Taliban fighters shrug off NSA surveillance revelations: ‘We knew’

June 14, 2013

Former Taliban fighters in Jalalabad. (Noorullah Shirzada/AFP/Getty Images)

KABUL -- Like the rest of the world, Taliban officials learned last week of the U.S. government’s large-scale surveillance program on citizens and foreigners, which included access to a massive amount of information gathered from online communications.

Unlike many Americans, the Taliban was not surprised by the news.

“We knew about their past efforts to trace our system,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid told The Washington Post. “We have used our technical resources to foil their efforts and have been able to stop them from succeeding so far.”

The U.S. military and the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force haven’t tried to hide their efforts to keep track of Taliban activity. Floating, blimp-like aerostats use cameras to keep an eye on all activity below. For years, U.S. soldiers and their Afghan counterparts have listened in to Taliban radio communications. The Taliban, knowing their conversations were tapped, would often attempt to mislead snooping Americans, discussing ambushes that never materialized.

Even the Taliban spokesman who spoke with The Post this week routinely changes his phone number to deter prying intelligence agents. “This news will have no impact on our activities,” he said.

The Taliban, which maintains a Web site and an active presence on Twitter, is a frequent victim of hackers — which insurgent officials have long assumed are working for the U.S. government. For them, the surveillance revelation only justified their anger at American meddling online.

“They have hacked our site and used a forged site as if it was ours,” Mujahid said.

If the National Security Agency is trying to keep tabs on foreign individuals involved in terrorist activities, the Taliban leaders — some of the world’s most prominent al-Qaeda sympathizers — are obvious targets.

Some Afghan analysts also said they weren’t surprised by the Taliban response. “I don’t think it will disturb them," said Daud Sultanzoi, a political activist and former Afghan parliamentarian. "They’re like the energizer bunny -- they keep going and going,”

Kevin Sieff has been The Post’s bureau chief in Nairobi since 2014. He served previously as the bureau chief in Kabul and had covered the U.S. -Mexico border.
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Max Fisher · June 14, 2013