No wonder President Barack Obama has cloaked in secrecy his administration’s justifications for ordering “targeted killings,” including through the use of drones. Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald report in First Look’s "The Intercept" today that kill orders in the drones program are based on National Security Agency electronic surveillance analysis that is inherently misleading, easily foiled by targeted individuals, and necessarily causes the death and injury of unidentified, non-targeted people.
This shoddy kill order process is far from what people would reasonably think Obama was promising when he said in his January 28 State of the Union speech that, “I’ve imposed prudent limits on the use of drones.” In contrast to that promise, Scahill and Greenwald report a former drone operator’s conclusion that, “the drone program amounts to little more than death by unreliable metadata.” The authors elaborate in their article:
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.
According to a former drone operator for the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) who also worked with the NSA, the agency often identifies targets based on controversial metadata analysis and cell-phone tracking technologies. 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 drone operator, who agreed to discuss the top-secret programs on the condition of anonymity, was a member of JSOC’s High Value Targeting task force, which is charged with identifying, capturing or killing terrorist suspects in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
His account is bolstered by top-secret NSA documents previously provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden. It is also supported by a former drone sensor operator with the U.S. Air Force, Brandon Bryant, who has become an outspoken critic of the lethal operations in which he was directly involved in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen.