The NSA Actually Has A Program Called SKYNET — And It’s Terrifying


By Clarice Palmer at


A recent examination of National Security Agency documents previously released by whistleblower Edward Snowden shows that the CIA and other U.S. agencies may be killing innocent people as a result of their reliance on metadata.

The NSA’s SKYNET is a program that surveils phone metadata in order to track suspected terrorists. Through SKYNET, the security agency engages in mass surveillance of Pakistan’s mobile phone network, affecting 55 million people — but that’s not all. Once the data is gathered, it’s run through a machine learning algorithm that attempts to rate whether a particular individual is more or less likely to be a terrorist.

According to Human Rights Data Analysis’ executive director Patrick Ball, the NSA’s methods are “ridiculously optimistic” and “completely bullshit.” If Ball is correct, SKYNET’s methodology may be putting thousands of innocent lives in danger because they are being falsely identified as terrorists.

While Ball has raised many issues, one of the most important points, which NSA officials appear to be ignoring, is that the machine is only able to identify a terrorist if it has access to details pertaining to a great number of other known terrorists. According to New York Magazine, however, “there just aren’t that many known terrorists” who could be added to the machine’s list, “especially in comparison to the number of phones the NSA is monitoring in Pakistan.”

The documents made available by The Intercept show the NSA works with the data of only seven known terrorists. NSA officials reportedly feed six of the terrorists’ information into the machine, tasking SKYNET with the duty of finding the seventh in a random group of 100,000 citizens.

Ball says this system cannot work.

According to Ars Technica, there were about 120 million cellular handsets in use in Pakistan at the end of 2012. At the time, the NSA analyzed 55 million of those records. With only “80 variables on 55 million Pakistani mobile phone users, there is obviously far too much data to make sense of manually,”Ars Technica explained.

Like any other application targeting big data, SKYNET is used as a substitute for “human reason and judgment,”Ars Technica’s Christian Grothoff and J.M. Porup explain.

Similar apps, like the one used by Facebook, are prone to making major mistakes, but the consequences of Facebook’s errors are relatively innocuous. When SKYNET makes similar mistakes by wrongly identifying a terrorist, the consequences are deadly.

Ars Technica contends that the information harvested and analyzed by NSA is “likely” used by the CIA or the U.S. military, two agencies that execute “Find-Fix-Finish” strategies with the help of Predator drones or “on-the-ground death squads.”

Before feeding the information to the CIA or the military, SKYNET uses information on people’s typical daily routines to tell a story. According to the NSA documents, the Ars Technica analysis details, the “program … is based on the assumption that the behaviour of terrorists differs significantly from that of ordinary citizens” when it comes to the more than 80 different properties they use to rate people.

With terrorist organizations upping their efforts to remain undetected, it’s hard to see how SKYNET could be effective, especially after learning that Al-Jazeera’s bureau chief in Islamabad, Ahmad Zaidan, was once SKYNET’s highest rated target.

In 2014, the former director of both the CIA and NSA, Michael Hayden, proudly claimed they “kill people based on metadata.”

To Ball, the NSA has a major problem on their hands if they “are using the same records to train the model as they are using to test the model.

Because there is such a small number of known terrorists to work with, the number of possible terrorists is not sufficiently narrowed down. Ball explains the “usual practice is to hold some of the data out of the training process so that the test includes records the model has never seen before. Without this step, their classification fit assessment is ridiculously optimistic.

If the NSA is serious about being accurate, Ball told Ars Technica, the agency should mix the terrorists into the population set “before random selection of a subset.” But the low number of known terrorists makes this particular step hard to follow. Without a “scientifically-sound statistical analysis,” there is no accuracy.

President Barack Obama has been under heavy scrutiny for authorizing drone campaigns that result in gross mistakes, killing a great number of innocent people while targeting “confirmed terrorists.” Since 2004, there have been 401 US drone strikes in Afghanistan, alone, killing 3,058 people total. In Pakistan, hundreds, including children, have died in pursuit of a mere two dozen declared terrorists.

This article (The NSA Actually Has A Program Called SKYNET — And It’s Terrifying) is free and open source. You have permission to republish this article under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Clarice Palmer Anti-Media Radio airs weeknights at 11 pm Eastern/8 pm Pacific. If you spot a typo, please email the error and name of the article to[email protected].


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  1. as an AI expert. i will tell you that this kind of tech is possible.
    i did research on it myself and wrote up a design. but ran into trouble with the mafia so i have not released the design and just moved on programming other AI’s

    if “skynet” marks you as active. the Gov’t puts you on a watchlist. it will know when you turn and the circumstances surrounding that event.
    gov’t still needs evidence to arrest you but skynet’s active marker serves as grounds for reasonable suspicion.

      • Drumm roll and George also made a better version of T10000 running on baloney

        ? What does a active programme that scan, index and store data from a mobil network have to do with AI.

        • Actually they use AI’s like neural networks & far more developed technologies to analyze collected data for more than 20 years now.

          Those modules applies in nearly every kind of modern technologies, like robots, databases, Tracking application, etc and they imoprove theirselfs and learning to perfect their work.
          You don’t think all those things done by human, right?

  2. I don’t think the author of this website has fully appreciated the gravity of what this could actually be used for. They describe what it is, what it does, and briefly what it’s capable of. I am forced to read between the lines and see a deeper meaning, a deeper purpose. This next bit is merely a retelling of conspiracy, but this SKYNET thing has GREAT potential to be a wonderful asset in the conspiracy. Allow me to explain.

    We’ve all heard the conspiracy theories regarding, The New World Order (NWO). When I think about the ultimate goal behind the New World Order conspiracy, one that we are already living in (at least in theory) This would be the perfect “maintenance weapon”. This article stated I quote “program … is based on the assumption that the behaviour of terrorists differs significantly from that of ordinary citizens” when it comes to the more than 80 different properties they use to rate people.

    Anyone who doesn’t behave the way an NWO would want good little sheeple to bahave, for instance, someone says no when they are supposed to say yes, begins exhibiting traits that are out of the ordinary, and that begins the process of, as they put it, “Find-Fix-Finish”. Let’s remove this potential threat to our system from the equation so our system can continue to operate and we continue our sinister plans.

    Again, it’s just a conspiracy that I was reminded of. I just see this technology as a potentially powerful weapon in the hands of the wrong people. Personally, I don’t feel as though this should exist, but just my opinion.

    • Yup, and it will happen some day, a question about time when it is fully developed.

      USA for sure it will happen, they are already doing it on manually now.

      J.F. Kenndy was one of the examples, and his family I have red dont exist anymore due to countless accidents.

      It will be the best tool in the arsenal for any government to find those who dont want to do as told, and take them out before they convert the rest of the sheep say no.

      Nazi Germany, China, Russia, and USA, all would love this SKYNET.

  3. George wagenknecht. That sounds very real, kinda scary story. But don’t let “mafia” or the likes of sort stop you from doing the right thing (if that’s what you where doing) we are all capable of great things. The truth hurt’s the worst of people.
    Also I have to get this point across that i’ve been thinking about. People on a regular basis call other’s Tin foil hat’s or conspiracy nut’s that are fearmongered by agencies and all this tech stuff that keep an eye on us. Now I want to ask If all these things like SKYNET and Agency’s like NSA supposably creating the dark net to see what kind of entities get into that sorta shit. Im wondering, who’s actually the scared fuckers? I know it isn’t us. Don’t be scared ever. Even if you get killed, all your problems go away because your dead yes?

  4. How can you rely on imformatio that is so unsucure. I personally have had several phones hacked into without my knowledge, the security based of suck a manipulated system is ridiculous. The NSA sould be doing more to protect our data qnd internet seceritys then trying to find out who could be who!

  5. very scary stuff. i got to agree with mistic291, a system with those capabilities could easily be used to target those who dont obey the governments agenda. i mean, sure, they tell us it can help detect terrorists. what we are not told is what their definition of a terrorist is, seeing as its constantly changing and getting larger. its to the point that if you dont agree with the governments actions, know how corrupt the system is and you publicly speak of change, you can be labeled a homegrown terrorist and charged with conspiracy to overthrow the united states government. even if its not like that and you want change. anyways as scary as it is, if it is used for purposes like that and not only hunting terrorists is because they fear us more than we fear them. we are in the great age of knoledge. thanks to instant communications through tv, phone and internet we can communicate like never before, which has lead to more and more people becoming self-aware of their role in the world. with millions of americans now aware this is not just a conspiracy and a growing number of those who want change, everyday that passes, everyday person that opens their eyes to the truth, becomes a threat to the establishment. so yeah, thy should be afraid: “people should not fear their government, it is the governments that should fear their people”-v

  6. This is pretty worrying, that the government is using a unreliable machine due to the fact that we have a uncaring and corrupt government you can’t help but feelconcerned about this the likely hood is that when an AI is created ( not if as it is been proven that we can create a AI) this would be installed in to the system not to mention if there is an error in that system this could put huge masses of the population in danger. With this technology they could simply appose all against them. However if a new kind of government
    That is NOT influenced by the dark secrets and betrayal such as turkey, given time this could prove beneficial to the world as stopping terrorists from attacking civilians like you or me. But only use it to a certain point to hopefully mimilise mistakes. If anyone bothers reading this then hopefully you might understand. =4¢€

  7. How to Identify a terrorist with the precision of the U.S. Government:
    Step 1. Look through everyone’s private information against their will.
    Step 2. Check for any Muslims or information relevant to oil.
    Step 3. Once you find the Muslim/Oil, rally everyone against it and some other large group that is only remotely relevant to your false data.
    Step 4. Invade and “confiscate” anything valuable or useful the aforementioned “terrorist(s)” could have been using to do something… “Terrorist-related”
    Step 5. ??? (No need to inform the citizens of anything they wouldn’t like)
    Step 6. Profit

  8. How can anyone be so *#&$ing retarded. Is this serious. Let’s take this logic and apply it elsewhere.

    Police keep records of where crimes occur, and map it using GIS technology. You can see areas where violent crimes happen more often because there are a bunch of data points clustered in that area. By this author’s amazing logic, the police would be just looking at that map, and then going to the corner of 5th and Illuminat St, and just arresting and shooting random people because the computer told them so. The writer assumes that these veteran detectives, and the intel analysts with 3 PhD’s each are completely incapable of human thought or rational analysis.

    I would like to see you sift through the comms of a billion plus people in the Middle East and South Asia looking for the 0.001% of the population who are terrorists, with a team of ten people COMPLETELY MANUALLY with no reference starting point whatsoever and see what you find ten years later after all those terrorists you should’ve found have died of old age and suicide attacks because you’re a fu#king retard that doesn’t understand the most basic concepts about how humans using computers work.

    Obviously the name SKYNET is a joke. People in the military name things after strippers pop culture references and all kinds of random crap as long as the person approving the name doesn’t get the sex pun hidden inside of it. Also, if it was true that the US intel community only knows of 7 whole terrorists in all of Pakistan, which it isn’t, then that would be even more reason for them to take any leads they’ve got and use basic fuc$ing SEARCH ENGINE technology. This is how humans using computers works.

    Have fun scrolling through 3 billion people on Facebook just to find that one childhood friend who changed their phone number, because you’re ethically against using basic AI to narrow down results for you. F&#^ing retards.


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