“The story gained some morbid attention earlier today when a Financial Times
employment reporter named Sarah O’Connor tweeted the story, not
realizing the connection between her name and character who has a
similar name (Sarah Connor) in the Terminator series. Her tweet was retweeted more than 3,500 times and
she received an influx of messages making jokes about the news.”
In the Terminator franchise, Skynet is an evil military computer system that launches war on humanity. And at some point, someone in the National Security Agency sat down and thought, “Damn, that’s a sick thing to name a secret system!”
Malevolent undertones of aspirations to unchecked aggression be damned, I guess, because Skynet is real. A report from The Intercept today detailed how the NSA’s Skynet program uses metadata to pick out potential terrorists from bulk data collection. (You know, the kind of bulk data collection ruled unlawful by a court yesterday.)
According to the presentation, the NSA uses its version of SKYNET to identify people that it believes move like couriers used by Al Qaeda’s senior leadership. The program assessed Zaidan as a likely match, which raises troubling questions about the U.S. government’s method of identifying terrorist targets based on metadata.
As other documents from Snowden revealed, drone targets are often identified in part based on metadata analysis and cell phone tracking. Former NSA director Michael Hayden famously put it more bluntly in May 2014, when he said, “we kill people based on metadata.”
This isn’t the first time the NSA was inspired by major motion pictures— Director Keith Alexander built his war room to resemble Star Trek’s Starship Enterprise. But it does underline in big fat marker how tone-deaf the NSA can be. Still waiting to hear about its HAL 9000 program.