A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, December 18, 2009

My Take on those Hacked Predators

You probably already know this (it's yesterday's news) but it's been learned that Iraqi Shi‘ite insurgents (I'm guessing Mahdi Army but the linked report doesn't say that) had hacked the unencrypted video downfeeds of US Predator drones.

With a $25.95 piece of software readily available.

Note that word: Un. En. Crypted.

The earliest drones appeared decades ago. We used them in Vietnam. In the region, Israel was using them as early as Lebanon War I in 1982. According to the WSJ article linked above, we discovered the vulnerability in Bosnia in the '90s, "But the Pentagon assumed local adversaries wouldn't know how to exploit it, the officials said." Oh. The "wogs" aren't smart enough, huh? We're blaming Iran, apparently, and indeed Iranians seem pretty good with computers, both the opposition and the government seeking to block them. But we knew about the vulnerability since Bosnia?

Now, I understand they aren't able to control or redirect the Predators, but if they can see the visual feed, especially if they can do so in real time, they can know what we know, and that's a penetrated intelligence asset no matter how you cut it. They can know where the Predators are and tell their people to seek cover or get the hell out of there.

Now Lt. Gen. David Deptula, the head of the Air Force's unmanned programs and a rising star, quoted prominently in the WSJ article is someone I've even met at an Air Force Association reception (my wife works for AFA), and he's one of the smartest people out there, may head the Air Force some day, and had the guts to admit to all this. Good for him.

But if we knew about this in Bosnia, why are we addressing it now? Because the "ragheads" couldn't possibly master the technology? Never underestimate your adversary. On the eve of the Japanese onslaught in Southeast Asia in December 1941 — and, to quote Dave Barry, I am not making this up — an Australian officer posted in Singapore decided not to have blackouts because "the Japanese are myopic and cannot fly at night." Singapore was bombed that night. Also the Japanese were superstitious and could not fight in jungles so they could not land in Malaya and attack Singapore from the land. Wrong again. Oh, yes, and British and American intelligence were convinced that Japanese aircraft were inferior even though the Brits were given an intact Zero by the Chinese Nationalists and the Zero was superior to any British or American aircraft. The worst mistake in intelligence is assuming your enemy isn't as capable as you are.

Supposedly they used the $26 program SkyGrabber. At least last night when I was putting this piece together skygrabber.com was either offline or overloaded. Probably due to a surge of downloads in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and other places.

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