The Targeting Of Doctors

Since the horrific attack on a Médecins Sans Frontières Hospital in Kabul it’s become clear armed, Geneva Convention defying, military action against unarmed Doctors and First Responders and their injured patients is a tactic of choice in certain areas, notably Yemen under the undeniable sponsorship of the Saudis and in Syria where, like most things, responsibility is somewhat more murky though you can make a plausible case that the bulk of it is being carried out by the Asaad government under Russian sponsorship (they are, after all, the only participants with any air capability to speak of).

One would think that should the shoe ever be on the other foot the exceptional citizens of the United States might object to invading forces that sniped at Police and Firemen and bombed Emergency Rooms and Medical Staff.

When we do it, it’s all good of course and you’re unpatriotic to suggest otherwise but that’s not the only way that we spy on Doctors.

How the U.S. Spies on Medical Nonprofits and Health Defenses Worldwide
by Jenna McLaughlin, The Intercept
Aug. 10 2016, 11:47 a.m.

As part of an ongoing effort to “exploit medical intelligence,” the National Security Agency teamed up with the military-focused Defense Intelligence Agency to extract “medical SIGINT” from the intercepted communications of nonprofit groups starting in the early 2000s, a top-secret document

Medical intelligence can include information about disease outbreaks; the ability of a foreign regime to respond to chemical, biological, and nuclear attacks; the capabilities of overseas drugs companies; advances in medical technology; medical research, and the medical response capabilities of various governments, according to the document and others like it, provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. The documents show that such intelligence is used in efforts to protect U.S. forces, assess the readiness of foreign armies, create opportunities for U.S. diplomats to build goodwill, uncover chemical weapons programs, identify specific bio-weapons facilities, and study how diseases spread.

The existence and broad contours of U.S. medical intelligence collection have been previously disclosed (as has one of its more nefarious uses, in which the flow of medical supplies would be used to hunt down a targeted individual
). But a top-secret, previously-unreleased article published in November 2003
in the NSA’s internal newsletter, SIDtoday, details the birth of a collaboration between the agency and the DIA’s National Center for Medical Intelligence, then known as the Armed Forces Medical Intelligence Center.

The joint effort to mine “medical SIGINT” is particularly noteworthy 13 years later, as medical devices and body monitors are increasingly connected to the internet, opening up new possibilities to expand intelligence gathering beyond epidemics and bioweapons and into more focused forms of surveillance. The NSA’s deputy director, Richard Ledgett, said in June that the spy agency was “looking … theoretically” at exploiting biomedical devices like pacemakers in order to surveil targets, even as he admitted that there are often easier ways to spy.

The NSA did not comment on the collaboration. Speaking on behalf of DIA, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not answer specific questions about the partnership, instead writing, via a spokesperson, that “from forecasting and tracking infectious disease outbreaks to assessing foreign health threats, medical intelligence is key to protecting our deployed forces from a wide range of threats across the globe.”

One of the more prominent examples of focused medical spying came in 2010, when the agency crafted a plan to stow tracking devices with medical supplies bound for an ill Osama bin Laden in order to locate the terrorist leader, as detailed in Snowden documents published by The Intercept last year. It’s unclear if the plan was ever carried out.

John Schindler, a writer, former NSA intelligence analyst, and former professor of national security affairs at the U.S. Naval War College described the medical intelligence capabilities in the U.S. government in a blog post as “decidedly unique,” claiming the NCMI is “the only full-fledged medical intelligence outfit on earth.”

Further information from the 2013 budget request identifies other goals of the National Center for Medical Intelligence: tracking “foreign pharmaceutical industry capabilities,” “health-related opportunities for US diplomatic/goodwill efforts,” “foreign military and civilian health care and response capabilities and trends,” and “foreign medical advances for defense against chemical, biological, radiological, and nuclear warfare.”

And the budget request specifically targeted research in Afghanistan and Pakistan, to gather information about “military and civilian medical capabilities” as well as funds to allow analysts to “support joint targeting and no-strike list selection for medical facilities.”


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