NSA's SKYNET Program May Be Killing Innocents, and Tested in MMOs

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NSA's SKYNET Program May Be Killing Innocents, and Tested in MMOs

The National Security Agency's SKYNET program, which uses metadata and learning algorithms to select targets for drone strikes, may be targeting thousands of innocent people.

The NSA's dramatically-titled SKYNET program was touted as a learning algorithm, a pseudo-intelligence that uses meta-data from cell phone records to create profiles of suspected terrorists. Now, close examination of documents leaked by Edward Snowden, and new declarations from whistle-blowers, are painting a bleaker picture: the program's chance for false positives is frighteningly high, and may have lead to the deaths of thousands of innocent people under the assumption they had extremist connections.

The documents released include slide presentations of SKYNET's methods and successes (here and here), from which much of this information was gleamed.

SKYNET would guide predator drone strikes, as well as death squads, based on the data it acquired - so just what kind of air-tight information could lead it to point out a person as a terrorist?

That largely comes down to social networks and location. Among the many points of data SKYNET examined were the movements of suspects (and suspects, to SKYNET, can include the entire population of a country such as Pakistan): travelling to or from a region with high terrorist activity, especially if the timing lines up such that you arrive just before or after a major event.

A person's social network also comes into play. At the risk of oversimplification, if person A calls or texts person B, who has already been flagged by SKYNET, person A will likely be flagged by the algorithm, as well.

Trying to protect one's own privacy also tips off SKYNET. A suspect that takes the battery out of their phone, changes a SIM card, and so forth, will be considered suspicious. Even turning the phone off can be seen as a way to evade detection.

One person touted as a "confirmed member of Al-Qa'ida" is a man named Ahmed Zaidan, who fit the profile of a terrorist perfectly, according to the NSA's standards. Zaidan travelled to and from locations where terrorist activity was known to occur, and had numerous phone conversations with known extremists. The thing is, Ahmed Zaidan is Al-Jazeera's Islamabad Bureau Chief - a journalist who covers terrorist activity and communicates directly with the factions involved.

Already, SKYNET's methods seem to break down. What's more, the algorithm required a base set of known extremists to be fed into it in order to develop its own profile of what an extremist might act like. The problem is that "known extremists" is actually a vanishingly small-sized sample, and the NSA supplemented the number by adding "suspected extremists" to the list.

On top of that, the program may have been in development for more than a decade, and its methods possibly tested on gamers.

The Escapist spoke to a former DARPA consultant, speaking under conditions of anonymity. He stated that the Department of Defense has been working on terrorist detection algorithms since at least 2000. As early as 2001, they knew they had a problem with false positives. The project the former consultant was involved with was an attempt to test those algorithms against massively multiplayer games. It's unclear how successful this attempt was, but gamers may have been the guinea pigs for these algorithms. (Note: The Escapist was not able to independently verify these allegations.)

It's unknown now, and may remain so forever, how many false positives SKYNET delivered, and how many of those were acted on by people with the power to.

For most of us, SKYNET seems far removed from our lives - but algorithms increasingly infiltrate our day-to-day. Would we notice when the results of these algorithms shift from being targeted marketing, to targeted arrests, or worse? It's a scary thought, and maybe it's naive. I'll leave that up to the Escapists; please, comment and share your thoughts on the matter.

Source: Ars Techinca

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...They seriously had to call it Skynet, didn't they?

Come on, even people who haven't watched those movies know that's just asking for trouble!

OT: Jesus Christ America, are you TRYING to become a nation of super villains? What the actual fuck guys?!

So long and thanks for all the fish.
*sigh*
The sad part is I'm not surprised.

The NSA is just The Worst. They just flat need to be shut down.

This isn't a Taco News post.

Why isn't this a Taco News post?

Why is this something that is actually happening?!

Who THE FUCK calls their "We're gonna rain death from the sky" program SKYNET... Like what possesses you to do that? You could theoretically have called this anything. Evil sky no people planes death program... at least that way when they integrate AI into the mix, we'll have an appropriate name for the thing that kills us, instead of everyone making jokes about how we should call Arnold...

The Rogue Wolf:
This isn't a Taco News post.

Why isn't this a Taco News post?

Why is this something that is actually happening?!

Don't worry. The Obama administration actually classifies all "military-aged males within a combat zone" as potential 'enemy-combatants.' The official government stats will claim many fewer civilian deaths.

Seriously though, if we do not know *specifically* who we're trying to kill, we should not order a freaking assassination attempt. That should not be some sort of insurmountabe barrier for the US government/military. If you want to murder the hell out of a *legitimate military target* with an anti-tank missile fired from a flying death-robot I don't think most people will have an issue with that. But all this BS with signature strikes (strikes where they literally have no specific target and they don't actually know who it is that they're killing) and killing people based on meta-data has got to stop. If you want to unilaterally execute someone, you gotta do the legwork beforehand to make sure 1: That you who you're freaking killing, and 2: That you don't also murder 30 civilians who happen to be around him at the time (hellfire missiles are not what you'd call surgical-grade tools).

Anything else is, at best tactically unsound and a waste of materials. At worst, it becomes some Doctor Doom, cartoon-supervillain shit that only creates more enemies for the US in the long run. Every single case of 'collateral damage' is someone else who may join al qaeda, or ISIS, or whoever else promises them the chance to kill the sumbitches that blew up their grandma with an anti-tank missile while she was rooting around in her garden (this is an actual case that has been confirmed to have happened).

I can't seem to place where I know that drone from.

Oh. Oh yeah.

The obvious stupid joke aside... I don't care if some geek thought this is funny. We already have a fundamental mistrust with government stemming from Wikileaks, Snowdon, Patriot Act, Hell, Apple flatout coming public that the government wanted backdoors on the hush.

And you fucking mock us with the name?

This is almost a "Let them eat cake" moment.

I dislike it when a news story says that they spoke to "perfectly reputable source full of juicy intel X who wishes to remain anonymous."

However I spoke to a professor of ethics in journalism at a prestigious Ivy League university, who also wishes to remain anonymous, and they assured me that everything is perfectly verified and that no one ever ever makes up unverifiable statements from unnamed sources about clickbait worthy news. Especially not the Escapist, as they are most known for their close governmental ties and hard hitting exposes on government overreach and not say quizzes to determine which Undertale character you'd pretend to makes small talk with in an elevator..

Asinine hyperbole aside, is this surprising to anyone? If you vote Trump you are essentially promoting an Austin Powers villain to run COBRA. Or HYDRA, idk which would be more appropriate.

So basically, it's Project Insight from Captain America: The Winter Soldier with the name of the big-bad from Terminator slapped on. And people in the American government thought this was a good idea.

A bit off-topic, but why is Ars Technica popping up all over the place as a site for technological news? I just saw it spring up about a week ago taking up most of my Google feed on my phone.

OT: I mean, what are the odds that the program we actually NAME SKYNET will be the prophesied SKYNET? That would just be silly. IT'D BE SILLY RIGHT? RIGHT?!
*runs from the room to read something intelligent and logical*

Ldude893:
So basically, it's Project Insight from Captain America: The Winter Soldier with the name of the big-bad from Terminator slapped on. And people in the American government thought this was a good idea.

Project Insight targeted exactly the people Hydra wanted dead. Skynet seems to have a Scorched Earth mentality.

KoudelkaMorgan:
I dislike it when a news story says that they spoke to "perfectly reputable source full of juicy intel X who wishes to remain anonymous."

That does always kind of suck, but after the way Assange, Snowden and Manning were treated (say what you want about them as individuals, but they did leak information that the American public *should* have been made aware of)... yeah, there's no way I'd ever put my name out there. Whisterblower protection laws seem to exist in name only nowadays. The Obama administration has charged more people under the espionage act than any other president in US history.

Asinine hyperbole aside, is this surprising to anyone? If you vote Trump you are essentially promoting an Austin Powers villain to run COBRA. Or HYDRA, idk which would be more appropriate.

Pretty much. Obama was supposed to be the liberal candidate (what a joke that turned out to be) and look at all of this crap he's encouraged and expanded under his watch. For those who are banking on Hilary, keep in mind that she always campaigned as "Like Obama, but more conservative on military/security issues," so yeah, not much hope on that front either I'm afraid.

Diablo1099:
...They seriously had to call it Skynet, didn't they?

Come on, even people who haven't watched those movies know that's just asking for trouble!

OT: Jesus Christ America, are you TRYING to become a nation of super villains? What the actual fuck guys?!

Now, would a nation of super villains put this on a spy satellite?

image

Wasn't an algorithm like this the central plot device of Winter Soldier? I'm not the only one who sees that connection, am I? And it's known that Zola's Algorithm was the reason why the military turned Marvel Studios down for a request for military subsidy money.

It just doesn't suggest good things to me.

Skynet? Skynet? SKY FUCKING NET?!?! You know what USA? Just build the Deathstar already and get it over and done with. I know you are working towards it so you might as well do it.

Jesus H. Christ. The thrust for power is just sickening and disgusting.

Because we toootally have a legitimate reason to have a network of learning killing machines flying in sovereign airspace and just terminating whoever gets automatically put on this list.

If anyone nation even comes forward and says the US is sending flying terminators to murder their citizens, what the fuck are you going to do? You named it SKYNET. You're admitting that's the fucking purpose.

Parasondox:
Skynet? Skynet? SKY FUCKING NET?!?! You know what USA? Just build the Deathstar already and get it over and done with. I know you are working towards it so you might as well do it.

Jesus H. Christ. The thrust for power is just sickening and disgusting.

I'd be less ashamed if they actually did build an Ion Cannon network. At least then it'd be admitting they just want to glass people.

Oh, but no, we couldn't possibly believe those "crazy" conspiracy nuts that have been talking about this sort of thing for years, right?

Bloody hell. Is this really what it takes to wake a few people up? The U.S. military using movie references as code-names for their overzealous military projects?

I feel like them naming it Skynet was meant to be a joke and I feel like people are taking the name more seriously than it needs to be.

There's no way they named it Skynet by accident. That's what makes it funny.

This is utterly sickening and a stark warning about the dangers when those in power abuse technology for their own ends.

At this point, I'd say the NSA is no better than the terrorists they claim to be fighting. They may even be worse, in fact. At least terrorists don't try to hide their true motives under a false pretense of patriotism while trampling on the very rights and ideals they claim to protect.

There, I said it. Now to wait for the men in suits to whisk me away for tortu-I mean, "enhanced interrogation."

Fucking hell. America you need to get your shit together i thought the fact that trump had serious supporters was going to be the dumbest thing you came up with this year but this is so dumb i honestly thought i was still asleep and dreaming or that the OP managed to get a news article from Taco. jesus, people are worried about Russia but at least when they kill people they do it on purpose. the US are going to wipe out the human race by accident

Is there any proof whatsoever anyone actually got killed just because they were flagged with this system, which they're obviously testing? Of course not, but why not make a news article anyway. Nobody cares.

Ldude893:
So basically, it's Project Insight from Captain America: The Winter Soldier with the name of the big-bad from Terminator slapped on. And people in the American government thought this was a good idea.

I'd argue that Project Insight and Hydra at least had clearer goals and better refined targeting algorithms. Plus those Helicarriers, man those are sweet.

I think that SKYNET is almost everything wrong with the US government summed up tidily into one neat package. Incompetency, greed, and wastes of money on violations of privacy, with the sickening waste of at least hundreds of innocent lives.

This is Captain America: The Winter Soldier meets Terminator. What the every loving fuck NSA?

It's important to note that nothing has been proved here, just doubts and rumor with zero evidence.

The entirety of modern US government is designed to appeal to psychopaths. Literally. So when you have that kind of system you're going to attract psychopaths and the worst ones are going to be in high places of power. This is the result of a psychopathic system.

Wow...

No really, wow.

Just as with the Apple and FBI thing, I cannot believe this is real.

Kudos to the Escapist for this article, and major, major shame on the NSA if this is all accurate.

We have a billion and one sci-fi movies, books, and games about drones being bad for a reason.

rcs619:

Don't worry. The Obama administration actually classifies all "military-aged males within a combat zone" as potential 'enemy-combatants.' The official government stats will claim many fewer civilian deaths.

And with the nature of drone warfare, basically the whole world can be classified as a combat zone. The traditional battlefield doesn't exist any more.

The US is way too far beyond a parody now. This apparent "joke" name seems more like a callous, self-fulfilling prophecy. Why won't somebody take these bloody dangerous toys off them before people get h...errm probably too late for that now. At least they can't lay a specific country's definition of rape charges on anyone's door this time in a suspiciously focused, one-off attempt at appearing to fight for justice. No wonder aliens won't visit, our alleged moral police are the worst hypocrites of the lot. We need an intervention, because the US aren't going to admit to any wrongdoing now, are they?

Bat Vader:
I feel like them naming it Skynet was meant to be a joke and I feel like people are taking the name more seriously than it needs to be.

There's no way they named it Skynet by accident. That's what makes it funny.

It's an algorithm designed to help *automate* the process of assassinating other human beings via flying death-robots and/or killsquads on the ground. It doesn't actually look for hard evidence if someone is actually a terrorist, merely that they kindasorta meet some broad criteria. Then they gave it an obviously jokey name on top of it all. Of course it was a joke, it was just in horrendously bad taste.

Nimcha:
Is there any proof whatsoever anyone actually got killed just because they were flagged with this system, which they're obviously testing? Of course not, but why not make a news article anyway. Nobody cares.

The issue is that they were trying to automate the signature strike program. Something which already seems to be an abject failure.

Basically the US drone program has two kinds of assassination methods. There are "Personality Strikes" where they know specifically who they are killing. This guy is a known Al Qaeda lieutenant. He's a known terrorist. We know he has done this and now we are going to kill him. I think that is generally okay, and I think most people will agree.

They also do what is known as "Signature Strikes" though. In a signature strike, we actually have no idea who we're killing, we just think that they were doing something kind of suspicious. Maybe it was a group of people with guns out on the border of Pakistan/Afghanistan. Maybe it was someone digging around in the dirt for some reason or another. So we lob a hellfire missile at them just to be sure. Unilaterally. Without actually knowing who they are. The issue is that, a lot of people in afghanistan and pakistan own guns. At a lot of weddings out there, they bring their guns and fire them into the air. So sometimes we lob an anti-tank missile into the middle of a wedding. Sometimes that afghan digging around in the dirt isn't planting an IED, or hiding something. Sometimes it's an old lady who is digging up her garden. We have no way to know, since we just splattered them into a billion pieces.

It's also common practice to do what is known as a "double-tap" with our drones. Basically, you lob a missile at your target, then you wait for a little bit. You wait until people come in to try and help the wounded, or recover the bodies, and then you launch a second missile at those people to kill them too. If you're doing this inside of a known terrorist compound, that's one thing, but this happens inside of towns and cities too, and a lot of the time all we're just killing first-responders and/or decent human beings. Double-taps are meant to send a message. Don't go and help those people bleeding out and screaming in pain from their burns and shrapnel wounds. You let them lay there and die, or you're going to get killed too.

Fun-fact, the double-tap is actually a common method employed by Al Qaeda suicide-bombers as well. For similar reasons.

Trying to get hard numbers on civilian deaths is tough though. The Obama administration classifies all "military-aged males within a combat zone" as potential enemy-combatants. Some of the estimates I've seen though... they don't look good for us. And who do you think these people blame for their family and friends getting splattered by a supersonic missile from the heavens? Do they blame Al Qaeda? Nope, they blame the people who pulled the trigger. They did a study, and it turns out that most Afghans have never even heard of 9/11. They don't know why we're there. All they know is that sometimes we kill people they care about. How do you think the pakistanis we kill feel about it? We aren't even at war with them.

What I find funny is people's reaction to this.

Terrorists murder an awful lot of people in cold blood: "OH NOES! We need to do something to stop this."

Government does something to stop terrorists: "OH NOES! We need to do something to stop this."

Sigh... Just give the keys of the White House to ISIS and be done with it.

The US government's capacity for evil seems never ending.

And apparently, Russia, North Korea, Iran, ISIS, China are the dangerous ones? Riiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight? And I'm the Pope.

PatrickJS:
the program's chance for false positives is frighteningly high, and may have lead to the deaths of thousands of innocent people under the assumption they had extremist connections.

I searched through the source linked in this article, as well as through the sources linked in that article and the links in the comments to it. I can't find anything to support this assessment. It's very clear from the slides given that the leaked documents were from a presentation on the research being done to find which algorithm best prunes the pool of people to investigate for terrorist leads. On top of that, the slides are from 2012, and the total death toll in the history of the drone program doesn't reach 5000. That's counting from back in 2004.

Also, isn't it a bit much to be assuming the tone of a presentation based on what appear to be just the power-point slides? The leaked documents don't include what the presenter actually said. Given that the final slide (from the original source) acknowledges major problems with the system, wouldn't it make just as much sense to assume the slide showing the al jazeera journalist was intended to show where the system needed work, especially given the three clearly contradictory statements it gives?

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