When a spy agency decides to call one of its various tracking programs Skynet, it's just screwing with us, right?
A troubling report about a journalist misidentified as a terrorist from The Intercept has revealed that the National Security Agency actually has a program called Skynet.
If you've never seen the Terminator movies, here's a crash course. If you have, you understand why this is so morbidly hilarious.
The NSA's Skynet is unlikely to become self-aware and wipe out humanity, but it is tracking people's whereabouts using phone metadata. The reveal was provided by documents from none other than Edward Snowden.
The Intercept calls Skynet "a program that analyzes location and communication data (or “metadata”) from bulk call records in order to detect suspicious patterns ... the NSA uses its version of SKYNET to identify people that it believes move like couriers used by Al Qaeda’s senior leadership."
But Skynet doesn't always get it right, as would be expected. You know who also "moves like couriers"? Journalists reporting on said activity.
From The Intercept:
The briefing singles out Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan, Al Jazeera’s longtime Islamabad bureau chief, as a member of the terrorist group. A Syrian national, Zaidan has focused his reporting throughout his career on the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and has conducted several high-profile interviews with senior Al Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden.
A slide dated June 2012 from a National Security Agency PowerPoint presentation bears his photo, name, and a terror watch list identification number, and labels him a “member of Al-Qa’ida” as well as the Muslim Brotherhood. It also notes that he “works for Al Jazeera.”
Zaidan has denied being part of Al-Qaeda. He has, however, spent a lot of time in Pakistan and Afghanistan – conducting interviews and such.
Earlier this week, a federal appeals court ruled that the NSA's bulk metadata collection is illegal.