New Whistleblower Is Behind Latest Revelations About U.S. Drone Program

Jeremy Scahill says the source believes the public has a right to know how the U.S. government decides to assassinate people.
Intercept co-founder and investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill.
Intercept co-founder and investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill.
Larry Busacca via Getty Images

NEW YORK -- Jeremy Scahill and a number of his colleagues at The Intercept published an eight-part investigation Thursday detailing the inner workings of the U.S. drone program, based on documents provided by a source in the intelligence community who worked on the covert operations.

The latest documents are not part of the cache that former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked to journalists in 2013, although Scahill and The Intercept's other two co-founders -- Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras -- were heavily involved in covering Snowden's disclosures of mass surveillance by the U.S. government.

The Intercept's investigation is called "The Drone Papers." Scahill wrote that the new source "decided to provide these documents to The Intercept because he believes the public has a right to understand the process by which people are placed on kill lists and ultimately assassinated on orders from the highest echelons of the U.S. government.”

The latest cache of leaked documents reveals the decision-making process involved in drone strikes in the greatest detail yet, starting with the initial selection of a target and moving up the chain of command to the president, who authorizes the strikes. "The Drone Papers" also provides new details on operations in Yemen, Somalia and Afghanistan, where the documents indicate that in one five-month period, 90 percent of those killed in drone strikes were not the intended targets. The Intercept's eight-piece package includes multimedia elements, such as a visual glossary of the terminology of drone warfare.

On Thursday, The Huffington Post published part of The Intercept's investigation, which is available in full on its website.

For more than a year, there's been speculation about a "second leaker" in addition to Snowden having provided information to The Intercept. But it's not clear whether this individual -- or someone else entirely -- served as the source for "The Drone Papers."

CNN reported in August 2014 that the federal government believed a second leaker provided information to the site about a U.S. database of terrorist suspects.

In Oct. 2014, Poitras’ film on Snowden and the reaches of global surveillance, "Citizenfour," confirmed the existence of a second source. Near the end of the film, Snowden appears surprised to hear about the high level of information the second source had provided to the journalists. In a “Democracy Now!” interview tied to the film, Scahill described that new source as an “extremely principled and brave whistleblower.”

Several weeks after the premiere of "Citizenfour," Yahoo reported that the FBI had identified “an employee of a federal contracting firm” suspected of leaking the terrorist watch list documents to The Intercept. The FBI searched the employee's northern Virginia home and prosecutors opened a criminal investigation. The person was not identified in news reports.

An Intercept spokesman told The Huffington Post that the publication is not commenting further on the source beyond what's been published.

The Obama administration has cracked down more aggressively than its predecessors on national security-related leaks to the media, including making unprecedented use of the Espionage Act.
In "The Drone Papers," the source condemns watchlisting, a process of monitoring people and compiling the information on "baseball cards" before "assigning them death sentences without notice, on a worldwide battlefield."
“We’re allowing this to happen," the source added. "And by ‘we,’ I mean every American citizen who has access to this information now, but continues to do nothing about it.”

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