Top Secret documents allegedly stolen by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden detail al Qaeda’s efforts to develop ways to electronically jam or hijack American drones, according to a report by The Washington Post.
The Post reported there is no evidence the terror group ever succeeded in either of those tactics, but shows that U.S. intelligence officials have been closely monitoring their progress in targeting technically-savvy “specialists” for recruitment.
The Top Secret report, titled “Threats to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles,” is a “summary of dozens of intelligence assessments posted by U.S. spy agencies since 2006,” according to The Post.
The Post reported the U.S. intelligence community believes al Qaeda faces “substantial” obstacles in beating drone technology but acknowledges there are technological weak spots in the system.
America’s controversial drone program, used by both the CIA and the military, has allegedly killed more than 3,000 people abroad since the early 2000s, including at least four American citizens. In addition to targeted militants, critics claim the death toll includes hundreds of civilians – an allegation strongly disputed by U.S. intelligence officials.
There also has been concern over the cyber security of the unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), following years-old reports militants had hacked into the video feeds of surveillance drones and claims by Iran that their military had managed to remotely hijack one in 2011. Though U.S. officials acknowledged the video feed hack when it was discovered in 2009, both intelligence and industry officials disputed Iran’s claim.
Last year a University of Texas professor demonstrated how it would be possible to “spoof” a drone’s GPS system to trick it into flying off course, but a longtime industry official told ABC News the drones used by the CIA and the military use encryption and other security measures that would defend against that particular tactic.
Short of taking the drones over, al Qaeda has also instructed its operatives on how to avoid the flying robots using little more than their wits, according to a document discovered by The Associated Press in Mali in February.
The Post’s report is the latest in a new series published by the newspaper based on secret documents passed on to it by former NSA contractor and American fugitive Edward Snowden. In past days reports have given insight into the intelligence community’s super secret “black budget,” the immense effort the community puts into spying and monitoring its ally Pakistan and America’s aggressive, offensive cyber operations.
Snowden, who has been charged with espionage-related crimes in the U.S., is currently in Russia after being granted temporary asylum there.