NSA Plays Key Role in Drone Attacks: Report

New Snowden documents reveal agency's involvement

By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff

Posted Oct 17, 2013 12:56 AM CDT | Updated Oct 17, 2013 8:09 AM CDT

(Newser) – The CIA isn't the only government agency deeply involved in drone attacks. NSA tracking of phone calls, emails, and other "signals intelligence" is essential to the program, documents given by Edward Snowden to the Washington Post show. The agency has a special division, the Counter-Terrorism Mission Aligned Cell, devoted to gathering data on elusive terror figures, the Post reports. Amid controversy over the agency, the documents could help it argue that it concentrates on fighting terror abroad, the paper notes.

Officials keep a close eye on activity across several dozen square miles in northwest Pakistan, among a wide range of locations. The Post highlights the story of Osama bin Laden associate Hassan Ghul, who was captured in 2004 and provided information that helped the US find bin Laden himself. Following his release in Pakistan in 2006, Ghul rejoined al-Qaeda. An email from his wife revealed enough to allow "a capture/kill operation against an individual believed to be" Ghul, the Snowden materials say. Ghul was killed in a drone attack in October 2012, the documents reveal, though the US never announced the killing. Click for the full report.

This Sunday, Jan. 31, 2010 file photo shows a US Predator drone as it flies above Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan.
This Sunday, Jan. 31, 2010 file photo shows a US Predator drone as it flies above Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan.   (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File)
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