The CIA and U.S. military are increasingly relying on surveillance information from the NSA to locate and attack drone targets, with innocent people being killed as a result, according to allegations made in a new publication, The Intercept.
It was already known that the NSA is involved in U.S. drone activities, but Monday’s article uses Edward Snowden documents and a new source — a former drone operator — to allege that the increasingly exclusive use of signals intelligence (SIGINT) for drone strikes with no traditional human intelligence (HUMINT) operatives on the ground costs more innocent lives than might otherwise be the case.
“The Intercept” is the first site to come out of eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s new First Look Media stable, and its editors are Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras – two of the key journalists associated with NSA leaker Snowden – and national security writer Jeremy Scahill. This first story from the site was written by Greenwald and Scahill.
The main problem with relying on SIGINT so much appears to be that Taliban targets, for example, are wise to the NSA’s tactics, leading them to shuffle SIM cards around their groups and, by extension, their associates and families. With no HUMINT, the NSA’s cameras and fake cellular base stations attached to the drones then sometimes identify the wrong people for killing.
These surveillance units attached to drones are, according to the story, part of an NSA program called Gilgamesh. Another operation called Shenanigans “utilizes a pod on aircraft that vacuums up massive amounts of data from any wireless routers, computers, smart phones or other electronic devices that are within range” and has apparently been used to map the “Wi-Fi fingerprint” of most major towns in Yemen.
Meanwhile on Friday NBC also published a Snowden-derived story (again co-authored by Greenwald) that described the dirty tricks capabilities of GCHQ, the NSA’s British counterpart. According to the quoted documents, the agency has at least considered carrying out “false flag” cyber-attack operations on its own side in order to discredit adversaries using social media to spread disinformation. All this suggests GCHQ is becoming more active and aggressive than SIGINT organizations have traditionally been.
And on Saturday the New York Times published claims, apparently emanating from the NSA, that Snowden had used web crawler software to collect all the information he took with him when he fled to Hong Kong. The piece suggested that the NSA systems didn’t pick up on this, perhaps because Snowden’s Hawaii facility had not yet received certain security upgrades at the time of the leak.