US and British intelligence services cracked the codes of Israeli drones operating in the Middle East and monitored their surveillance feeds in an operation dating back to 1998, according to documents attributed to leaks by former US spy agency contractor Edward Snowden.
Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper said the US National Security Agency, which specialises in electronic surveillance, and its British counterpart GCHQ spied on Israeli air-force missions against Syria and Iran.
Germany’s Der Spiegel news magazine and the online publication The Intercept also published reports which said the spy operation, codenamed “Anarchist”, was run out of a Cyprus base and also targeted other states, including Egypt and Turkey.
The reports said the intelligence agencies were able to see information that the drones and other aircraft broadcast back to their handlers. The Intercept report said the hacking granted intelligence agencies a “virtual seat in the cockpit” as Israeli drones hit militant targets. In one instance in 2008, an NSA internal newsletter boasted of the Anarchist programme successfully collecting video from the cockpit of an Israeli F-16 fighter, the report said.
Israel neither confirms nor denies having armed drones, and there was no official comment on the reports in the country. However, Israeli Cabinet minister Yuval Steinitz, who has held the post of minister of intelligence affairs, said: “We are not surprised; we know that the Americans spy on every country in the world and on us as well, on their friends.
“It is nevertheless disappointing because, among other reasons, we haven’t been spying or collecting intelligence or cracking codes in the United States for decades,” he told Army Radio.
“I do not think that this is the deepest kingdom of secrets, but it is certainly something that should not happen. We will now have to consider changing the encryption.”
Asked for comment, the US and Britain said through spokespeople for their embassies in Israel that they did not publicly discuss intelligence matters.
REUTERS; APReuse content