News Column

Al-Qaida Seeks to Hijack Drones

September 9, 2013

Washington Post

U.S. Predator drone (file photo)

Al-Qaida's leadership has assigned cells of engineers to find ways to shoot down, jam or remotely hijack U.S. drones, hoping to exploit the technological vulnerabilities of a weapons system that has inflicted huge losses against the terrorist network, according to top-secret U.S. intelligence documents.

The U.S. drone campaign has killed an estimated 3,000 people over the past decade. The airstrikes have forced al-Qaida operatives and other militants to take extreme measures to limit their movements.

Details of al-Qaida's attempts to fight back against the drone campaign are contained in a classified intelligence report provided to the Washington Post by Edward Snowden, the fugitive former National Security Agency contractor. The top-secret report, titled "Threats to Unmanned Aerial Vehicles," is a summary of dozens of intelligence assessments posted by U.S. spy agencies since 2006.

U.S. officials and aviation experts acknowledge that unmanned aircraft have a weak spot: the satellite links and remote controls that enable pilots to fly them from thousands of kilometres away.

In July 2010, a U.S. spy agency intercepted electronic communications indicating that senior al-Qaida leaders had distributed a "strategy guide" to operatives around the world advising them how "to anticipate and defeat" unmanned aircraft. The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) reported that al-Qaida was sponsoring simultaneous research projects to develop jammers to interfere with GPS signals and infrared tags that drone operators rely on to pinpoint missile targets.

The U.S. Air Force Scientific Advisory Board issued an unclassified report two years ago warning that insurgents might try to use "lasers and dazzlers" to render a drone ineffective by blinding its cameras and sensors. It also predicted that insurgents might use rudimentary acoustic receivers to detect drones and "simple jammer techniques" to interfere with navigation and communications.

In 2010, the CIA noted in a secret report that al-Qaida was placing special emphasis on the recruitment of technicians and that "the skills most in demand" included expertise in drones and missile technology. In July of that year, Atiyah Abd al-Rahman, an al-Qaida operations chief, told a jihadist website that the network did not need "ordinary fighters" and that it was looking instead for "specialist staff" to join the organization.

-- Washington Post

Source: Copyright Winnipeg Free Press (Canada) 2013

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