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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - LONDON: A top UK spy has revealed how a secret mission successfully jammed Daesh drones in Syria.
Jeremy Fleming, director of GCHQ — Britain’s signals intelligence agency — told Sky News how the UK had used cyberattacks to thwart the terrorist group’s activities.
The revelation is the first time the listening agency has admitted to using technology against a Daesh capability other than propaganda.
“We piloted some early technologies to disrupt (Daesh’s) use of some pretty basic drone technology, which was causing us a problem,” Fleming said. “We used cyber techniques to affect how a drone operated.”
Gen. Sir Patrick Sanders, head of the British Army’s strategic command, told the podcast: “We wanted to ensure that when they tried to coordinate attacks on our forces, their devices didn’t work, that they couldn’t trust the orders that were coming to them.”
He added: “We wanted to deceive them and to misdirect them, to make them less effective, less cohesive and sap their morale. But you can’t just do that in cyberspace. You have to coordinate and integrate that with activities that are going on on the ground.”
Fleming said the disruption of Daesh communication gave military commanders fighting the terror group on the ground and with air power “the element of surprise.”
He did not comment on whether Britain had used similar tactics against another state, but said it is “available to governments to use in that context.”
Philip Ingram, a former senior UK military intelligence officer, told Arab News: “The admission by GCHQ that they took active measures in cyberspace to disrupt Daesh drones isn’t unexpected. The terrorist group’s use of commercially available technologies makes them especially vulnerable, and the communications mechanisms, location services, and command and control links are all known and can be disrupted.”
He said: “The capability is the next step up from what was electronic warfare, where signals could be jammed. Now GPS and other navigation systems can be spoofed into thinking they’re somewhere different, and data linkages can be effected in a number of ways.”
He added: “What’s scary is the same disruptive technologies could be used for other electronically controlled systems. Sophisticated warfare is certainly coming of the cyber age.”
Ingram said Daesh has “been trialing drones and using them for some time in Syria and Iraq in an offensive as well as information-gathering role. They’ve experimented and used drones to drop explosive ordinance.”
He added: “Terror groups have discussed the potential use of drones to carry out attacks, including instructions on how to modify them, so the threat is very real.”
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