Latest Snowden Revelations: NSA Surveillance Key to Targeted Killings

Monday, 10 Feb 2014 07:42 AM

By Greg Richter

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Journalist Glenn Greenwald, who broke the story of NSA leaker Edward Snowden's revelations last year, says to expect "a lot more significant stories" as he launches a new independent news website this week.

On Monday, his new site, The Intercept, dropped its first big story, about the NSA's role in targeted killings.

The article reveals an NSA program codenamed GILGAMESH that provides geolocation data to U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) to target drone strikes and capture/kill raids.

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"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," the article states.

Without the crucial geolocation data, the article suggests it would be nearly impossible to target suspected terrorists, since the human intelligence is apparently often not that reliable. But in terms of definitively proving the targets are in fact terrorists, the abstract location data is even less reliable.

"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," the article continues.

JSOC would be helpless "without the NSA conducting mass surveillance on an industrial level,” the story states, quoting a former Air Force drone operator named Brandon Bryant. “That is what creates those baseball cards you hear about,” featuring potential targets for drone strikes or raids.

"Once the bomb lands or a night raid happens, you know that phone is there," the former drone operator continues. "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.

"We’re not going after people — we’re going after their phones.

"People get hung up that there’s a targeted list of people," he continues. "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."

The article is written by Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill, the highly regarded author of "Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield," a book and documentary film that details covert U.S. military operations around that world.

"Whether or not Obama is fully aware of the errors built into the program of targeted assassination, he and his top advisors have repeatedly made clear that the president himself directly oversees the drone operation and takes full responsibility for it," the report states.

The NSA reportedly declined to respond to questions about the program. An NSA spokesperson refused to discuss “the type of operational detail that, in our view, should not be published.”

Appearing Sunday on CNN's "Reliable Sources," Greenwald dodged questions of whether he had new inside sources with tales similar to Snowden's, but he said that if sources come forward they will be "defended and protected" and what they reveal will be "aggressively reported" by journalists and media outlets.

But the new story seems to confirm that Greenwald and his team do have new sources, and they're naming them if the source agrees.

"Sounds like you have other sources that you're protecting," host Brian Stelter said.

Story continues below video.



Again, Greenwald would not answer specifically, but said it is fair to say there are other people who have been "inspired by Edward Snowden's courage and by the great good and virtue that it has achieved."

Snowden was inspired by the likes of Bradley Manning, Daniel Ellsberg, and others, Greenwald said. Likewise, there are others inside the government who have seen "extreme wrongdoing" who are inspired by Snowden, he said.

Greenwald said he and other journalists will be launching online magazines with First Look Media, which is funded by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar. Omidyar said in a blog post on Thursday that "the site's staff has already uncovered a host of new and disturbing revelations in the NSA documents."

Greenwald told CNN that his stories will begin appearing on the site this week, possibly as early as Monday. It's unclear whether the new drone operator Bryant is violating classified secrets laws from the story, though he is apparently confirming details in Snowden's trove of stolen NSA documents.

Greenwald first revealed stories of the National Security Agency's ability to spy on Americans' emails and phone calls in the British newspaper The Guardian. His source was Snowden, who is living under temporary asylum in Russia.

Snowden and Greenwald have been called heroes by some and traitors by others. The two camps cross cross party and ideological lines, making for sometimes strange bedfellows on the controversial issues of privacy versus national security.

Greenwald is living in Brazil, but has said he will come to the United States in the spring despite the possibility of facing charges for releasing Snowden's documents. A book he is writing about Snowden and his role is scheduled to be published in April.

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