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Hitting the Books: How IBM’s metadata research made US drones even deadlier
If there’s one thing the United States military gets right, it’s lethality. Yet even once the US military has you in its sights, it may not know who you actually are — such are, these so-called “signature strikes” — even as that wrathful finger of God is called down from upon on high.
Underlying the military logics of targeting is the idea of the signature. Toward the end of President George W. Bush’s second term, the CIA argued that it should be able to launch drone attacks based solely on an individual’s observed “pattern of behavior” or “signature.”
Whereas a “personality strike” involves targeting a specific individual, a “signature strike” is when a person is killed due to their metadata signature; in other words, their identity is not known but data suggests that they might be a terrorist.
As the Snowden documents showed, during the Obama years, the National Security Agency’s global metadata surveillance program would geolocate a SIM card or handset of a suspect, and then the U.S. military would conduct drone strikes to kill the individual in possession of the device.
“We kill people based on metadata,” said General Michael Hayden, former director of the NSA and the CIA. The NSA’s Geo Cell division was reported to use more colorful language: “We track ’em, you whack ’em.'”