USA identifies its drone targets based on NSA metadata, a flawed tactic, according to reports published in the Intercept.
A former NSA operative for Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), on condition of anonymity, disclosed about the prevalent practice in the NSA is to target phones “in the hopes that the person on the other end of the missile is the bad guy,” to Intercept’s reporters Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald.
The NSA has been increasingly instrumental in drone killing over the past five years although electronic surveillance analysis leaves a lot of room for error; all the more so when this is compounded with lack of operatives on the ground in countries like Afghanistan, Yemen and Pakistan, reported the news site created by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar.
The disclosure is backed up by documents leaked by Snowden as well as a former US Airforce drone sensor operator, Brandon Bryant.
The former drone sensor operator in an exclusive to Intercept said utilizing “geolocation”, which entails locking the SIM card or the handset of the suspect, the NSA program “Geo Cell” may lead to inaccurate target identification because it does not verify if the carrier of the phone is the intended target of strike.
- 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,” he added.
The former official further explained that instead of using cell phone towers and internet service providers to access the cell phone metadata, the NSA used “Gilgamesh” program to track the potential targets. The program installed on the virtual base-tower transceiver of the drone emits a signal that forces the target’s mobile to be locked and be tracked within 30 feet of their location.
Another similar program, “Shenanigans” allows NSA to collect massive amounts of information from any wireless networks, smart phones, computers and other electronic devices within range.
- He told, “JSOC acknowledges that it would be completely helpless without the NSA conducting mass surveillance on an industrial level.”
He further said that the terrorist have grown wise to geo-tracking and have developed many ways to elude NSA. For instance, Taliban groups would purposely distribute SIM cards among their members.
- 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,” adding that the target could then be a real suspect or a family member who is quite oblivious to target’s activities.
The White House, however, maintains a different stand on this whole issue. President Obama claimed last year that the officers ensure “near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured” before making any drone strike.