Previous Snowden leaks have focused on the excesses of government surveillance, but a new story in The Washington Post looks at a case in which NSA surveillance was turned towards its original purpose: tracking foreign militants. The piece tells the story of Hassan Ghul, a known Bin Laden associate who was captured in Iraq in 2004, released in Pakistan in 2007, and killed by a drone strike in October of last year. According to the Snowden documents, the key breakthrough for the recent strike came from an email, sent by Ghul's wife, detailing her current living conditions. That was enough for analysts to pinpoint Ghul's location, and send the drone that killed him less than a month later.
The program involved many tools revealed in previous leaks, like email monitoring, targeted malware and captured encryption keys. In Ghul's case, it took nearly a year of tracking across a variety of electronic devices before the agency could bring about a successfully targeted drone strike. Checking with former CIA officials, the Post says the files are an accurate reflection of the NSA's role in the current action in the tribal areas of northwest Pakistan, which has killed thousands of alleged militants and hundreds of civilians.