and The Intercept. The other half are probably working on their disability claims.

  14. The US Government has turned the Internet into something it was never intended to be: a system for spying on us in our most private moments. By tapping Internet cables, undermining security standards, and getting our data from companies in secret, the National Security Agency has built the largest surveillance apparatus in history and is collecting information on most Internet users.
    Because Freedom can’t protect itself…

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