As the story continues to build around the leaked Department of Justice draft document that outlined the Obama administration’s rationale for using drone strikes against American citizens who possibly have a tenuous connection to Al-Qaeda, my recent reading of James Bamford’s “The Shadow Factory : The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America” really hit home. In that book, Bamford discussed the explosion in growth, surveillance capability and data analysis of the NSA post 9/11, and how, during George W. Bush’s presidency, many of the constraints that had been placed on the NSA were either cast aside completely, or just mostly ignored, especially when it came to domestic surveillance of Americans.
Another major point Bamford hits on in that book is that the NSA, and those in charge of it, exponentially expanded their surveillance capabilities, but, while leaps and bounds were being made in the analysis side of things, it was still very much a hit and miss scenario with the intelligence collected by the NSA. It’s this part that I want to relate to the recent revelations about Obama’s Drone Doctrine.
From the linked NBC story above, describing some of the rationale explained in the DoJ memo:
“The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future,” the memo states.
Instead, it says, an “informed, high-level” official of the U.S. government may determine that the targeted American has been “recently” involved in “activities” posing a threat of a violent attack and “there is no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities.” The memo does not define “recently” or “activities.
So, the first part basically says an American citizen who may have ties to al-Qaeda doesn’t necessarily have to be actively plotting against the United States in order for them to be a viable target to the administration. The second part is more where Bamford’s book comes in, especially with the “‘informed, high-level’ official” phrasing.
Because, as Bamford illustrates, the information that likely predicates someone being considered for a targeted drone killing, has a high probability of being quite flimsy. A few quotes from the book:
The core group is about 40,000, which is the hard-core, identified,” he said. “When you go out at two degrees or three degrees, meaning friends, family, business associates, it grows to almost 120,000. When you go out four degrees, you’re upwards of 400,000. Four degrees is—I know you, you live in the building, and it so happens that there is a business in that building that allows me to connect the owner of that business to another group of another cell.
The NSA’s track record on accuracy, however, leaves much to be desired.
So loose are the criteria for being tossed into the vast sea of names that in 2007, over twenty-seven thousand were removed, for a variety of unnamed reasons…
The first quote is in regards to what’s known as the TIDE database, a massive database of suspected terrorists, and all the secondary and tertiary connections those “core” 40,000 may have. With each degree, they get further and further away from the true bad guys. Nothing could possibly go wrong with a massively wide surveillance net and a presidential doctrine that allows the government to kill people at will, could it? NAWWWW.
The second two are obviously related. I don’t remember off the top of my head what database or list the last quote was referencing, but it’s basically saying that the NSA’s surveillance and analysis systems had earmarked 27,000 people incorrectly at one point. Again, a massive surveillance program that has a hard time with accuracy coupled with an administration defending it’s right to kill it’s own citizens? HOT DIGGITY DAWG!
So, America, just keep in mind that the intel that’s likely used to place people on kill-lists and whatnot, is often times massively flawed and innocent people end up being grouped with actual terrorists.