Israel appears to have increased encryption across its drone fleet following spying by the UK as part of a US National Security Agency (NSA) led snooping program using a method similar to that used to protect the signals of subscriber-only TV channels.
Israel also expanded encryption or scrambling of the feeds grabbed by UK's intelligence analysts based in the Greek Troodos mountains, showing up like the black-and-white snow on a TV screen.
The Intercept report published last Saturday cited UK Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) Anarchist training manuals from 2008, analysts took snapshots of live signals and would process them for “poor quality signals, or for scrambled video.”
Anarchist is a codename used for a classified spying program by the GCHQ along with NSA.
Several of the snapshots, a subset collected in 2009 and 2010, appear to show drones carrying missiles. Although they are not clear enough to be conclusive, the images offer rare visual evidence to support reports that Israel flies attack drones — an open secret that the Israeli government won’t acknowledge.
“There’s a good chance that we are looking at the first images of an armed Israeli drone in the public domain,” said Chris Woods, author of Sudden Justice, a history of drone warfare. “They’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to suppress information on weaponized drones.”
The Intercept published a selection of drone images on its website.
According to the report, Anarchist operated from a Royal Air Force installation in the Troodos Mountains, near Mount Olympus, the highest point on Cyprus. The Troodos site “has long been regarded as a ‘Jewel in the Crown’ by NSA as it offers unique access to the Levant, North Africa, and Turkey,” according to an article from GCHQ’s internal wiki.
NSA and GCHQ tracked weapons signals from Troodos, and earlier reporting on the Snowden documents indicated that the NSA targeted Israeli drones and an Israeli missile system for tracking, but the details of the operations have not been previously disclosed, the magazine in its earlier report said.
The US and the British had virtual control over the cockpits of the Israeli drones when the nation launched airstrikes against Palestinian militants in Gaza in 2008.