United States Yemeni civilians-killing drones and British GCHQ

This video from Britain says about itself:

Spy cable revealed: How telecoms firm worked with GCHQ | Channel 4 News

21 November 2014

An unprecedented grab of personal data: this programme reveals that a communications firm not only handed over its own information to GCHQ, but also allowed access to the internet traffic of another telecoms company.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

GCHQ documents raise fresh questions over UK complicity in US drone strikes

Details of 2012 Yemen drone strike prompt call for UK to reveal extent of involvement in US targeted killing programme outside recognised war zones

Alice Ross and James Ball

Wednesday 24 June 2015 15.01 BST

British intelligence agency GCHQ is facing fresh calls to reveal the extent of its involvement in the US targeted killing programme after details of a fatal drone strike in Yemen were included in a top secret memo circulated to agency staff.

A leading barrister asked by the Guardian to review a number of classified GCHQ documents said they raised questions about British complicity in US strikes outside recognised war zones and demonstrated the need for the government to come clean about the UK’s role.

The documents, provided to the Guardian by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and reported in partnership with the New York Times, discuss how a joint US, UK and Australian programme codenamed Overhead supported the strike in Yemen in 2012.

The files also show GCHQ and Overhead developed their ability to track the location of individuals – essential for the targeted killing programme – in both Yemen and Pakistan. The legality of the US’s lethal operations in both countries has been questioned by international lawyers and human rights groups.

Jemima Stratford QC, who reviewed the Snowden documents for the Guardian, said: “Assuming that the documents which I have seen are genuine, in my view they raise questions about the extent to which UK officials may have had knowledge of, or helped to facilitate, certain US drone strikes which were not carried out in the context of an international armed conflict,” she said.

“These documents underline why greater transparency as to UK official policies would help to ensure legality from a domestic and international law perspective.”

Stratford published a legal opinion last year warning that UK intelligence support for lethal strikes outside traditional battlefields – such as Iraq and Afghanistan – was likely to be illegal. “In our view, if GCHQ transferred data to the NSA in the knowledge that it would or might be used for targeting drone strikes that transfer is probably unlawful,” she wrote.

British officials and ministers follow a strict policy of refusing to confirm or deny any support to the targeted killing programme, and evidence has been so scant that legal challenges have been launched on the basis of single paragraphs in news stories.

Commenting on the new information, Conservative MP David Davis said: “It’s no good the government hiding behind its standard security line that they never comment on security matters. The phrase extra-judicial killing is a euphemism. What we are talking about here is murder. It may be that you are murdering terrorists and the people are villains, but it is still murder. We don’t countenance murdering criminals in Britain. Why should we countenance murdering them in Yemen or anywhere else?

“It is important the government makes plain: what are the limitations it puts on the use of its intelligence, and under what statutes and on whose approval this information is shared?”

Even a former head of GCHQ has objected to Britain’s continuing secrecy over the issue. David Omand joined Davis and fellow MP Tom Watson in signing a letter last November calling on the government to disclose its guidance on intelligence-sharing where individuals may be targeted by covert strikes.

The release of the information, they wrote, would “underline the distinction between Reaper strikes by our armed forces in Afghanistan, and now Iraq, and those of other states elsewhere”.

Watson told the Guardian: “The government has always maintained we are not complicit in targeted extra-judicial killings. Any note of ambiguity identified by these documents has to be thoroughly investigated.”

The new documents include a regular series of newsletters – titled Comet News – which are used to update GCHQ personnel on the work of Overhead, an operation based on satellite, radio and some phone collection of intelligence. Overhead began as a US operation but has operated for decades as a partnership with GCHQ and, more recently, Australian intelligence.

The GCHQ memos, which span a two-year period, set out how Yemen became a surveillance priority for Overhead in 2010, in part at the urging of the NSA, shortly after the failed 2009 Christmas Day bomb plot in which Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate explosives hidden in his underpants on a transatlantic flight.

GCHQ noted in the memos that the NSA’s focus on Yemen was a “great opportunity” for UK agents to focus on any leads they had in the country. Given the domestic terror threat to the UK as well as internal conflicts in the country, GCHQ has multiple reasons to be monitoring individuals in the country.

One Comet News update reveals how Overhead’s surveillance networks supported an air strike in Yemen that killed two men on 30 March 2012. The men are both described as AQAP members.

In the memo, one of the dead men is identified as Khalid Usama – who has never before been publicly named – a “doctor who pioneered using surgically implanted explosives”. The other is not identified.

In the two years of memos seen by the Guardian, this was the only specific strike detailed, raising questions as to why GCHQ’s team decided to notify staff about this particular strike among hundreds.

The Guardian asked GCHQ whether this was because UK personnel or bases were involved in the operation. The agency declined to comment, and offered no explanation as to why British staff were briefed on this particular strike.

US officials confirmed to Reuters in 2012 that there had been a single drone strike in Yemen on 30 March of that year. According to a database of drone strikes maintained by the not-for-profit Bureau of Investigative Journalism, the only incident in Yemen on that date targeted AQAP militants, causing between six and nine civilian casualties, including six children wounded by shrapnel.

Asked whether the strike described in the GCHQ documents was the same one as recorded in the Bureau’s database, GCHQ declined to comment.

The incident is one of more than 500 covert drone strikes and other attacks launched by the CIA and US special forces since 2002 in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia – which are not internationally recognised battlefields.

The GCHQ documents also suggest the UK was working to build similar location-tracking capabilities in Pakistan, the country that has seen the majority of covert strikes, to support military operations “in-theatre”.

A June 2009 document indicates that GCHQ appeared to accept the expanded US definition of combat zones, referring to the agency’s ability to provide “tactical and strategic SIGINT [signals intelligence] support to military operations in-theatre, notably Iraq and Afghanistan, but increasingly Pakistan”. The document adds that in Pakistan, “new requirements are yet to be confirmed, but are both imminent and high priority”.

The note was written months after Barack Obama entered the White House and escalated the use of drones in Pakistan, conducting more strikes in his first year in office than George W Bush had in the previous four years.

By this point NSA and GCHQ staff working within the UK had already prioritised surveillance of Pakistan’s tribal areas, where the majority of US covert drone strikes have been carried out. A 2008 memo lists surveillance of two specific sites and an overview of satellite-phone communications of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas, in which nearly all Pakistan drone strikes have taken place, among its key projects.

British intelligence-gathering in Pakistan is likely to have taken place for a number of reasons, not least because UK troops in Afghanistan were based in Helmand, on the Pakistani border.

One of the teams involved in the geo-location of surveillance targets was codenamed “Widowmaker”, whose task was to “discover communications intelligence gaps in support of the global war on terror”, a note explains.

Illustrating the close links between the UK, US and Australian intelligence services, Widowmaker personnel are based at Menwith Hill in the north of England, in Denver, Colorado, and in Alice Springs in Australia’s Northern Territory.

Other Snowden documents discuss the difficult legal issues raised by intelligence sharing with the US.

A secret 2009 legal briefing suggests that British military lawyers believe that some US operations beyond traditional battlefields may be unlawful – a document that also highlights GCHQ’s efforts to operate within the bounds of the law in a complex and challenging environment.

The briefing prepared for GCHQ personnel sharing target intelligence in Afghanistan instructed them to refer to senior compliance staff before sharing information with the US if they believed it may be used for a “detention or cross-border operation”.

This, the documents states, was because the US forces were operating under Operation Enduring Freedom rules, which are less restrictive than the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force rules governing UK personnel. As a result, sharing intelligence “may result in unlawful activity” by GCHQ staff.

The Guardian contacted GCHQ with the information contained in this article, and asked a series of questions on the extent of intelligence sharing with the US in connection with targeted killing, and the legal framework for any such activities. The agency declined to comment on specifics.

The Guardian asked Downing Street why it refused to clarify any UK role in US drone strikes. A government spokesperson said: “It is the longstanding policy of successive UK governments not to comment on intelligence operations. We expect all states concerned to act in accordance with international law and take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties when conducting any form of military or counter-terrorist operations.”

Asked last year about the Britain’s role in US operations outside traditional war zones, defence minister Mark Francois told parliament that “strikes against terrorist targets in Yemen are a matter for the Yemeni and US governments”. Ministers including Sayeeda Warsi have used similar language when discussing drone strikes in Pakistan.

The UK has faced previous legal challenges over the issue. In 2012, the family of a tribal elder killed in Pakistan, Noor Khan, launched a court case in England in which barristers claimed GCHQ agents who shared targeting intelligence for covert strikes could be “accessory to murder”. Judges twice refused to rule on the issue on the grounds it could harm the UK’s international relations.

Alice Ross formerly worked on The Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s drones team.

See also here.

GCHQ monitored own staff excessively. Eavesdropping agency collected bulk personal data without authorisation ‘due to technical error’ finds intelligence services watchdog: here.

More GCHQ: UK spy agency admits hacking phones and computers without warrants: here.

PEACE protesters targeted a US spy base in Yorkshire on Saturday to demand its closure as the United States marked Independence Day. Menwith Hill base is run by the US National Security Agency (NSA), and staffed by more than 1,000 US military and civilian personnel: here.

The overstretched US military has hired hundreds of private sector contractors in the heart of its drone operations to analyse top secret video feeds and help track high value terror targets, an investigation has found: here.

The Department of Defense is planning to significantly grow the United States’ notorious drone assassination and surveillance program over the next four years: here.

Obama: ‘No Doubt’ Civilians Have Been Killed In Drone Strikes: here.

34 thoughts on “United States Yemeni civilians-killing drones and British GCHQ

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  2. DAVID CAMERON will splurge a further £1.5 billion of taxpayers’ money on the military in order to finance the “battle of our generation” against Islamist terrorism, it was announced yesterday.

    The PM gave defence chiefs the go-ahead to spend extra cash on new spy aircraft, including drones, to collect information on the Islamic State (Isis) and other groups.

    However, human rights groups protested that more information was needed about Britain’s involvement in a “secret drone war.”

    Reprieve legal director Kat Craig said: “If the Prime Minister is going to call for more spending on drones, he needs to give us some answers on how they are being used.

    “There is overwhelming evidence that the UK is closely involved in the US secret drone war, which risks turning the world into a battlefield.

    “Drone technology has enabled a vast expansion of secret bombing campaigns which take place without the knowledge or approval of the public.”



  3. Friday, 24 July 2015

    British pilots flying US drones

    BRITISH pilots have been flying drones from a US base responsible for covert strikes in Yemen and Pakistan, considered by many to violate international law, new documents have revealed.

    A ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ (MOU) between the UK and US governments, obtained under Freedom of Information by legal charity Reprieve, shows how UK pilots have been assigned to the command of US drone squadrons operating out of Creech Air Force Base in Nevada.

    Creech is reportedly one of the bases responsible for controlling Predator and Reaper drones flying covert airstrikes against targets in Pakistan and Yemen – countries where neither the US nor the UK are at war.

    Such strikes – ordered by the CIA or US Special Forces, but often flown by regular US Air Force (USAF) pilots – have never been officially acknowledged by the US government. A Commission led by the former head of GCHQ, Sir David Omand, last year expressed concern over UK forces embedded with the US, and called for measures to ensure that ‘the UK government does not inadvertently collude in RPA [‘remotely piloted aircraft’ = drone] actions contrary to international law’.

    The MOU ‘establishes the terms and conditions by which UK Personnel may be temporarily assigned to the 432nd Wing as a gift of services to fulfil US Air Force operational requirements,’ and states that the normal tour of duty will last up to three years.

    It sets out that ‘UK Personnel contributing services will be under the direction and operations control of the Host Participant’s (i.e. the US’) unit commander,’ and ‘Administration and control of the UK Personnel will be in accordance with Host Participant’s national laws and regulations.’

    Reprieve is concerned that this means that UK pilots under US command may have been ordered to carry out drone strikes which are at odds with international law and publicly-stated British policy. UK ministers have maintained that strikes in Yemen and Pakistan are matters only for those countries and the United States.



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  6. THE US plans to increase drone aircraft flights worldwide by half over four years, the Pentagon announced on Monday.

    In the the latest escalation of tensions in the new cold war, civilian contractors will be paid to deploy more unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

    Under the plans laid out by senior defence officials, the air force would continue to provide 60 daily drone missions, while the army would conduct about 16, and US Special Operations Command and civilian contractors would carry out up to 10 each.

    Civilian contractors would only fly spy drones, not the armed aircraft, but that would free up military drones for attack missions.

    One unnamed official claimed “aggression” by Moscow and Beijing as justification for violating the airspace of sovereign nations and bombing unsuspecting civilians.

    Other targets include Syria — ostensibly as part of the war against Islamic State (Isis) — where drones are being redeployed from Afghanistan.

    Former drone operators have warned that there is no legal oversight of operations, which include assassination of US citizens overseas deemed threats to national security.

    The US has come into conflict with Russia over the western-backed coup in Ukraine and the subsequent civil war against anti-fascist forces in the eastern Donbass region.

    The US has supplied unarmed military vehicles, including spy drones, to the Kiev regime.

    Washington has also attacked Beijing’s land reclamation work in the disputed Spratly islands in the South China Sea — which lie on a major shipping route — ordering patrol aircraft to violate Chinese airspace.



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  10. Monday 5th October 2015

    posted by Luke James in Britain

    ‘Counterterrorism package’ will let PM continue Syrian bombing campaign against MPs’ wishes, says Stop the War’s German

    DAVID CAMERON doubled Britain’s fleet of deadly drones yesterday, signalling that he is set to unleash a new wave of illegal air strikes in the Middle East.

    The Prime Minister, who launched a secret mission to kill British citizens in Syria this summer, announced that the RAF’s 10 Reaper drones will be replaced by “over 20” new ones.

    These politically named Protector drones, which come at an undisclosed cost to taxpayers, have a greater range and endurance than existing aircraft, which will also receive upgrades.

    The Tories justified the spending as a boost to Britain’s surveillance capacity but made no direct mention of the drones’ deadly weaponry.

    They will “dramatically increase the UK’s ability to identify, track, deter and ultimately counter potential threats,” the party said in a statement.

    The announcement came less than a month after Mr Cameron revealed RAF drones were used without MPs’ approval or international sanction to kill two Britons fighting with the Islamic State (Isis) terror group in Syria.

    The PM confirmed it was the first time Britain had made a drone strike in a country where it was not at war.

    Stop the War chair Lindsey German said yesterday though that the purchase of new drones underlined Mr Cameron’s desire to carry on and extend his operation.

    She warned: “Drones are operated at little risk to British operatives but their use in targeted assassinations and other attacks are known to increase support for the groups attacked.

    “The use of drones in Afghanistan has done nothing to end the war there, as (the Taliban capture of) Kunduz has shown.”

    Parliament has rejected British bombing in Syria, but the PM hopes to win a second vote when MPs return next week.

    Even if he loses the vote, the RAF’s increased drone capacity could allow him to continue launching air strikes.

    The purchase of specialist equipment and clothing for Britain’s special forces was also announced as part of the government’s new “counterterrorism package.”

    Making the announcement yesterday, Mr Cameron said: “National security is the first priority of this government.”

    His comments suggest the Tories want to ram home their claim that Labour is a “threat to national security” under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.



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  16. Thursday 17th March 2016

    posted by Peter Lazenby in Britain

    A WEEKLY vigil outside a military base by a 74-year-old peace campaigner has been put under threat by a police dispersal order.

    Lindis Percy, who stages a one-hour vigil at US communications base Menwith Hill in Yorkshire every Tuesday, told the Star yesterday that police turned up this week ordering activists to leave.

    A fellow campaigner decided to leave but Ms Percy was arrested after refusing to budge. She has been ordered to appear in court on April 7.

    The base is staffed by 1,450 US civilian and military personnel and is a key link in the US’s worldwide electronic intelligence-gathering operations via satellites.

    Ms Percy, who is a retired nurse, midwife and health visitor, has been a leading peace campaigner for more than 30 years. She has been arrested hundreds of times.

    She says North Yorkshire Police and the Ministry of Defence Police at the base have begun applying a dispersal order to stop her weekly vigils at the base.

    “I very much want this in court as it is serious, if they get away with this. It stinks.”

    Dispersal orders are part of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill 2014.

    According to government guidelines, dispersal orders give police powers “to disperse individuals or groups causing or likely to cause anti-social behaviour in public places.”

    The guidelines also state that “police will be able to deal quickly with emerging trouble spots” and that there must be reason to suspect that “the person has contributed or is likely to contribute to members of the public in the locality being harassed, alarmed or distressed, or the occurrence of crime or disorder.”



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  19. Monday 4th
    posted by Peter Lazenby in Britain

    Demonstrators mark Independence From America Day

    ACTIVISTS staged a peaceful demonstration outside a US military base in Yorkshire at the weekend demanding its closure while praising Jeremy Corbyn as Britain’s best hope for peace.

    Menwith Hill, an intelligence-gathering centre on moorland outside Harrogate, is staffed by more than 1,000 US military and civilian personnel and guarded by British Ministry of Defence police.

    Inside its boundaries are dozens of satellite dishes gathering military, political and economic material which is fed to the US.

    Peace activists have been campaigning for its closure for more than three decades, staging a demonstration at the base each year on the Saturday closest to July 4 — US Independence Day.

    This year the protest was dubbed Independence From America Day.

    Former Labour MEP and European Parliament whip Michael McGowan made a powerful speech in defence of embattled party leader Mr Corbyn.

    Mr McGowan highlighted Mr Corbyn’s role in creating a new kind of politics that is more co-operative, more caring and more international.

    He said the election of Mr Corbyn, an anti-nuclear weapons activist, was “a historic opportunity for world peace, which should be a matter of universal celebration and an opportunity not be wasted but to be taken forward in the interest of all who share our planet.”

    Mr McGowan is a trustee of the Leeds-based group Positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers, and has worked alongside Mr Corbyn with refugees from the Western Sahara who live in exile under canvass in the Sahara Desert.

    Other speakers included John Bourton of UK Veterans for Peace who spoke of his own experiences with led him from professional soldier to peace activist.

    Veterans for Peace which is a voluntary ex-services organisation of men and women who collectively have served in every war that Britain has fought since WWII.



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