NSA spies get bird's-eye-view from hacking Israeli drones

NSA spies get bird's-eye-view from hacking Israeli drones
British and American spies have been snooping on Israeli drone operations for 'insight to future developments in the region' and any intel on a potential strike against Iran.
3 min read
29 January, 2016
Israeli drones operate from the occupied Golan Heights and elsewhere [AFP]
US and British intelligence agencies have been spying on Israeli drone operations since 1998, after cracking the Israeli military's encryption code, it has been revealed.

The US National Security Agency and its British counterpart, GCHQ, conducted a major intelligence operation, code-named Anarchist, to track the transmissions of Israeli aircraft, according to classified information leaked by US whistle-blower Edward Snowden.

"In times of crisis this access is critical and one of the only avenues to provide up to the minute information and support to US and Allied operations in the area," a GCHQ report from 2008 revealed.

Such access provided spymasters with "an insight to possible future developments in the region", the report added.

The NSA and GCHQ were able to hack into live video feeds from the cockpit of Israeli drone aircraft which were being broadcast back to command centres.
'Anarchist' analysts were also able to collect video from the cockpit of an Israeli Air Force F-16 fighter jet

"Anarchist" analysts were also able to "collect video for the first time from the cockpit of an Israeli Air Force F-16 fighter jet", during Tel Aviv's military campaign against Gaza in 2008, "which showed a target on the ground being tracked," reported The Intercept, which broke the story along with German newspaper Der Spiegel.

Remotely piloted aircraft operated by Israel over Gaza and the West Bank, the Golan Heights, and Lebanon - among other areas in the region - were reportedly the focus of the operation.

GCHQ files indicate that the intelligence agencies also "monitored drones for a potential strike against Iran", according to the investigative website.

GCHQ documents state that US and British intelligence analysts also spied on the small number of drones used by Syria and Hizballah in Lebanon, including an Iranian-made aircraft flying out of a Syrian base in 2012. They also hacked into systems in Egypt, Turkey, and Iran.

Israel does not acknowledge nor denies that it flies attack drones, the same ambiguity it applies in public towards its nuclear weapons programme.

The spy project was mainly operated from a Royal Air Force installation in the Troodos Mountains of Cyprus.

Antennas at Troodos grabbed transmissions from drones to their home station simply by tuning into the right frequency for each aircraft, a not-so-sophisticated operation, according to The Intercept, unless the feed is encrypted.

But the Israeli military apparently worked hard on encrypting drone transmissions - and thought they had made them completely secure.

The Intercept reported that Israeli exports of sophisticated drone technology across the globe was a concern jointly held by spy chiefs in the US and UK, a concern that sparked the "Anarchist" programme.