NSA partnership with drones should have everyone terrified

So many NSA spying revelations, so little time. It seems like something new comes out every day; they target smart phone apps, they spied on the 2009 climate talks, they even allowed Australia’s spy agency to monitor the activities of a United States law firm. If you’re not reading about the NSA, you’re probably reading about a drone strike taking out four people in Pakistan, or maybe a wedding party in Yemen. At the very least, every day of the week, if you’re paying attention to the media, you’re likely to encounter a some sort of debate between pundits entitled “Does The US Need Drones?” or “Edward Snowden: Hero or Traitor?”. Between spying on people and assassinating them, it’s a wonder our government manages to find time for anything else.

Of course, it helps when the government is actually doing both at the same time.

According to a recent story by Jeremy Scahill, whose documentary about US foreign aggression has been nominated for an Academy Award, and Glenn Greenwald, who wrote the original NSA stories based on Snowden’s information, the CIA and the United States military are assisted in their drone-based counterterrorism efforts by the spying and collection procedures of the NSA. Specifically, the NSA tracks the phone location and activity of potential targets, and the military sends a drone to destroy the person holding that phone. No human intelligence is required to confirm the information provided by the complicated – and controversial – surveillance programs used by the NSA. They find the phone, they pass on the information, and all of a sudden, there’s one less hater of American freedom plotting jihad.

Or there might be, if we lived in a world where the location of a phone, or even just a SIM card, was a guarantee that its owner happened to be located in the same place. Unfortunately, ours is a world of mobile communications technology, in which phones might be held by other people, lent to friends or family in times of emergency, or lost somewhere in the cushions of a couch. Even if the location of the target is guaranteed, the lack of human observation and confirmation takes context completely out of the equation.

“Once the bomb lands or a night raid happens, you know that phone is there,” says the report’s main source, a former drone operator for the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). “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.” The drone operator also admits to having participated in successful drone strikes based on NSA information that killed a number of unknown bystanders in addition to the target of the strike.

“They might have been terrorists,” he says. “Or they could have been family members who have nothing to do with the target’s activities.”

The partnership between the NSA and drone operations seems both impractical and immoral. SIM cards, after all, can be swapped out, traded or replaced by their owners at any time, meaning that thwarting this system is not difficult to do. Moreover, there was already criticism being leveled toward the drone program, and President Obama as its fearless defender, for its lack of accuracy resulting in civilian casualties. The continued reliance on a plan of action that makes both missing the target and murdering innocent bystanders significantly more likely, rather than less, is a sign of a power structure that cares nothing at all for the idea of basic human rights.

The NSA spying program and the drone warfare program are the two primary symbols of the modern United States, as our national character begins to shift toward one that values control and brute force over liberty and justice. These two things are what other countries point to when they talk about American imperialism, or domestic advocacy groups when they talk about the rise of the surveillance state. Even if the newly confirmed link between them isn’t surprising, it’s still utterly terrifying. The NSA collects vast amounts of data on American citizens, then works hand in hand with a military operation that has already proven itself capable of assassinating American citizens. That’s a really bad combination…and this is with the Democrats in charge.

Originally published in The Lumberjack (http://www.jackcentral.org/opinion/opinion-nsa-partnership-with-drones-should-have-everyone-terrified/article_beacdcca-9a90-11e3-bf3a-001a4bcf6878.html)

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