U.S. Military personnel and CIA operatives in Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan are using their targets' cell phone locations based on metadata from the National Security Agency (NSA) to launch drone attacks, which leads to the deaths of innocent civilians, says a new report.
According to The Intercept, NSA documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden and statements by a former drone operator say the NSA uses "geolocation," which locks onto the SIM card of a cell phone of a suspected terrorist.
The NSA's "Geo Cell" program does not verify whether the carrier of the cell phone is actually the suspected terrorist. Instead of confirming a target with human intelligence on the ground, the CIA or the U.S. military then orders a drone strike based on the activity and location of the cell phone.
“They might have been terrorists,” said the former drone operator. “Or they could have been family members who have nothing to do with the target’s activities.”
“Once the bomb lands or a night raid happens, you know that phone is there, 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,’" the former drone operator adds. "This is where it gets very shady.”
Based on his experience, the former drone operator believes that drone attacks are basically death sentences based on unreliable metadata.
Lest anyone accuse Snowden of informing the terrorists of U.S. secrets, they already know how the drone attack system works.
Some Taliban leaders intentionally distribute SIM cards among their units in order to elude the United States.
“They would do things like go to meetings, take all their SIM cards out, put them in a bag, mix them up, and everybody gets a different SIM card when they leave,” the former drone operator said. “That’s how they confuse us.”
Some unaware terrorist suspects may loan their cell phones to friends and family, who get killed by drones instead.
“It’s really like we’re targeting a cell phone," Brandon Bryant, another former drone sensor operator with the U.S. Air Force, told The Intercept. "We’re not going after people, we’re going after their phones, in the hopes that the person on the other end of that missile is the bad guy."
RT.com notes that this new information contradicts claims by the Obama administration, which has said that drone strikes are conducted with precision accuracy to minimize civilian casualties.
"Before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured,” President Barack Obama said in 2013.
According to a 2012 study by Stanford Law School and New York University's School of Law, U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan alone have killed far more people than the United States will admit, reported CNN.