Skynet, the fictional cybernetic warfare system with its own independent Artificial Intelligence (AI)-driven central computing core, is real. Leaked NSA documents highlight the capability of the system to pinpoint and locate high-value targets in real time and then continuously monitor them, as well.
Made famous by the Terminator movies, Skynet became quite a reference to any government spying programs and neatly surmised people’s distrust about the tech-dominated future. However, it turns out Skynet is or was a real thing. It is the name given to an actual multi-technological surveillance program, conducted under the watch of the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA).
NSA, which has become a household name since the information about its PRISM program leaked, had one more security program called Skynet that “monitors the location and communication patterns of suspects of interest by harvesting mobile network metadata and bulk call records,” reported the Intercept last month.
We owe the information to controversial NSA whistleblower and former CIA contractor Edward Snowden. He says that Skynet is defined as follows.
“A collaborative cloud research effort. Skynet applies complex combinations of geospatial, geo-temporal, pattern-of-life, and travel analytics to bulk DNR data to identify patterns of suspect activity.”
The top-secret documents comprise of internal PowerPoint presentations that highlight how Skynet was used to keep tabs on journalist and long-serving Al Jazeera correspondent Ahmad Muaffaq Zaidan. It was believed Zaidan was serving as a “courier,” moving information between terrorist agents. The documents, many details of which have been redacted, describes how Skynet is able to analyze the movements and behaviors of mobile phone users. Skynet is able to intelligently ascertain “high-scoring selectors who are considered likely candidates to be terrorist couriers.”
Citing the example of the journalist, the presentation stated, “Zaidan is the highest scoring selector that traveled to Peshawar and Lahore.” Zaidan is marked as a member of al-Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood who “works for Al Jazeera.” He has vehemently denied the allegations and in turn has strongly criticized the covert surveillance methods that labelled him as a terrorist.
“For us to be able to inform the world, we have to be able to freely contact relevant figures in the public discourse, speak with people on the ground, and gather critical information. Any hint of government surveillance that hinders this process is a violation of press freedom and harms the public’s right to know. To assert that myself, or any journalist, has any affiliation with any group on account of their contact book, phone call logs, or sources is an absurd distortion of the truth and a complete violation of the profession of journalism.”
These revelations undoubtedly add fire to the accusations flying high against NSA. While the Skynet mentioned here may not be planning to strike against humans, yet, the report does suggest just how many ways stored metadata can be used against unsuspecting individuals.
[Image Credit: Win McNamee / Getty Images]