I've just been reading this story in Foreign Policy (registration required) (link was posted in comments on Jeremy Scahill's initial story for "The Intercept") that tells almost exactly the story Jeremy tells about SIGINT being used to target and kill cell phone/satellite phone users designated "terrorists" by the Powers That Be...
Only the Foreign Policy story was written in March of 2012 after the death of journalist Marie Colvin in Homs, Syria, apparently targeted and killed by the Assad regime based on -- you got it -- her cell-phone use and coordinates.
The FP article further explains that the tactic was apparently used by Russian intelligence during the Second Chechnya War in the 1990's. An example:
Russia has spent a long time perfecting these techniques. On April 21, 1996, Chechnya's breakaway president, Dzhokhar Dudayev, was speaking on a satellite phone with Russian envoy Konstantin Borovoi about setting peace talks with Yeltsin. During the phone call, he was killed by a signal-guided missile fired from a Russian jet fighter. The warplane had received Dudayev's coordinates from a Russian ELINT (electronic intelligence) plane that had picked up and locked on to the signal emitted by the satellite phone. It was Russian deception and brutality at its finest.
These methods and tactics were apparently originated, developed and adapted by American intelligence agencies, such as the NSA and CIA (all reported in this FP article) and by the American military to be used against terrorist enemies -- and others -- world wide.
Tracking phone transmissions to hunt down targets began in earnest with a covert unit of U.S. intelligence officers from the National Security Agency (NSA), CIA, Navy, Air Force, and special operations called "The Activity." This snooping unit was also called the Army of Northern Virginia, Grey Fox, and even Task Force Orange. We see much of this technology used to inform modern drone and U.S. Joint Special Operations Command strikes. My decade covering U.S. spec ops, intelligence gathering, and their contractors highlighted the impressive ability of various countries to monitor, locate, network, and act on what is called SIGINT, or signals intelligence.So what Jeremy was so breathlessly reporting for The Intercept has long been common knowledge in the field.
Which ultimately makes the story in The Intercept somewhat.... odd, not so much for what it says as for what it leaves out.
Wheels within wheels indeed.