Do German Data help the US with Drone strikes?

August 21st, 2013 - The NSA debate is obviously following different patterns in different countries. In Germany, one aspect currently under debate, is whether our foreign intel agency, the Bundesnachrichtendienst or BND, may have supplied SIGINT data to the NSA (or the US in a more abstract way of speaking) that could have or may actually have been used in lethal drone strikes. 

Here is what we think we know so far. The BND, who is obviously also active in Afghanistan, is actively sharing data gleaned from SIGINT operations there with the NSA and/or other US institutions. While that fact is hardly news, the extent to which this happens is - for some of us. According to "DER SPIEGEL" (and based on Snowdon documentation), for example, in the month of December of 2012 alone 500 m. data have been transferred one way or another to the US. The BND has been quoted as saying that they themselves believe that number must include data they seized in Afghanistan, namely a lot of mobile phone tracking data the BND is scooping up there. 

The "Süddeutsche Zeitung" recently added to that, reporting that the BND shares Afghan mobile phone numbers with the US in bulk. (And the associated data, I would assume. But I can't prove that.) 

The "Süddeutsche" as well as "DER SPIEGEL" raised the question of whether theses data may have been used in programming targets for drone strikes against assumed terrorists in AfPak. According to several media, the BND seems to be reasonably certain they haven't. For one, they say they never transfer data without stressing that they can't be used for things like torture or sentencing someone to death. (A bit academic, I know, but apparently they state that every single time.) The BND is also on record saying that the mobile phone data they provide are not precise enough for targeting. 

I am not an expert on targeting or target programming. But I would like to think common sense dictates that mobile phone data of a suspect do help quite a bit to figure out his whereabouts. And I have no doubts the US is ready to and can take it from there. 

I have a former CIA analyst on the record, telling me: "I doubt that any german official could credibly make a blanket claim that their intelligence has never assisted with a lethal drone strike". He also said: "It's a war, for crying out loud! If German intelligence is not passing along the best possible information that helps protect NATO forces in Afghanistan from attack--including locational information used to target hostile forces--then they are simply not doing their job." (First bit of that quote is in tomorrow's edition of DIE ZEIT, where I work.)

In a German context, if it ever were established as a fact that German data were used to program a lethal drone strike, there would be an outcry - partly because there have been at least to Jihadists from Germany killed by US drones; but mainly because hardly anyone here, including the government, will condone lethal drone strikes. They are largely considered extra-legal. And definitely as something you don't want to be associated with. 

For me this is one of the questions raised in the course of the Snowdon Leaks that I consider important in a German context. Ironically, as I understand it, the BND, even if he wanted to, wouldn't even be able to find out if their data have ever been crucial for an actual strike. Because the US would very likely not even tell them. 

In any case, be assured that I will be following this trail. And if one of you ever comes across anything outside of Germany that may help getting closer to an answer, do let me know! 

Cheers, Y. 

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