US Relying Solely on Cellphone Locations for Some Drone Strikes

Tuesday, 11 Feb 2014 10:07 AM

By Melanie Batley

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The U.S. government has ordered some drone strikes based solely on the location of a cellphone being monitored by the National Security Agency, and without the CIA or U.S. military confirming who the target is with informants on the ground, according to a new report.

In an article published Monday by The Intercept former drone operators and other sources confirmed that the NSA uses "complex analysis of electronic surveillance to pinpoint drone strike targets," and the technique has been used by the U.S. to catch Taliban leaders.

"It's really like we're targeting a cellphone," a former drone operator who was not named, told Intercept, the venture started by former UK Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald,  who was one of the first to report on the NSA leaks by Edward Snowden. "We're not going after people — we're going after their phones."

One concern is that the tracked phones could be in the hands of people other than the intended targets at the time when a missile is fired, leading to casualties and deaths of innocent people.

The Intercept report details how some Taliban leaders have become aware of the NSA's methods and evaded them by purchasing multiple SIM cards and mixing them up.

In response to the report, Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council, told Fox News, "For obvious reasons, we can't discuss the specific sources and methods we use to establish near certainty, but our assessments are not based on a single piece of information. We gather and scrutinize information from a variety of sources and methods before we draw conclusions."

Hayden said officials take "extraordinary care" to make sure counterterrorism actions are within the law, and "before we take any counterterrorism strike outside areas of active hostilities, there must be near certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured — the highest standard we can set."

The Intercept article said that Hayden declined to say on the record whether strikes are ordered without the use of human intelligence, and the CIA and NSA declined to comment on the report.

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