NSA phone data is used for drone strikes, innocents have “absolutely” been killed says report


The Intercept, a new publication headed by Glenn Greenwald, who broke many of the NSA revelations last year, has published a new report regarding the NSA. The report reveals that data from NSA phone surveillance is regularly used to carry out drone strikes. And according to an anonymous former drone operator, innocent people have “absolutely” been killed during these attacks.

“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.”

Some targets have begun using evasive tactics such as using up to 16 different SIM cards on their phones, or lending their phones to friends and family. This is while they are unaware that the US Military is ordering strikes on people based on their mobile phone, without confirming the identity of the target on the ground first.

Another former operator says that they didn’t know where the data for their targets was coming from, and if the NSA did work with them, they [the drone operators] didn’t even know about it.

Correction: This article previously stated that the same drone operator that provided information regarding the NSA did not even know if the NSA worked with them. According to the source, these are two different drone operators — one with knowledge of the NSA’s phone data being used and one without.

[via The Intercept, Gizmodo, image via Lee Maguire]

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  • Mike S.

    [@Tom] I am incredibly saddened to hear that (not to mention, a bit terrified . . .). And my sympathies to the family, even though I may not know them, as well as to all those affected by these warring activities on all sides.

    I wish those sci-fi stories came to pass: aliens swooping up all the fighting parties and locking them away somewhere, to finally manage it all out . . . .

  • Mike S.

    [@Ashraf] Sorry, I don’t justify anyone’s killing at all. And as I said, it’s incredibly sad. But the article sensationalizes the U.S.’ actions, while not putting them in context: an attempt to stop terrorism and the indiscriminate killing of people in suicide bombings, etc. Where is the dottech article highlighting the terroristic acts of the terrorists, killing innocent and civilian people without regard to age, gender, civilan status, etc.? Although, I’m not sure I could stomach seeing it . . . .

    Also, at no point is there ANY evidence of the U.S.’ targeting of children. Do you really think the U.S. does that? Really? Instead, as even the article indicates, third parties are affected by the acts of the terrorists, who are the U.S.’ targets, and the imprecise nature of drones and, as well, war in general. Lest there be any mistake, it is ALL INCREDIBLY SAD. Should the U.S., and other countries, not do ANYTHING about terrorism, because of the always present possibility of third parties being present? Even 100% is never that in the realities of life and war, sadly. And don’t you think that the U.S. military strongly considers these issues?

    I’m sorry–while I understand at least part of the motivation, there HAS to be a better way than terrorism, for all concerned. ANY single death, on any side, is one too many, as the effected parents, spouses, children and friends can testify to.

  • J C Graham

    So you wouldn’t have dropped any bombs on or fired any artillery shells at the Nazis during WWII because we mustn’t have any of that bullshit collateral damage, eh?

    Well, if we had done that we wouldn’t have to worry about what goes on in the Middle East today because we’d ALL be Nazis by now (and not just the little bastards running from our drone strikes).

    War is hell…

  • Ashraf

    [@Mike S.] [@J C Graham] I’m sorry but this sort of mentality of “what we do is right, what they do is wrong” is what gives life to war — and terrorism — in the first place. You justify killing of innocents because people they know people who may be terrorists and that makes you heroes. (And I say “may be” because anyone in the intelligence community can you tell intelligence is rarely, if ever, fully conclusive, especially in the part of the world where drone strikes take place.) When others kill innocents, they are terrorists. Say what?

    Don’t get me wrong, I was born in — and recently visited — a country that is crippled by terrorism; people, myself included, are afraid to go outside because honestly you don’t know if you will come back alive. But that does not mean I will tolerate people’s double standards. You can’t take the moral highway when you commit the same acts as the people you are pointing fingers at. And don’t give me that collateral damage bullshit.

    Is there a different between innocents dying during the process of going after your enemy (US vs terrorists, in this case) and innocents dying as a means of attacking your enemy (terrorists vs US, in this case)? Yes, there is a huge difference. However, I’ve read way too many accounts of complacency and/or disregard for innocent life with drone strikes. Yes, I want terrorists dead and gone. But killing X civilians for every Y terrorists results in dead Y terrorists and X new ones. Food for thought.

    [@Darcy] Sorry about that, a mistake on our part. Enrique took care of it.

    [@Enrique Manalang] Thanks for fixing it.

  • J C Graham

    Collateral damage occurs in every conflict; always, has, always, will.

    I shed no tears for terrorists — or their families.

  • Enrique Manalang

    [@Darcy] Sorry about that Darcy, it definitely wasn’t an intentional and just an error on my part. This is because the drone operator at the end of the article is a different one from the one that supplied the information.

    I’ve updated the article and posted a correction. Again, my apologies.

  • Misleading and irresponsible reporting. You headline and opening paragraph state that the NSA is supplying phone data for this, but the last paragraph reads “The former operator also adds that they didn’t know where the data for their targets was coming from, and if the NSA did work with them, they [the drone operators] didn’t even know about it.” If they don’t know where the data comes from then you can’t say it’s from the NSA, That’s bad journalism.

    I worked in that industry for over 10 years and I watch it deteriorate from accurate reporting to sensationalism, biased opinions and outright lies in some cases. Some do it to sell, some to make a name but it’s all shoddy journalism. I expected better of DotTech.

  • Tom

    I had a friend who bought a used smartphone on eBay. 2 months later he was murdered by a drone. Now 3 kids are without a Dad. BTW, he was a teacher, not a terrorist.

  • Mike S.

    [@sl0j0n] Yes, of course it would be absolutely horrible for that innocent child to be a victim as a result of terroristic activities started by his/her uncle.

    Perhaps ‘Uncle Abdullah’ should consider not being a terrorist and himself not killing completely innocent bystanders to begin with, as well as not giving his phone to an innocent bystander, his niece/nephew, knowing that he is subjecting them to grave danger.

    Have a GREAT day, neighbors!

  • sl0j0n

    Thank you Dottech, and Enrique Manalang, for reporting this.
    Hopefully, more people [Americans, especially] will learn about the evil way the U.S. is using this technology.
    Can you imagine a child borrowing “uncle Abdullah’s” cellphone, goes out to play, and is killed by a drone strike targeting the cellphone?
    That would *not* be ‘war’, it would be murder, pure and simple.
    May the True God bring justice to the earth.

    Have a GREAT day, neighbors!