Leaked ‘black budget’ describes how satellites guided raid that killed bin Laden

The multi-volume “black budget” obtained by The Washington Post from former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden describes expenditures at U.S. spy agencies. Among other interesting details of U.S. intelligence efforts, the top-secret document describes how U.S. satellites and a stealth drone helped the CIA locate Osama bin Laden and guided the U.S. Navy SEALs who killed him:

The National Security Agency also was able to penetrate guarded communications among al-Qaeda operatives by tracking calls from mobile phones identified by specific calling patterns, the document shows. Analysts from the CIA pinpointed the geographic location of one of the phones and linked it to the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, where other evidence suggested bin Laden was hiding. . . .

Eight hours after the raid, according to the documents, a forensic intelligence laboratory run by the Defense Intelligence Agency in Afghanistan had analyzed DNA from bin Laden’s corpse and “provided a conclusive match” confirming his identity. The budget further reveals that satellites operated by the National Reconnaissance Office performed more than 387 “collects” of high-resolution and infrared images of the Abbottabad compound in the month before the raid — intelligence that was “critical to prepare for the mission and contributed to the decision to approve execution.”

Also playing a role in the search for bin Laden was an arm of the NSA known as the Tailored Access Operations group. Among other functions, the group specializes in surreptitiously installing spyware and tracking devices on targeted computers and mobile-phone networks.

Craig Whitlock and Barton Gellman

The budget also describes how much the National Security Agency pays technology companies for access to their networks:

New details of the corporate-partner project, which falls under the NSA’s Special Source Operations, confirm that the agency taps into “high volume circuit and packet-switched networks,” according to the spending blueprint for fiscal 2013. The program was expected to cost $278 million in the current fiscal year, down nearly one-third from its peak of $394 million in 2011.

Voluntary cooperation from the “backbone” providers of global communications dates to the 1970s under the cover name BLARNEY, according to documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. These relationships long predate the PRISM program disclosed in June, under which American technology companies hand over customer data after receiving orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. . . .

The documents offer a rare view of a secret surveillance economy in which government officials set financial terms for programs capable of peering into the lives of almost anyone who uses a phone, computer or other device connected to the Internet.

Although the companies are required to comply with lawful surveillance orders, privacy advocates say the multimillion-dollar payments could create a profit motive to offer more than the required assistance. . . .

Verizon, AT&T and other major telecommunications companies declined to comment for this article, although several industry officials noted that government surveillance laws explicitly call for companies to receive reasonable reimbursement for their costs.

Craig Timberg and Barton Gellman

Separately, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper announced Thursday that the government would begin releasing some data on surveillance orders issued to technology companies:

Perhaps the most significant of the new annual releases is the aggregate number of targets under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, or a program to intercept the phone calls and e-mails of foreigners “reasonably believed” to be overseas.

The intelligence community long had resisted releasing such information on grounds it could harm national security, but the limits of disclosure have shifted as a result of the tremendous amounts of significant information contained in documents Snowden provided newspapers including The Washington Post and The Guardian. . . .

Data on some types of orders are already being released, including the aggregate number of national security letters — a form of administrative subpoena — and the number of business record orders. But, as one document leaked by Snowden revealed, one business record order may direct a U.S. phone company to turn over all phone call records of its customers on a daily basis. That’s tens of millions of Americans’ phone records from the major phone companies combined.

Ellen Nakashima

For more on the black budget, read Barton Gellman and Greg Miller’s complete article here.

Max Ehrenfreund is a blogger on the Financial desk and writes for Know More and Wonkblog.
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