A Guide to the NSA's Perversion of Privacy: What Are the Most Outrageous Breaches into Your Life?
By Zaid Jilani
A look at the most egregious incursions into your privacy, courtesy of the NSA.
February 8, 2014
It�s been eight months since the revelations of mass spying by the National Security Agency and allied intelligence services came to light, thanks to massive leaks by whistleblower Edward Snowden. Since the first story about how a secret court order gave the government access to millions of Verizon phone records, we�ve learned about many other overreaches by the federal government, including a government program that gains access to private information on popular services like Facebook, a tool the NSA can use to wiretap virtually anyone in the world, widespread spying on friendly foreign countries and even that the NSA has been infiltrating the online gaming world with forays into World of Warcraft.Although defence ministers have reported several times in the House of Commons on weapons launched by British Reaper drones in Afghanistan, the strikes by RAF pilots using USAF drones have gone completely unreported. For example on 12 November 2012 Labour MP David Anderson asked the MoD to give details of "how many unmanned aerial vehicle strikes have been conducted by the UK since operations commenced in Afghanistan." Replying on behalf of the MoD, Defence Minister Andrew Robathan stated:
"As of 1 November 2012, 297 Hellfire precision guided missiles and 52 laser guided bombs have been employed by the UK Reaper remotely piloted air system (RPAS) since operations commenced in Afghanistan."We now know that what Robathan didn�t say was that RAF pilots also flew borrowed US Reaper drones 271 times in Afghanistan to also launch a further 39 weapons by the end of December 2012 � meaning that at least 10% of drone strikes undertaken by British RAF pilots at the time were not reported to Parliament. Given that RAF pilots have also flown US Reaper or Predator drones a further 1,800 times while officially embedded with the USAF it is highly likely that RAF pilots have launched even more strikes.
Two weeks after Robathan�s answer, Conservative MP Rehman Chishti asked "how many times (a) British forces have flown US unmanned aerial vehicles and (b) US forces have flown British unmanned aerial vehicles." Five months later on 24 April 2013, Andrew Robathan confirmed that RAF Pilots had flown 2,150 missions using USAF Reaper and Predator drones in Afghanistan, Libya and Iraq (correcting an initial brief response he had given in November 2012). Curiously he appears to have simply forgotten to respond to the second half of the question, asking about US pilots flying UK drones. However, recently appointed Defence Minister Anna Soubry appears to have ruled out any flights of UK drones by US pilots, stating in response to a question from Tom Watson MP that "outside of the launch and recovery phase, UK Reaper RPAS have always been operated by UK pilots."
Drone Wars UK wrote to the MoD in April 2013 asking for a breakdown of the drone missions undertaken by British RAF pilots using USAF drones and whether any weapons had been launched during these flights. After a nine month delay, during which we had to repeatedly press for a response, the MoD replied on February 4 2013 stating:
"Of the 2,150 missions flown by UK personnel, there were 271 missions in Afghanistan when UK personnel utilised a US Reaper as a UK Reaper was unavailable. During these missions, UK personnel released 39 weapons. I am withholding information about weapons released by UK personnel embedded with the United States Air Force on operations in Afghanistan and Libya under Section 27 [of the Freedom of Information Act]."The response from the MoD also does not break down the 2,150 times RAF pilots flew US drones between the three countries where they were flown as we requested. No specific details are given about the RAF�s use of US drones over Libya and the the MoD simply (and rather bizarrely) says "information is not held for operations in Iraq."
UK and USAF Reapers normally carry both Hellfire missiles and GBU-12 Paveway bombs. However unlike British Reapers, USAF Reapers also carry the GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition.
Chris Cole of Drone Wars UK said:
"This latest revelation once again demonstrates the secrecy surrounding the use of armed drones and underlines the need for greater transparency. Given the controversy surrounding the US use of armed drones, it is essential that information about drone operations � and in particular drone strikes � undertaken by British RAF pilots while embedded with US forces is made available for public scrutiny and debate rather than being withheld.In the same FoI response, the MoD have given a more detailed breakdown of weapons launched by British Reapers in Afghanistan which we report in more detail here.