The Washington Post is reporting new revelations about how the National Security Agency uses its vast global surveillance capabilities to assist the CIA in its controversial worldwide drone assassination program.
To be more accurate, however, the Post is only releasing information deemed non-threatening to what it describes as "ongoing operations" and "national security," based on the guidance of the U.S. government itself.
The newspaper admits that it is "withholding many details [...] at the request of U.S. intelligence officials" and that the documents discussed in their redacted coverage may, in fact, "bolster the agency’s case that its resources are focused on fighting terrorism and supporting U.S. operations overseas."
It has long been suspected that the NSA has played a key role in the CIA's overseas drone operations and President Obama's so-called "kill list" program, but the documents reviewed by the Post are the first to confirm that role with internal documents.
The NSA files, provided to the Post by whistleblower Edward Snowden, explain how the NSA leveraged its large budget and technical capabilities to help the CIA pinpoint a man, Hassan Ghul, they claimed to be a major figure within al-Qaeda believed to be in the tribal areas of western Pakistan in 2012.
According to the report:
The documents do not explain how the Ghul e-mail was obtained or whether it was intercepted using legal authorities that have emerged as a source of controversy in recent months and enable the NSA to compel technology giants including Microsoft and Google to turn over information about their users. Nor is there a reference to another NSA program facing scrutiny after Snowden’s leaks, its metadata collection of numbers dialed by nearly every person in the United States.
To the contrary, the records indicate that the agency depends heavily on highly targeted network penetrations to gather information that wouldn’t otherwise be trapped in surveillance nets that it has set at key Internet gateways.
The new documents are self-congratulatory in tone, drafted to tout the NSA’s counterterrorism capabilities. One is titled “CT MAC Hassan Gul Success.” The files make no mention of other agencies’ roles in a drone program that escalated dramatically in 2009 and 2010 before tapering off in recent years.
Even so, former CIA officials said the files are an accurate reflection of the NSA’s contribution to finding targets in a campaign that has killed more than 3,000 people, including thousands of alleged militants and hundreds of civilians, in Pakistan, according to independent surveys. The officials said the agency has assigned senior analysts to the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, and deployed others to work alongside CIA counterparts at almost every major U.S. embassy or military base overseas.
According to the Bureau of Investigation Journalism's most recent estimate, between 407 and 926 innocent people have been killed by U.S. drones in Pakistan since 2004, with as many 200 children among the dead.