The new publication, The Intercept, founded by Glen Greenwald wrote a new article about the NSA’s secret involvement in the US Military’s Drone Assassination Program. This program is well known by the world for carrying out strikes against US targets in Yemen and Pakistan, as well as Afghanistan. The majority of these operations have been conducted out of airbases in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as some in Pakistan. The thing that makes this news about the NSA’s involvement important is because the NSA is helping the USAF (US Air Force) find and destroy targets based on some coarse technologies. The US government has been criticized for their drone strikes and has been found to be responsible for the deaths of many innocent people that are not the terrorist targets that they are looking to kill.

A General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper UAV Loaded with Deadly Laser and GPS Munitions – Photo Credit: USAF

The unique assistance that the NSA gives the USAF and JSOC is through their ability to identify certain targets through various means of very high-tech hacking. They utilized a new program called GILGAMESH, which utilizes new geolocation techniques in order to make the Air Force’s UAVs far more effective search and destroy weapons. This program creates virtual cell towers within the UAV itself and invites the target’s cellular device to connect to it by outputting a strong enough signal to make it automatically switch to it and lock on. This makes the NSA’s and USAF’s job much easier as they could confirm the location of the handset they are looking for. However, these strikes are done using a SIM ‘kill list’ and they don’t actually use these systems to double, triple, confirm that the person holding the phone is actually the target. This is the problem, instead of using technology to be 100% sure of their actions they are simply using it to make it easier to kill people indiscriminately. 

They also reported that, "As of May 2013, according to the former drone operator, President Obama had cleared 16 people in Yemen and five in Somalia for targeting in strikes. Before a strike is green-lit, he says, there must be at least two sources of intelligence. The problem is that both of those sources often involve NSA-supplied data, rather than human intelligence." The CIA also uses similar systems to GILGAMESH in their strikes called SHENANIGANS which allows them to scan the area for certain mobile devices and pinpoint their location using the drones. But in addition to mobile devices, it also maps Wi-Fi networks so that they know the exact location of every person’s home internet and what devices could theoretically be connected to it. You know, kind of like what Google was doing with unsecured networks with the Google Maps cars, but much much much worse.

What does this all mean? Well, it means that the NSA is far more involved in proactive and offensive actions that the military is conducting and that the flight of UAVs over the US is going to be met with a LOT more apprehension than it has in the past. Especially considering what we now know these UAVs are capable of accomplishing.