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Israeli Drone Feeds Hacked by British and American Intelligence (theintercept.com)
181 points by finid 602 days ago | hide | past | web | 99 comments | favorite

This is a great use of the NSA/GCHQ.

From a global security perspective, we absolutely want to know if Israel is about to bomb Iran. If we can't trust their word (and Netanyahu's public statements are rather bellicose) then this doesn't feel like a bad thing.

Also different from other leaks, the targets here were other militaries. This type of leaking gives credence to the national security concerns — what's the public need to know here? Really just a "how the sausage is made" look into military intelligence, interesting because we're curious moreso than because the government is acting unethically.

> This type of leaking gives credence to the national security concerns

Gives credence to what/whose concerns? What do think Israel would have learnt from this leak?

If Israel were spying on US drone video transmissions, and a "traitor" in the Israeli security apparatus leaked that info to the press, would it still be harmful for the "public" to know?

It really weirds me out the degree to which people seem to moralize these brain-dead spy games. It's like we're already in state of paranoid pre-war. It's OK to spy on another country, and it's OK for our allies to spy on us, but its not OK for citizens to spy on their own government, it's OK for foreign governments to spy on our citizens, but we're only allowed to spy on our own citizens in foreign countries or foreign servers.

If it's of no interest to the public, then surely the secret was not a secret at all, and there was no harm in leaking it.

This gives credence to the concern that having all knowledge in the public domain is not the most beneficial way for a government to operate.

The point is that perhaps Israel did not know that their feeds were compromised and the West was able to have a better understanding of the situation in that part of the world because of it. If an Israeli leaked it, it would have been beneficial to the US because that might have indicated the Israelis knew something that the US did not.

It is of no significant interest to the public, but it _is_ of significant interest to the Israeli government.

This is almost a textbook scenario of how nation states justify the need to keep secrets from the public.

Then why did the US publically admit to spying on Israel during the Iran talks? Why did Israel deploy Duqu 2 to spy on the Iran talks?

> Gives credence to what/whose concerns?

The concerns that there are leaks not in the public interest, which harm our[1] military's capabilities to defend us. If I were opposed to the west (Israel/US/UK), this is not only great military intelligence, but a fantastic propaganda opportunity.

> If Israel were spying on US drone video transmissions, and a "traitor" in the Israeli security apparatus leaked that info to the press, would it still be harmful for the "public" to know?

Would we be upset? Yes. Is Israel likely to release volumes of public condemnations of US/British intransigence in this case? Absolutely. Does that make it unethical? No. More on this in a second.

> It really weirds me out the degree to which people seem to moralize these brain-dead spy games. It's like we're already in state of paranoid pre-war.

Information is the most valuable asset for survival. Knowing what will happen or how someone will act is incalculably valuable, across pretty much every field.

- Engineering: Why do we "spy" on our servers with analytics, logging, and alerts? Because it helps us make the right decisions. - Product: Why do we "spy" on users with tools like Heap or Mixpanel? Because it helps us make the right decisions. - Military: Why do we spy on other world powers? Because it helps us make the right decisions. - Business: You know the hardest parts of building a business? People. We have a lack of information (it's hard to get into their heads) which leads to a lack of perspective which leads to a lack of empathy.

> but its not OK for citizens to spy on their own government

Is it right for HR to know things about you but you cannot access everything they know about colleagues? Yes. Unless you have a legitimate interest (outside of "I'm interested") in knowing information that could cause others harm, you don't deserve to have it.

You have elected officials who are informed on a need-to-know basis about the programs done in your name. Do they always make the right decisions? Absolutely not. In those cases, leaks are in the public interest. In cases like this, how are you better able to defend yourself with this information?

> If it's of no interest to the public, then surely the secret was not a secret at all, and there was no harm in leaking it.

I'm saying it is _against_ the public's interest to leak it, because the NSA is doing their job and this harms their ability to do so. If the NSA were doing something outside its job (e.g. dragnet surveillance) and a leak harmed its ability to do so, that leak is actually in the public's interest because they are protecting themselves.

[1]: "our" in this context is democracy and/or the western world.

I completely agree with you. I feel like Snowden should have held back more documents, or instructed reporters to hold back documents that didn't concern mass/public surveillance.

Some secrets aren't always bad. I respect and admire Snowden, but I also acknowledge much of what the NSA does is beneficial and should remain secret, even if other large parts of what they do are not beneficial or ethical and should be exposed.

This is a great use of the NSA/GCHQ.

From a global security perspective, we absolutely want to know if Germany is about to deal with Russia. If we can't trust their word (and Merkel's public statements can change from one month to the next) then this doesn't feel like a bad thing.

Therefore, even though she is an ally, we should bug her mobile phone.

I'm not saying you're wrong btw, but there was a large backlash concerning the bugging of Merkel's mobile phone. I doubt we'll see a similar backlash here. I find the discrepancy interesting.

> From a global security perspective, we absolutely want to know if Israel is about to bomb Iran.

Israel may have no other choice in face of the reality that the U.S. has ceased from its long-term support of Israel. when Israel realizes that it is left alone than it won't care about security concerns of other nations. I can understand that, even more in face of the irrational behavior of radical Islam.

> If we can't trust their word (and Netanyahu's public statements are rather bellicose) then this doesn't feel like a bad thing.

That real question is, can we trust Iran? I consider the western appeasement politics incredibly stupid. They haven't learned from Chamberlain and Hitler. Of course Iran will continue to develop its nuclear program secretly.

The real problem is not between Iran and Israel but between the islamic Sunni and Shia tribes. They hate each other. The conflict originates in the death of their prophet Mohamed, and it will likely be "solved" in a hot warfare. I think that is the actual purpose of Iran's nuclear program. The stupid western appeasement politics has made a new war in the Middle East much more likely than ever before. The world should pay attention to ISIS and Syria, not to Israel. Israel doesn't want war. It just wants to survive. We should support Israel, not Iran (which is radical Islam).

CBN: A New War in the Middle East?


Shia–Sunni relations (Wikipedia):


Agreed. This is exactly what the NSA should be doing. This leak has no value to the public.

Nope but great value for people who want to drive political agenda's - mainly to increase the so called "rift" between US and Israel (which always spied on each other mainly because US interests in the middle east almost always directly oppose the ones of Israel) and to "embarrass" the US even further which is something that a large portion of the Intercept's readership wants as it seems.

> US interests in the middle east almost always directly oppose the ones of Israel

I regularly see stories about the US giving large sums of money and arms to Israel. How should I reconcile this with your claim?

The US also gives large sums of money and arms to Egypt and Jordan, as well as Pakistan and quite a few other nations as well.

They support Saudi Arabia which historically funded the majority of terrorists groups who fought against Israel.

The US constantly also limits the Israeli freedom of engagement during both peace and war time the US pretty much "halted" every war Israel had which actually prevented a clear victory and just resulted in both sides going back to the same cease fire lines and resuming their stalemate.

The support the the US gives to Israel is given despite their interests in the region not because for the most part the US has to walk a very thin line between them wanting to idologically support a democracy and a like minded ally and the region and them needing the region "stable" (as defined by the US not actual stability as would be defined by any person who's actually living in the region) and capable of continuously producing oil and gas which will continue to be traded in US currency, as well as keep control over the shipping lines that connect Europe to the far east.

That's because the US government acts counter to US interests.

"which always spied on each other mainly because US interests in the middle east almost always directly oppose the ones of Israel"

True. And it's rather sad that they do, given that Israel's interests in the middle east are generally about not having their citizens murdered in the street.

> Israel's interests in the middle east are generally about not having their citizens murdered in the street.

That's what they say, but when I read stories about them demolishing Palestinian neighborhoods, billing them for it, and building real-estate developments over the "confiscated" land the whole "we just want peace" line starts to smell like a rationalization at best and more probably a flat-out excuse.

Can you provide a source for such a story? I live in Israel and am politically opposed to settlements in West Bank yet can't think of a single example of what you're describing.

Settlements are built on undeveloped land. Some urban settlements (East Jerusalem, Hebron) are in houses purchased from their Palestinian owners. These usually entail a lengthy legal process, but settlers are forbidden from entering before it has resolved (just this week some settlers in Hebron were removed from houses they claim to have bought legally, the case is in court).

Thank you! I often have trouble expressing the problem I see with Isreael demolishing Palestinian neighborhoods, but you've expressed it well and I'll keep your text for future arguments.

The blind leading the blind.

I'm pretty sure that's in the interest if every government everywhere. Israel, presumably like the Arabs, hsd other interests less noble than that.

I suppose I could mention things that they could do differently to achieve that goal, but what would be the use?

I dunno. What's the use of anything, really?

> This leak has no value to the public.

US taxpayers give the Israeli government billions of dollars every year.

Then Israel turns around and publicly disrespects the US president.

US taxpayers need to know that their government is willing to stand up to Israel when necessary. This is an actual concern because:

1. US politicians are almost all for sale. 2. The Israeli lobbying group AIPAC has bought and paid for a great number of those politicians.

A specific political party who happen to be in power (barely in power, literally by a single seat in the knesset) disrespected the president, a significant proportion of the Israeli population, including the defense establishment were horrified and embarrassed.

I think I worked out once that the average working American spends as much on Israel as they do on their phone bill. (Back when we had phones tethered to the wall, so YMMV.)

>Then Israel turns around and publicly disrespects the US president.

Yeah... so what? The president isn't the United States. He's just a manager, temporarily.

Besides, there was plenty of disrespect flowing the other way, too. When Obama went out of his way to snub Netanyahu, did it bother you, or do you think somehow the office of the American president is worthy of more respect than that of the Israeli PM?

> did it bother you, or do you think somehow the office of the American president is worthy of more respect than that of the Israeli PM?

Much more worthy, obviously. If you come with me hat in hand accept my aid, you damn well better be nice to me. If Israel wants to crap on the US president, that's fine, but don't then accept handouts from them.

At least the beggars in my town only swear at you if you don't give them money.

Like I said, the president is not the US. Congress, not the president, appropriates money, and Israel has a lot of support among the American people and in Congress. What Obama thinks about money going to Israel is pretty much irrelevant unless it's something over which he'd be prepared to get into a big budget fight. Which he'd probably lose.

The president has gone out of his way to show the Israelis he doesn't like or respect them. He undermines them at every opportunity. Were I Netanyahu I wouldn't give Obama the time of day. I'd fly in, give my speech to Congress, and then leave without ever going to the White House.

U.S. taxpayers give the American defense industry billions of dollars every year.

There, fixed that for you. Almost all of the "aid" to Israel is earmarked for military acquisition grants for U.S. equipment. It's welfare for American manufacturers.

publicly disrespects

Someone in the White House called Israel's leader a "chickenshit".

bought and paid for

Yes, the Arabs say this all the time. Citations?

> Yes, the Arabs say this all the time. Citations?

The scale and ubiquity of financial lobbying isn't proof enough?

I'm sure the Israelis care that their fighter jets and drones use crypto that can be trivially broken with current computing power?

It also of course plays into the whole fix vs exploit debate. Should the NSA inform on weak crypto or subvert it for their own purposes? What if its crypto used by a military partner? Where lies the greater public value?

The IDF absolutely knows that their old drone video feeds were insecure. They didn't need The Intercept to tell them that.

As for your second question, there is no actual debate about whether NSA should hoard/exploit or "fix" vulnerabilities in foreign signals intelligence. Their charter is to exploit. That's what SIGINT is.

The debate is whether NSA should be required to fix vulnerable infrastructure when that infrastructure is used by US commercial infrastructure. That's not what's happening here.

So since they knew, there is no harm? Your second point seems to miss that whatever the foreigners are using may be a popular choice for naturals as well.

(Notice the US selling F-16 abroad only to then having to break their video stream. At least the British don't sell missiles that they can't deactivate when coming their way)

It's what these agencies were originally formed and tasked to do.

By whom? Secret agencies were originally formed in secret, without knowledge from the citizen.

Exactly how do you propose the citizens should be informed and yet keep it secret from the enemies?

Most people in USA (mostly the relatively younger generation) don't have an idea how the real tyrants (e.g. Russian communists, Mao in China etc) oppress their own people. It was because of USA, that the tyrant communism didn't come to harass them. I am not saying US hasn't made mistakes/blunders. But it is orders of magnitude better than Islamists/communists. It is sad these people now criticize US almost unilaterally due to propaganda by so called leftists.

PS: I am NOT an US citizen, but I do envy the ones who are. You have to get some experience of real tyrannical systems to realize this.

It's probably a purposeful leak.

It's an okay use of NSA/GCHQ. Certainly more useful and preferable to spying on citizens and politicians. I remain unconvinced that it's necessary, or even always beneficial. We don't really need to know every detail about everything that every country does. I can't say that the specific capability here is never needed, but I do think it ought to be held very closely and used sparingly.

>what's the public need to know here?

If you don't think the public ought to know, then perhaps you'd consider the notion that the more spying we do, the more likely it is for leaks like this to happen. One potential good thing, the public gets to know how bad we are at counterintel; that's a good thing if the public can figure out what to do about it.

Really just a "how the sausage is made" look into military intelligence, interesting because we're curious moreso than because the government is acting unethically.

What's so wrong with that? "Business as usual" press pieces usually seem to come from organizations' PR departments, so (speaking in general, not necessarily about this article) it's useful to the public to have independent information about what they are doing.

I vehemently disagree with you. So, firstly, let's talk about the status quo briefly. At the moment Israel's own forces are very immoral in how they treat the members of the NSA/GCHQ. What I mean is that Israeli intelligence drugs these people, in a way that I consider highly illegal and highly immoral. The NSA and GCHQ doesn't do the same, they haven't infiltrated Israeli intelligence the same way.

You can read Israel's general approach in the most famous book on this subject.

Now, let's talk about something very important. Around here I'm the only one to express these principles so you can likely link this to my usual account.

--> What is the moral imperative for the existence of spy agencies? Why should they exist?

They should exist for the simple reason that someone can literally be a bitcoin troll and literally pay a Russian general for a nuclear weapon in untraceable currency, and literally, as a trolololo action, set it off in New York. This isn't an exaggeration. It's within the realm of both bored online Internet troll's capability, and also inclination and interests.

So we have a reason for these agencies to exist.

Now, let's make an analogy. In the Fiscal year 2015, how much do you think California, where Cal Tech and Silicon Valley is located, spent defending itself against spies from the state of Massachusetts, where MIT and Harvard are located, where Mark Zuckerberg went to school? How much did the two states spend on espionage and counterespionage?

The very obvious answer is $0. That is exactly the way it should be. It would be sooooo totallly stupid for California to start hacking Massachusetts. This is the kind of stuff the European Union was doing internally, waging internal war, until it was unified in the second half of the twentieth century.

It is totally obvious to any 9 year old with an open mind that that this is a better state of affairs. Literally anyone who says otherwise is obviously pointing to a naked emperor and saying how cool his new clothes are. Only people over 30 who have deeply indoctrinated stupid bigotted beliefs would ever say that it's good for European countries to spend their budgets waging war on each other, or spying on each other.

It's totally obvious to me that international espionage is exactly the same.

It's obvious to me that the amount of budget that the NSA/GCHQ should be spending on spying on Israel is exactly the same as what the CIA's budget should be for "spying on" the NSA: (these are both american departments, just different agencies) obviously $0. They shouldn't be spending a penny on spying on other agencies. Agencies literally have better reasons for existing, which are real.

In summary I couldn't disagree with you more that this is a great use for the NSA/GCHQ.

It's a terrible, atrocious use.

The world's spy agencies need to act in total unison to keep honest citizens honest, without in any way impacting their freedoms unless and until they use those freedoms to blow up New York (or Tel Aviv) with a suitcase-sized tactical nuclear missile.

The only people the civilized world needs to wage war on are trolls, and if they stop existing, this money shoudl be spent on exploring space, fusion, telomeres, deep distributed learning, cancer therapy, quantum computing, and the list goes on, and on, and on, and on, and on.

No: the world's agencies shouldn't be spending a dime committing war on each other. By the way a lot of HN's readers can be part of the solution.

if you're a reader, simply commit to a world government. it's the modern equivalent of a microkernel. it doesn't really matter what that government is - obviously it's not going to let its states make war on each other. Just ask yourself "Would a just world government microkernel do this?" and if not, then resist, disobey, don't do what you're told. Good luck.

This has been a very dense post and I'm happy to field follow-up questions on philosophy or application. I can talk in some length about the status quo and my objections to it, my experience extends to several countries' programs.

> The world's spy agencies need to act in total unison to keep honest citizens honest

Ok, but they don't. If the NSA stops spying on other nations, other nations will not stop spying on the US. I think everyone will agree that we shouldn't need an agency to do international espionage, but wishing doesn't make it true.

"There is no need for the FBI to investigate police corruption, the country's law enforcement agencies need to act in total unison to keep citizens safe." They should, but they don't.

"There is no need for presidential candidates to dig up dirt on each other, they need to work toward a common goal of bettering the country." They should, but they don't.

"There is no need for affirmative action, all people should treat each other equally, regardless of skin color." They should, but they don't.


Your suggestion at the end doesn't make any sense to me either. You want a world government, fine. So your strategy is for every person, individually, to imagine their own ideal world government, and ignore all existing laws that they don't like? And somehow one world power will emerge from this anarchy?

Israel post on internet -> bizarre rant/block quote that references mossad drugging NSA agents? And if you think for one moment that the US intelligence establishment doesn't plant double agents in Israel, spy on Israel etc.... But then again this is a sock so, surprise surprise.

Your post is very short, just two lines. You object to literally 3 lines out of 18 (short) paragraphs. (I'm not sure why you say "block quote"? I don't get what you mean by using the words "block quote".)

Yes, I do not think that the US intelligent establishment plants double agents in Israel. I do not think the CIA or NSA or what-have-you does this.

But regardless of whether they do this, I outline a logical argument for why countries should not do this, why it is morally wrong.

Most of my post makes a very simple argument: that it is a waste of resources for countries to be spying on other spy agencies. In other words, just as stated, I vehemently disagree with the GP, I disagree that it is a good use of resources to attack other countries' agencies.

Regardless, my post was at 3 Karma before being flagged. I vouched for it from my usual account and now it is still at 3 Karma. You can vouch for it by clicking on the Timestamp and clicking Vouch. If you have any follow-up questions I am happy to talk about them.

It is immoral and a waste of resources for countries to spend resources attacking other countries spy agencies. It is a good thing and a good model that California spent $0 in 2015 spying on Masscahusetts, and vice versa. it is a good thing and moral that the European Union's countries do not spy on one another, that the EU exists.

It is moral for spy agencies to exist. It is immoral for spy agencies to spy on other spy agencies.

At the moment the CIA or NSA do not have double agents in Israel.

We can discuss all of these facts if you have any follow-up quesitons. I received only upvotes (this account is at 3 or 4 karma) and encourage anyone to vouch for this comment by clicking on its time-stamp and clicking Vouch. If you have any follow-up questions I'm happy to address them. This is not a sock puppet account.

The reason I made it is that I very strongly disagree with the idea that agencies should be spending resources on waging war on other agencies.

I realize that the philosophy I express is xtremely dense, I am I am happy to continue to participate in earnest or answer any of your questions.

I repeat: it is wrong to for spy agencies to spend resources on double agents. The correct model is the fac that California last year spent $0 spying on Massachusetts.

It is moral and correct that agencies exist at all. Happy to answer any of your questions if you have some. The rason for this account, again, is to counter the idea that it is correct ofr countries to spend resources on other countries.

It isn't. It's highly wrong and immoral.

Can someone explain the rationale for leaking this? I have been a strong critic of NSA domestic surveillance, but what is described in the article seems to be the appropriate use of the U.S. intelligence apparatus.

Follow the money.

Israeli sources claim that the reason that this information is published at this timing is a German-Israeli drone deal in which the US Predator lost - http://www.defensenews.com/story/defense/international/europ...

They also claim that since 2011 (The last "hacking" incident) there was a major change in the way that drone communication is encrypted.

Edit: changed 2010 to 2011

The US drone fleet was not more secure at that time. In 2008, recordings of drone feeds were discovered on the laptops of Shi’ite militants. Four years later, less than half the drone fleet had been upgraded to use encrypted video.


The article pretty clearly details interceptions as recent as 2012. And maybe it still goes on, we don't know, because this apparently came from the 2013 Snowden leak.

These are not my claims, they are taken from Israeli sources. They probably have there own interests too.

The only event I found from 2012 is labeled as 'regular collects of Heron TP carrying weapons' I'm not sure what it means.

Could mean anything from them being able to intercept video from the tail cam to them just tracking the drones based on signal / radar information. All the imagery from the Israeli drones is from circa 2009-2010.

There's a political agenda at work here, which views all intelligence activities as being morally equivalent, and thus this is as wrong as warrantless domestic surveillance.

I believe the rationale is that there are still Snowden documents to leak, so they will be leaked until they no longer generate revenue.

The public interest ceased to be an issue as soon as the documents were handed off to the media.

I don't know their motivation, but if I wanted to effect real change to the surveillance state in the USA, I would want the Israeli political lobby on my side in Washington.

Israel doesn't give a shit; they've owned up all sorts of US infrastructure, and even (famously) had double agents planted in the US.

I feel like this quote from Yuval Steinitz just has to be a tongue-in-cheek acknowledgment of that. Or it's just the most bald-faced lie I've heard in ages - not sure which interpretation is more funny.

“We know that the Americans spy on the whole world, and also on us, also on their friends. But still, it is disappointing, inter alia because, going back decades already, we have not spied nor collected intelligence nor hacked encryptions in the United States.”

Well, I met a probable Israeli spy in-artfully posing as an art-student in Colorado when I was 19 working at an ISP that had purchased some wireless tech from an Israeli firm.

I suspect it is fully-in-cheek.

How did you know he was a spy? Did he act sneaky?

And actively lobby for their early release from prison.

That's kind of expected.

My point was that even though they are allies there are normal & public interactions around spying. So yes, very much expected. The unexpected thing is people assuming allies don't spy on each other.

But not appreciated.

By whom?

Not lobbying for the release of your own spies would be very much out of the ordinary.

And if they could hamper the CIA/NSA, even a little bit, they wouldn't bother?

Remittite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.

If spying on allies sounds appropriate to you, then I'm not sure you understand why Snowden is even an issue.

> If spying on allies sounds appropriate to you, then I'm not sure you understand why Snowden is even an issue.

I disagree. The important revelations from Snowden (in my opinion) is not nation-states spying on (officals of) other nation-states, it's nation-states conducting dragnet surveillance on their own citizens and citizens of other countries.

True, but there was a big to-do about US spying on German officials a little while back. If it was that horrible and offensive for us to spy on the German government, it's also just as horrible and offensive for us to spy on the Israeli government.

(My personal view is that the US should definitely spy on every government in the world, and they're welcome to try to spy on us if they want, because it's dumb to pretend that it's not going to happen and then pitch a fit when what everyone knew was happening is revealed to be happening. But under that policy it's not better or worse to target Germany as opposed to Israel.)

All allies spy on each other. A lot. Germany's biggest espionage issue isn't Russia; it's France.

I tried to do an AMA yesterday[1] about my time in the NSA and the CIA that fell flat as far as generating any interest. My main goal was to bring some reality to the security conversation, since the government's voice mostly remains absent and I have a pro-government lean on the security issue. I was a mission manager for the LENA (Levant/North Africa) division for the NSA, so I'm speaking from a very informed opinion on this particular release.

As you can expect, my opinion on information like this being released is: Why? How can this be considered journalism. Militaries keeping track of militaries is exactly what we want happening with taxpayer dollars. From a purely defense perspective, this is a good use of resources as others in this comment section have mentioned. But, releasing documents that actually detail sources/methods of collection are purely harmful -- I see absolutely nothing that can be misconstrued as noble by publishing an article like this.

There is another half to this. These documents that are being released have to stop being cited as if they're the canonical truth. Snowden did the equivalent of scraping a bunch of google pages pulling all documents down willy-nilly, and there are tons of absolute crap documents in there. You can tell that some of these powerpoints were made by E-3's giving briefs to some equally clueless group from the quality of the presentations themselves.

I'm definitely thankful for the people that came out and asked questions, as I tried to give extremely straight-forward, un-political answers. If you have any questions, feel free to reply to the reddit thread and I'll still answer them, so at least there can be a record of it.

[1] https://www.reddit.com/r/IAmA/comments/4346rc/im_justin_meal... and https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=10989800

> You can tell that some of these powerpoints were made by E-3's giving briefs to some equally clueless group from the quality of the presentations themselves.

Indeed. Many are viewing these presentations as if they're official documents like an SOP and what not. The presentations are under the discretion of the creator which can be anybody and say anything. But because it has 'Top Secret' on it many will treat it, as you say, canonical truth. I stopped trying to explain this on the internet. I only explain it personally now.

Absolutely. That classification markings are there because the subject matter has an overall classification, but doesn't actually confer any legitimacy to the content.

I disagree with your comment that the govt side isn't represented, you can look to Ben Wittes and people like him to get that. But I thank you for posting this, I've yet to see the point about the veracity of the snowden docs as a sibling comment also noted. The AMA looks interesting!

It looks like these came from the Snowden documents. Am I reading that wrong?

That's what I gathered from the article too.

It seems strange that there's an awful lot of pro-Israel handwaving in this thread implying that The Intercept (of all outlets) would publish this piece at the behest of the US government.

Seems so.

One of the downsides of encrypting analog video you don't have to have the correct key to decrypt it just something good enough to get you in the ball park, the video quality will suffer greatly but you'll end up with more or less an image you can view (this also quite commonly affects steganography with poor keys you can brute force it in seconds you won't get a good image but if it's text it will be immediately readable).

Can you go into more detail about this "analog encryption" you're talking about? You might be talking about some kind of Spectravision-style video scrambling, but that's not really "encryption" in the modern sense --- in the modern sense, encryption, with an actual cipher, must necessarily take digital inputs.

> You might be talking about some kind of Spectravision-style video scrambling

I think that's exactly what he means.

You're right, it's not intended to be cryptographically strong encryption in the modern sense. Scrambling (as I believe the term is being used here) prior to transmission often has practical purposes other than obfuscation, eg eliminating patterns in the signal that could interfere with the modulation scheme (for clock recovery). That it prevents casual eavesdropping is usually a side benefit, even though pay TV has tried to pass it off as a protection scheme.


Here is an interesting report (attached in TFA) on how they cracked one of the transmissions containing digital video: https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/2699848-S455N-Redact...

It is still encryption it's like calling a caesar cipher not encryption.

It still uses a key and some sort of an encryption algorithm the problem with all of these encryption (or call it scrambling algorithms) is that the persevere the integrity of the video frame so basically you are still getting a video frame which can be broadcast and received as any standard video signal while only the image it self will be "encrypted/scrambled". Because of this there are several brute force methods that can reconstruct the image without having to even know which algorithm was actually used in the encryption because the elements are always the as the video frame maintains the scan lines and even if you use pixels it's not that big of a deal.

Live sensory image from drones is still fairly low res usually in the 400-600 scan lines range (interlaced video is still quite often used because then for example you can multiplex 2 sensory images e.g. FLIR/SWIR and normal visible elctrooptical sensor into a single channel and switch between them without any delay or without any sync issues).

Because every frame is scrambled on it's own and is still a valid frame we know 3 things 1) all of the data to reconstruct the image is present within the frame 2) all of the data to reconstruct the image is still in the same basic format as the encrypted frame is still a valid video frame 3) we know exactly how many possible combinations there can be based on the resolution of the image.

Combine that knowledge with a basic brute force algorithms without knowing anything about how the encryption actually works you usually tie it with something like Fast Fourier transform to detect edges in the frequency domain (because in our case high frequency = edge) because once you get enough of them you know that you actually have a valid image. This results in a relatively very fast algorithm that can produce images (even if not perfect) from any raw scrambled/encrypted video.

Sure. But a Caesar Cipher is also not encryption "in the modern sense". I was wondering whether you were talking about a property of some input domain to a modern cipher, or some hacky scrambling system used in lieu of a modern cipher --- and it's the latter, right?

Yep pretty much it shreds the image and builds a new valid frame from it, some quite often do some separate things to the chroma and luminescence carriers with drones really depends because some times if you are transmitting multiple black and white images you can cheat an multiplex them together and basically instead of extrapolating the correct color from each field you can extrapolate 2 different images. Because it's analogue data you always getting an image regardless if you have the correct key or not, and because of the limitations of the encryption/scrambling it self once you get a key which is close enough you being to reconstruct various parts of the correct image even in a form of artifacts so things like edges become apparent very quickly.

If the encryption is done badly, it's also sometimes possible to recover a shadow of an encrypted image from the cyphertext without actually decrypting it:


Close enough it's even worse since with video you have to preserve the frame structure so even less of the "data" is actually encrypted.

The scrambling/encryption it self is not ECB but when you brute force the keys you get the same effect as ECB encryption and images, you basically then run some basic analysis usually FFT which alerts you that a candidate image has been reconstructed if it's good enough you can take it, if it's not the correct value usually can be then guesstimated based on the key that has generated an image that cam close enough.

This is how these systems tend to work https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conditional_access

Much worse things than that happen if you use ECB mode, for whatever it's worth.

But yeah, I was trying to figure out if he was talking about some property of the cipher or some property of "encrypting analog video".

>in the modern sense, encryption, with an actual cipher, must necessarily take digital inputs.

thats the thing - you cant go digital on lossy analog channel without sacrificing bandwidth (for FEC).

A related story about Cybersecurity in Israel. Israel's Cybersecurity industry ranks second in the world after the US.


Any idea how it was technically achieved?

The Israelis used a commercially-available encryption scheme, VideoCrypt, which was brute-forced (albeit slowly) as early as 1994. Then it's just a matter of intercepting the satellite signal from somewhere within its downlink footprint.

The article dates to 2010 and it sounded like the Israelis were switching to a better encryption scheme even back then, so I'd expect this information is strategically useless now. VideoCrypt was probably more of a "fences make good neighbors" thing to keep Hezbollah from seeing their drone feeds quite so easily.

Also on the "dates to 2010" thing, this is probably something that could be GPU-accelerated nowadays.

Do you have a source for this? Given the competency of the IDF in sigint and domestic math/crypto research done in Israel it just seems......unlikely? I could be wrong, it just sounds off to me that they would use something like that. IAI, mentioned in the article, is one of the most sophisticated arms companies in the world.

In the article they mention that the AntiSky decoder is included in the reference documents describing the decryption procedures.


Basically they grab a frame from the video, then run it through AntiSky, no intermediate steps. AntiSky works against the VideoCrypt scheme, ergo that must be what they're using (or something so similar as to make no difference).

The other post discusses why they would use such a dated analogue system. I also think that off-the-shelf systems would have been pretty attractive as an interim fix. Most stronger encryption is going to need to go over a digital link with error correction, which is not something that's trivial to retrofit.

As for the "most sophisticated arms company" thing - do bear in mind that about half of the US's predator drones were still broadcasting unencrypted video feeds in 2012, despite the fact that we knew insurgents had been tapping into them for years. Israel is more responsive than most militaries, but it still does take time for equipment to go from lab to mass field utilization. Those timeframes are typically measured on the order of decade(s) especially if you're talking about deploying additional satcom capability or something like that. And during that timeframe they were actively switching to something else.


Fair enough! thank you.

Thanks. So why would the Israeli Army use, in 2009-2010 , something that was brute-forced in 1994 ?

Everyone does, drones for the most part still use analogue video because latency matters and it also simplifies quite allot of things.

Encryption in military application has to take a second stance to availability this is why many tactical systems use obfuscation and signal intercept avoidance (e.g. spread spectrum frequency hopping which is highly effective especially when combined with differential signaling) rather than proper encryption since key exchange and management is still a big issue in real world applications.

Having strong encryption that will fail you when you need it and make you system unavailable is a much bigger risk in tactical military applications than some one intercepting and decrypting your communications (note tactical application, for strategic communications the playbook is completely different).

Military communication gear (and pretty much every other piece of electronics) is also quite out dated due to the sheer time scales involving adoption and it having to support integration with legacy systems that might be 30 years behind it.

With drones specifically bandwidth is also an issue especially if you aren't say the US and can launch nearly 20 dedicated satellites to support your drone fleet (and even US drones have the same issues, their communications were scrambled at all until 2009 and some probably still aren't).

Drones have limited bandwidth what you usually do is use encrypted digital signaling for the command and control channels and multiplex all of your sensors over analogue video which is then usually transmitted using standard TV broadcasting protocols (either terrestrial or satellite), if you can scramble your sensory signals sufficiently to prevent real time capture more power to you but it's not the main goal - making sure the signal gets back to you, that you do not lose imagery due to bandwidth limitations and that there is as little delay as possible is the key part, having a signal which can also be easily decoded is also important because if you cant propagate it to the forces that need to consume the feeds from the drone (and these aren't rear echelon guys those ones can wait, were talking on boots in the ground or in the cockpit) it cant serve its main mission.

Thanks. So implied is that the information the Americans got isn't really that valuable , right?

Well depends on how you define valuable.

Tactical information usually means that by the time it's intercepted, analyzed and disseminated on its self is have very little value.

For example if we are at war right now the chatter between various units on a local scale isn't that important any information you might gain from them will not be useful to you as it will be out of date before you can do anything with it.

However if you capture the same tactical information over a long period of time during "peace time" from the same units during various military exercises you might gain some insight in the long run.

I don't think the US has gotten any real intelligence out of this, they probably knew that Israeli drones are capable of carrying weapons and while Israeli still does not allow armed drones to be used in combat (at least within the confines of Israel/Gaze/West Bank) having proof that they do at least experiment with armed drones and being able to shove if into the face of some Israeli politician when the time comes might have some value.

The biggest value I can think of is that Israel is the largest exporter of drones in the world and while most of it's export is to NATO countries (over 80% of NATO's non-US drones are supplied by Israel), it also sells drones to China and now Russia (please note that after the "Falcon" affair there is a US congressional oversight over Israeli arms exports, this is the only country that needs "US" approval to sell arms under certain circumstances), so it gives them a fairly good opportunity to train under more or less real world conditions for when they'll have to do it to some one that might slightly more mind their presence like say China.

On the other hand It would also not surprise me if Israel didn't knew about this and was quite interested in seeing what the can the US actually intercept from their drones, because as far as real life goes while the NSA/GCHQ might have been extremely proud of their work and boasting about how it can improve their national security some one from the CIA/DIA/DOD or even US congress could've take that report walk down to the Israeli Intelligence Attache in Washington and handed it out to them directly.

They were probably mainly tracking activity, and not decoding single feeds as much.

This metadata is probably enough to provide adequate intelligence, given obvious US interests in the region.

Other than that, I'd wager that this does not surprise anyone at the IAF.

Because it's available off the shelf, is compatible with your gear, and raises the bar past "schmuck with C-band satellite dish".

The US wasn't any better at all... In 2012, "only 30 to 50 percent of America’s Predators and Reapers [were] using fully encrypted transmissions" - "the [original] Predators’ version of the CDL carrier signal (also known as a “waveform”) didn’t include an order to encrypt the signal."


WireShark: Allied Drone Edition. No seriously, I have no clue.

The article says Israel only added crypto after Hezbollah used the unencrypted feeds against them on the ground in real time, it sounds like their threat model is not necessarily about NSA intercepting and eventually crackig the encrypted feeds.

Thank goodness. Knowing NSA spies on Iranian drones, my civil liberties have been restored.

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