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Documents reveal NSA involvement in US targeted killing program

The National Security Agency (NSA) [official website] has been heavily involved in the US government's targeted killing program through collaborations with the CIA in the use of drone strikes against terrorists abroad, according to a Washington Post report [text] Wednesday. The report was based on review of documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden [JURIST news archive]. According to the report, the documents "reveal the agency's extensive involvement in the targeted killing program that has served as a centerpiece of President Obama's counterterrorism strategy," and that the agency's involvement led to drone strikes in Pakistan [JURIST op-ed] that killed Hassan Ghul, an associate of Osama bin Laden. The US government has never publicly acknowledged killing Ghul. The documents also provide intricate details on the collaboration between the NSA and CIA in the drone campaign, but the Post withheld those details at the request of US intelligence officials.

On Monday the Post reported that the NSA has been collecting contact lists from personal e-mail and instant messaging programs [JURIST report] around the world in an attempt to combat terrorism or other criminal activity. The revelations surrounding NSA surveillance programs such as these ones and PRISM [JURIST backgrounder] have sparked worldwide debate and controversy. US Senators announced new legislation [JURIST report] last month in a bipartisan effort to reform surveillance laws. Earlier that month the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] urged the Obama administration [JURIST report] to curb the FBI's surveillance powers despite the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court's [official website] release of a previously classified opinion justifying [JURIST report] the need for the NSA's surveillance program. In August the Council of Europe [official website] expressed concern [JURIST report] over the UK reaction to the exposure of the US surveillance program. In June the ACLU in conjunction with the New York Civil Liberties Union [advocacy website] filed suit [JURIST report] against the NSA challenging its recently revealed phone data collection. Although the president and top officials have defended the surveillance as a lawful counterterrorism measure, several US lawmakers have called for a review [JURIST report] of the government's surveillance activity in light of recent reports revealing phone and Internet monitoring. Lawmakers have also called for a criminal investigation into the activities of Snowden, who came forward in early June as the whistleblower in the NSA surveillance scandal [JURIST podcast]. JURIST Guest Columnist Christina Wells argues that the broad provisions of the Espionage Act [text], under which Snowden is charged, raise significant First Amendment concerns [JURIST op-ed].

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