Report: Documents Show NSA Involvement in Drone Program


Melanie Eversley - USA Today

Documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden show NSA ties to killing program.

(Photo: By Patrick Semansky, AP)

(Photo: By Patrick Semansky, AP)

Report comes from papers provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden

  • Documents make clear that NSA worked with CIA on drone campaign
  • Operation may have helped track an associate of Osama bin Laden

Documents provided to The Washington Post by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden illustrate the extensive involvement of the National Security Agency in the government’s targeted counterterrorism killing program. They provide the most detailed account of the collaboration between the NSA and the CIA in the drone campaign, the Post reports.

The documents make clear that the drone campaign — which uses armed, unmanned aerial vehicles — frequently presented as exclusive territory of the CIA, depends heavily on the ability of the NSA to sweep up information from e-mails, telephone calls and other pieces of signals intelligence, the Post reports.

Reports of the NSA’s involvement in Americans’ lives have drawn intense criticism, but the latest report on the drone files might support the security agency’s assertion that its work is focused on fighting terrorism and bolstering U.S. operations in other countries.

The public affairs office of the NSA, based at Fort Meade in Maryland responded to the report regarding drones with an e-mailed statement.

“The National Security Agency is a foreign intelligence agency,” the statement read. “We’re focused on discovering and developing intelligence about valid foreign intelligence targets, such as terrorists, human traffickers and drug smugglers. Our activities are directed against valid foreign intelligence targets in response to requirements from U.S. leaders in order to protect the nation and its interests from threats such as terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.”

The NSA has assigned senior analysts to the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center and sent others to work with the CIA at almost every major U.S. embassy or military base overseas, according to the Post.

The drone campaign has killed an estimated 3,000 militants and hundreds of civilians, the Post says independent surveys indicate.

In Pakistan, the NSA was useful in terms of coverage of Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, or FATA, according to the Post report.

The news organization quotes an unidentified former intelligence official as saying, “If you wanted huge coverage of the FATA, NSA had 10 times the manpower, 20 times the budget and 100 times the brainpower” when compared to the CIA Information Operations Center.

The NSA conducts the operations by relying on online attacks or positioning itself in the middle of communications between two computers, the Post reports. In this way, the agency extracts digital information that includes audio files, imagery and keystroke logs, according to the Post.

In one operation, focus on a suspected facilitator for al-Qaeda in Yemen turned up a collection of files that could be used to map out movement of terrorists and would-be terrorists between several countries, according to the documents. “This may enable NSA to better flag the movement of these individuals” for security services for no-fly lists or monitoring, the Post quotes the documents as saying.

The operations also allegedly helped track Hassan Ghul, an associate of Osama bin Laden killed by a drone strike in Pakistan in October 2012. Information provided by Ghul may have led to the capture and death of bin Laden. The U.S. government has never acknowledged killing Ghul, the Post says.

When Ghul tried to enter Iraq in 2004, he was detained by Khurdish authorities directed by the CIA. He told them that Osama bin Laden relied on a courier known as al-Kuwaiti. Ghul; was then taken to a CIA site in Eastern Europe, where he was subjected to sleep deprivation and other tactics to break his will, the Post reports.

MORE: Papers link NSA to drones program

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