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:

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.