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The Military

Death By Metadata: The NSA's Secret Role In the US Drone Strike Program 202

Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Glenn Greenwald reports at his new independent news site 'The Intercept' that according to a former drone operator for the military's Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the NSA often identifies targets based on controversial metadata analysis and cell-phone tracking technologies. In one tactic, the NSA 'geolocates' the SIM card or handset of a suspected terrorist's mobile phone, enabling the CIA and U.S. military to conduct night raids and drone strikes to kill or capture the individual in possession of the device. The technology has been responsible for taking out terrorists and networks of people facilitating improvised explosive device attacks against US forces in Afghanistan. But he also states that innocent people have 'absolutely' been killed as a result of the NSA's increasing reliance on the surveillance tactic. One problem is that targets are increasingly aware of the NSA's reliance on geolocating, and have moved to thwart the tactic. Some have as many as 16 different SIM cards associated with their identity within the High Value Target system while other top Taliban leaders, knowing of the NSA's targeting method, have purposely and randomly distributed SIM cards among their units in order to elude their trackers. As a result, even when the agency correctly identifies and targets a SIM card belonging to a terror suspect, the phone may actually be carried by someone else, who is then killed in a strike. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which uses a conservative methodology to track drone strikes, estimates that at least 2,400 people in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia have been killed by unmanned aerial assaults under the Obama administration. Greenwald's source says he has come to believe that the drone program amounts to little more than death by unreliable metadata. 'People get hung up that there's a targeted list of people. It's really like we're targeting a cell phone. 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.' Whether or not Obama is fully aware of the errors built into the program of targeted assassination, he and his top advisers have repeatedly made clear that the president himself directly oversees the drone operation and takes full responsibility for it."

Comment Re:I know this one... (Score 1) 876

Assembly language was originally considered automatic programming.

I can't believe you made this point without linking to the legendary story of Mel. Here is a story where simply getting the punchline requires an order of magnitude more understanding than the poster manifests. Tell me how to use an integer overflow to bound a loop in LabView, and I'll believe that graphical programming is the wave of the future.

Comment Re:I am NOT your strawman (Score 1) 544

A strawman? Do you mean the character that has a diploma but no brain? Yes, it is rather apt. Perhaps you're not he in real life; I don't know you personally. It's possible you only play him on Slashdot. All I have to work from is what you've said here. And here on Slashdot, your line of argument consists entirely of four ad hominem attacks, two of which are directed at my charitable contributions (huh?), and one of which you lobbed, ironically, to accuse me of having a persecution complex. All because I criticized not evolutionary science itself, but the didactic and unimaginative way that we teach it. If your purpose was to caricature the insecure, hypersensitive, militant fundamentalist secular humanist (who is essentially the same person as the insecure, hypersensitive, militant fundamentalist Christian), you have done an admirable job.

Comment Re:That's not evolution (Score 1) 544

I didn't even take biology in school and I know that you are misrepresenting it.

Just---wow. Your didactic, "us vs. them" attitude is exactly what is broken with our society, from local politics to global conflicts. You (blindly) believe in "Science," so anybody who believes in God, by definition, does not. Anybody who is not exactly like you is automatically the Enemy, is clearly motivated by personal animus against you individually, and must be attacked at all costs, with disinformation and outright lies if necessary, even as you admit your own ignorance. You are exactly what I was talking about. You are the problem. "Evolution" is so sacrosanct to you that anybody who dares to suggest that it has limitations as a theory---even somebody who at the same time says it's the best theory we have available right now---is a heretic and should be stoned. If everybody thought like you, we would still be teaching that the universe revolves around the earth, because the Bible obviously says so, and to even examine the question further is tantamount to blasphemy. Have you even read On the Origin of Species, or do you just blindly worship Darwin based on what somebody else told you, like the many Christians who blindly worship God based on what somebody told them the Bible says?

wants lots of members with money but conveniently thinks Jesus hates poor people

I know, look how much we hate poor people. Your research skills are not a credit to you. And since you have appointed yourself the judge of 15 million people's charitable tendencies, I'm curious, how much did you personally give to charity last year?

Comment Re:That's not evolution (Score 1) 544

> ... and it's all part of a single, well-tested formula that cannot be questioned or examined.

Oh. I guess we don't need to do any more science, then, if it can't be questioned or examined. Close the textbooks, we're done here!


Comment Re:That's not evolution (Score 1) 544

Evolution is observed by microbiologists and others every day.

Yeah, I'm pretty sure I said that. I was talking about the untestable "theory" that kids leave their biology classes believing, namely that there is a clean, clear, indisputable line from the Big Bang to earth to proteins to abiogenesis to multi-celled water-based life to apes to humans, and it's all part of a single, well-tested formula that cannot be questioned or examined.

As far as what motivates me, I'm Mormon. I believe in God. I also believe that "evolution" (such as it is) is the best theory we have for how different species arise. My brother, who is also Mormon, got a Masters in Evolutionary Biology at the very-Mormon BYU. His thesis was all about mutating viruses to make them do useful things like form pharmaceutical compounds. He now teaches high school biology in a small Texas town and wants to slap the dumb kids who say, "Can I skip the chapter on evolution, because I don't believe in it?" I'm not attacking evolution, though you seem to think that any acknowledgement of its limitations is tantamount to an attack. My point is that many science teachers teach it as though it is some kind of fixed, unalterable Truth, which is just as destructive to inquiry as teaching kids "Don't ask questions or you're going to hell." My faith does not willfully blind me to inquiry and investigation. Why should my scientific education do so?

Really, this is a criticism of the education system as a whole. It's about regurgitating some official policy line doled out by teachers. It has very little to do with meaningful learning.

Comment Re:here we go again (Score 1) 544

then you are supposed to be teaching the scientific method (the core of "science") and things that have been learned and proven using the scientific method.

That's fine, as long as you realize that there are limits to how provable evolutionary science is under the classical "hypothesis-test-theory" scientific method we are teaching the kids. "Evolution" is not a single, clean, well-tested theory like "universal gravitation." It's a broad field of inquiry. We can do some predictable tests on either end (we can predictably mutate viruses, and predictably breed larger animals). But as far as I'm aware, we've never so much as synthesized even a single-celled organism from "primordial soup," much less grown it into a donkey by applying some well-tested formula.

For contrast, relativity is a theory that we can test, and although it has limits, we can predictably use it to do useful things like calibrating our GPS satellites. We can't do that with protozoa-to-mammal evolutionary theory, and we shouldn't be afraid to admit that it has gaps and limitations. Teach evolution, but teach it for what it is: a best-available composite model compiled from an entire field of investigations and discoveries, with lots of "we suspects" and "we're not sures." If we teach children to believe in the "Gospel of Evolution," like it's some kind of unerring, unassailable single Truth, handed down in its pure and unalterable form by the Gods of Science, then we are cutting off honest inquiry just as surely as a preacher who tells them that they will definitely burn in hell if they don't confess that the universe was conjured out of nothing exactly 6,000 years ago.

Comment Re:Good (Score 2) 544

But, the New Testament doesn't really go into the creation of species, so Christians default to the Old Testament.

The Old Testament doesn't go into the creation of species either. It says that God made animals. It doesn't say how.

Comment Re:It might be an unpopular opinion... (Score 1) 822

You keep arguing that Snowden clearly broke the law. Yeah, I agree. But that says nothing about whether what he did was right. Not everything lawful action is good, and not every unlawful action is evil. A government illegally or unethically spying on its citizens is certain to deem its actions legal by its own fiat. That doesn't make the spying right.

Comment Re:It might be an unpopular opinion... (Score 1) 822

That's a neat tautology you've constructed. "It was illegal for Snowden to reveal PRISM, because the people running PRISM deemed it illegal to reveal PRISM.

And Wyden's stunt doesn't affect the ethical question. Assuming the article is true and Wyden was fully briefed on PRISM before the hearing, that just makes him complicit with General Clapper in conspiring to violate the Constitution.

Comment Re:Smurftastic! (Score 0) 144

No, not every single cop everywhere carries specifically a Glock 17. But a numerical majority of them do carry Glocks, which was the point I made first ("They carry Glocks" is a fair generalization when it applies to well over 50% of police). Then I gave an example of a specific Glock that many of them carry, and used that to illustrate the fact that your typical cop is packing a lot more than just six rounds. When was the last time you saw a cop carrying a six-round service revolver (even if some of them theoretically can if they want to)? Are you asserting that a significant number of them still do? Maybe your experience is different from mine, but none of the cops I see in 2014 are carrying a .38 Special.

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