NSA Silenced Our Rendition Secret

In a story pre-empting one Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill are reportedly working, the WaPo details how NSA helps CIA target drone strikes. A key part of the story reflects NSA documents that bragged about finding Hassan Ghul through an email he sent to his wife and verifying he was dead after the fact.

In Ghul’s case, the agency deployed an arsenal of cyber-espionage tools, secretly seizing control of laptops, siphoning audio files and other messages, and tracking radio transmissions to determine where Ghul might “bed down.”

The e-mail from Ghul’s wife “about her current living conditions” contained enough detail to confirm the coordinates of that household, according to a document summarizing the mission. “This information enabled a capture/kill operation against an individual believed to be Hassan Ghul on October 1,” it said.


“The most critical piece” came with a discovery that “provided a vector” for compounds used by Ghul, the document said. After months of investigation, and surveillance by CIA drones, the e-mail from his wife erased any remaining doubt.

Even after Ghul was killed in Mir Ali, the NSA’s role in the drone strike wasn’t done. Although the attack was aimed at “an individual believed to be” the correct target, the outcome wasn’t certain until later when, “through SIGINT, it was confirmed that Hassan Ghul was in fact killed.”

Much of the rest of the story (bylined by Greg Miller, along with Barton Gellman and Julie Tate) describes Ghul’s history: how he served as a courier, got picked up bringing a message from Pakistan to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, was interrogated successfully by the Kurds giving us the key detail to find Osama bin Laden, only thereafter to be tortured in a black site in Eastern Europe (known to be Romania), then sent back to Pakistan, released, and re-engaged with perhaps Al Qaeda and perhaps Lashka-e-Taiba (ties to which are probably what got him sprung in the first place). Here’s how WaPo describes the last two steps.

The George W. Bush administration’s decision to close the secret CIA prisons in 2006 set off a scramble to place prisoners whom the agency did not regard as dangerous or valuable enough to transfer to Guantanamo Bay. Read more