Snowden Leak Proves That NSA And GCHQ Spied On Israeli Drones Using Open Source Tools

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Short Bytes: According to the latest documents provided by Edward Snowden to The Intercept, NSA and GCHQ were involved in surveillance activities pertaining to Israeli and Syrian drones presumed to be carrying weapons. The security agencies performed a collaborative operation codenamed Anarchist which was revealed in these documents leaked by the NSA Whistleblower.

It was in 2013 when Edward Snowden used TOR to bust the global secret surveillance activities conducted by NSA, revealing around 1.7 million files as estimated by the United States Officials. Three years have passed, but the NSA authorities can still feel the impact in their head. The Intercept has published some snapshots that reveal more about the surveillance activities conducted by the American and British security agencies.

The images contribute as a part of the documents obtained by The Intercept from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, which account for a series of surveillance operations led by Britain’s GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters) in assistance with its American counterpart NSA. The purpose of the operations was to intercept analogue video feeds from Israeli and Syrian drones presumed to be carrying missiles.

Codenamed as “Anarchist”, the video interception mission by GCHQ and NSA involved the exploit of satellite and radio communication signals in east Mediterranean and Levant regions which was conducted at the GCHQ station at the Royal Air Force communication base situated in Troodos Mountains of Cyprus.

A training module was issued to the analysts to guide them with available open source tools and methods to process scrambled imagery obtained from Israeli drones. Instructions were mentioned to capture the video footage frames in BMP format images with the use of M2Extra.

GCHQ used open source software like AntiSky to break down commercial satellite encryption. AntiSky was developed by Dr. Markus Kuhn, Computer Laboratory at the University of Cambridge. The software allows anyone to peep through the satellite signals and then use his expertise to come up with some meaningful outcome. However, digital video signals used by some drones might pose difficulty for the analysts appointed by the security agencies.

The computing power needed to descramble the images in near real time is considerable without the use of dedicated hardware such as a video capture card that can record uncompressed images. It is still possible to descramble individual frames to determine the image content without making too much effort.

— Cited from the Anarchist Training Module “ISUAV Video Descrambling”, released by The Intercept.

NSA and CGHQ Surveillance snaphot of Heron TP

Image | The Intercept

A 6-minute video footage was captured by the analysts on January 28, 2010, featuring a Heron TP – manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries – carrying a heavy weapon, probably a missile that is clearly visible on the left wing.

“It certainly looks like the missile-shaped objects are weapons. The bodies appear to have cruciform tail fins. The distortion makes it a bit hard to tell size, but — assuming they are bombs — these are definitely less than 500-pound class,” says the Aviation Week editor Bill Sweetman.

Several more signals were intercepted on different dates and the analysts arrived at the conclusion that the Israeli and Syrian militaries were using IAI Heron, IAI Eitan, and Aeronautics Aerostar Tactical – “This is the standard IAI Heron, which can be recognized by the shape of the satellite communications radome,” said Sweetman in reference to an image captured on April 26, 2009 – loaded with weapons.

Another blurred snapshot – which was “too poor to process” according to an Anarchist document – was recorded on August 25, 2009. The same day when several Palestinians were killed in a Gaza smuggler tunnel bombing conducted by IDF. A 14-second video footage from January 3, 2008, captured by Menwith Hill NSA surveillance site, was of an Israeli F-16 fighter plane, “showed an ‘unbroken line’ running through the targeting display, indicating that the target being tracked was on the ground”. The footage could be related to Gaza strip airstrikes that killed nine people. NSA did pat its back for intercepting the footage in an internal newsletter published in March 2008.

The Intercept writes,

A 2010 GCHQ report includes stills from a video captured by Anarchist that “revealed multiple video streams from different cameras.” The report explains that “this is potentially a significant upgrade to the normal analogue video we see, this new system adds the capability to see a number of video feeds simultaneously.” It concludes that “we currently have no collection system capable of processing this signal due to the high data rate and complexity of the underlying data,” and suggests expanding capabilities in order to capture such videos.

Clearly, the report did express GCHQ and NSA’s concern to intercept the digital video footage and advanced communication methods utilized in newer Israeli drones.