Tags: ISIS/Islamic State | NSA/Surveillance | Syria | Trump Administration | War on Terrorism | Navy | surveillance

Wash Post Details ISIS Surveillance Eyes From Sky in US

Wash Post Details ISIS Surveillance Eyes From Sky in US
(AP Photo/Sipa)

Thursday, 06 July 2017 11:04 PM

Air Force intelligence analysts watching thousands of hours of live video footage from Iraq and Syria are the military's eyes on ISIS that can never look away.

In an exclusive report on the secret work underway at Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia, The Washington Post followed one analyst, identified only as Courtney, in a grueling 10-hour day characterized by "long stretches of boredom and grim flashes of action" as she helps guide pilots' decisions on when to shoot – "and watches the last seconds of another person's life."

According to the Post, with President Donald Trump likely to send thousands more troops to Afghanistan and maintain a military presence in Iraq indefinitely, "some airmen will spend most of their careers immersed in the war zone, watching an ever-expanding flood of live video."

"Our airmen never get to unplug," Lt. Col. Alison Kamataris, the deputy commander of the 497th Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Group, told the newspaper.

On the day of the Post interview, Courtney was the first link in a chain that runs from her base in Virginia to the air operations center in Qatar to the drone pilots scattered across the United States, the newspaper reported.

"The targets are chosen by commanders who rely on voice intercepts, satellites, human intelligence, high-altitude surveillance planes, and the analysis of people such as Courtney," the Post reported.

When she types her observations in a chat room monitored by dozens of U.S. military and intelligence officials around the world, even the smallest details can have life-or-death consequences, the Post reported.

During one shift, Courtney told the Post she was looking for a gathering of ISIS fighters in northern Iraq, finding their trucks parked in the desert.

"As the drone's camera panned, she spotted the fighters who were firing their weapons into a mass of about 50 unarmed men lying shoulder to shoulder" in a ditch, the Post reported.

"The fighters rumbled past two more mass graves before coming to a stop on the side of the highway. Courtney scanned the area for women and children. There were none, so the Air Force planes let loose."

Her next job was to count the dead.

"I hadn't witnessed anything that gruesome before," she told the Post. "It was shocking."

But the toughest part of the job, she told the Post has been forgetting about it when she goes home and not second-guessing decisions.

"We're at war," she told the Post. "We don't experience bullets flying, but our decisions have direct impacts on people's lives."

The analysts typically take part in strikes or witness acts of killing every two to three weeks, the Post reported. In between, they spend hours watching scenes of everyday life unfold, the newspaper reported.

"Courtney's job is to watch the video feed and make judgments: Are the people on the screen civilians or enemies? Do they pose a threat to U.S. troops or allies? Does it make more sense to shoot now, or wait and see where they go or what they do?" the Post reported.

After U.S. and coalition airstrikes last September mistakenly killed 62 Syrian troops, a military investigation focused on communications among the pilots, commanders and the analysts, who had doubts about the target.

"A single word made the difference between shooting and not shooting," an Air Force intelligence officer who oversees operations at the base told the Post.

In some instances, the demands of urban combat and a more aggressive approach to the war have meant taking shots even when analysts determine civilians are present, the Post reported.

"For us, it can be kind of demoralizing," Christopher, a tech sergeant and Courtney's immediate supervisor, told the Post.

"We're aware of civilians," he said, but analysts do not set the limits for pilots. "We can't tell them, 'This is your cutoff.'"

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Air Force intelligence analysts watching thousands of hours of live video footage from Iraq and Syria are the military's eyes on ISIS that can never look away.
Navy, surveillance, eyes, terrorism
Thursday, 06 July 2017 11:04 PM
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