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Image credit: SSGT Reynaldo Ramon, USAF

US, UK intelligence agencies cracked Israeli drone data

The program, code-named "Anarchist," has been going on for years.
SSGT Reynaldo Ramon, USAF

The National Security Agency and the UK's Government Communication Headquarters have been hacking into Israeli drones to observe military operations and areas of interest in the Middle East, according to The Intercept. "Anarchist," as the program was called, saw technicians at a GCHQ facility in Cyprus routinely intercept video feeds over the course of several years, with some of the most telling bits winding up among the documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

It's unclear whether the operation was ever able to decode drone video feeds in anything close to real time — an Anarchist manual obtained by The Intercept pointed to the need for "considerable" computing power — but there was plenty to learn from the still images teams were able to crack. Anarchist, for instance, discovered further evidence that Israeli deployed armed drones in the skies over the Middle East, something the Israeli government has never officially acknowledged. Beyond just images, Anarchist also yielded flight path data for those unmanned vehicles.

Anarchist technicians pulled off the unscrambling feat with the help of open-source software like ImageMagick and AntiSky, a fascinating video image decryption program developed in 1994 by the University of Cambridge's Dr. Markus Kuhn. Once done, pertinent details were snipped and circulated as "Anarchist snapshots" to officials and staff.

Analysts also set their sights on drones being launched from Syria — possibly by Hezbollah, though this wasn't confirmed, but Israel remained Anarchist's prime subject.

"Due to the political situation of the region there is a requirement for Israeli UAV operations in certain areas to be intercepted and exploited so that assessments can be made on what possible actions maybe [sic] taking place," a 2008 memo to analysts read.

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