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What do you do when you have a fleet of killer drones but no way to decide who to aim them at? You call up your buddies at the National Security Administration and ask them to swipe some emails that help you out.
News came out this week that the NSA is highly involved in the CIA's targeted killing program. The report specifically references Hassan Ghul, an Osama bin Laden associate who was killed by a drone strike a year ago. The government had been targeting him for a while, but it wasn't until the NSA intercepted an email from his wife that confirmed the couple's home, which apparently "enabled a capture/kill operation against an individual believed to be Hassan Ghul."
Because everything needs an acronym, the NSA (there's one!) dubbed the program the Counter-Terrorism Mission Aligned Cell, or CT MAT. CT MAT, according to the Washington Post report, is essential to how the CIA determines the location of terrorist suspects.
It's unclear from the report how the agency is intercepting the emails or whether this is part of a larger program similar to PRISM, but the Post says that NSA "depends heavily on highly targeted network penetration to gather information that wouldn't otherwise be trapped in surveillance nets that it has set at key Internet gateways."
Though the NSA hadn't been implicated in the drone strike program before, it's always been safe to assume that they were at least tangentially involved (if not essential). This is, of course, what the NSA is supposed to do, and we've got to assume that the government is at least using some intelligence to decide who to strike.
The report could actually be a public relations win for the NSA, an agency desperately in need of one after a spring that opened much of the world's eyes to how extensive their spying programs are. In response to Edward Snowden's leaks, the NSA said its programs are mainly focused on preventing terror abroad, and the fact that they're cooperating with the CIA on this at least sort of backs that up.