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The Military Technology

Leaked Documents Detail Al-Qaeda's Efforts To Fight Back Against Drones 234

Posted by samzenpus
from the drone-down dept.
An anonymous reader writes "The Washington Post reports, 'Al-Qaeda's leadership has assigned cells of engineers to find ways to shoot down, jam or remotely hijack U.S. drones ... In July 2010, a U.S. spy agency intercepted electronic communications indicating that senior al-Qaeda 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-Qaeda 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. Other projects in the works included the development of observation balloons and small radio-controlled aircraft, or hobby planes, which insurgents apparently saw as having potential for monitoring the flight patterns of U.S. drones... Al-Qaeda has a long history of attracting trained engineers ... Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the self-proclaimed architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, holds a mechanical-engineering degree ... In 2010, the CIA noted in a secret report that al-Qaeda was placing special emphasis on the recruitment of technicians and that "the skills most in demand" included expertise in drones and missile technology.'"
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Leaked Documents Detail Al-Qaeda's Efforts To Fight Back Against Drones

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @09:04PM (#44762635)

    Should we be prosecuting them?

    • by PopeRatzo (965947) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @10:34PM (#44763011) Homepage Journal

      Who leaked the documents?

      That's a good question.

      The answer is: It doesn't matter. Just be grateful.

      Did you not think the enemy would adapt? Would you be better off not knowing what your government is up to, or what challenges it faces? We're not talking about the Enigma machine here, you know. The only surprises that came out of these leaks so far is the unlimited power that our government believes it has over our privacy, and the extent to which they will go to hide what they're doing from us citizens.

  • Or... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Mitreya (579078)

    In July 2010, a U.S. spy agency intercepted electronic communications indicating that senior al-Qaeda leaders had distributed a "strategy guide" to operatives around the world

    They may just be making this up to get more funding. Sometimes these "intercepted messages" or "chatter" look just so convenient (often well timed) and meaningless that one has to wonder.

    • by ron_ivi (607351)
      Or maybe the guide is from Deer Trail, Colorado [thedenverchannel.com]
  • by JoeyRox (2711699) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @09:11PM (#44762673)
    Better pay, free food, "20% time" to work on individual plots to destroy Israel, and of course, 72 geeky virgins.
    • by Darinbob (1142669) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @09:38PM (#44762797)

      Don't forget Google's "it's ok to be evil sometimes" slogan.

    • by Guppy06 (410832) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @10:05PM (#44762891)

      72 geeky virgins.

      Wahabism frowns upon homosexuality.

    • by girlintraining (1395911) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @11:05PM (#44763117)

      Better pay, free food, "20% time" to work on individual plots to destroy Israel, and of course, 72 geeky virgins.

      Ya gotta understand... engineers are HIGHLY sought after by terrorist organizations. Many specifically pony up for college just to get them skilled up enough to fight for the cause. The problem is... with an education comes this funny idea that maybe blowing up infidels isn't the best long-term strategy. If you knew how many people come here on student visas and just before graduating show up at the local FBI office or something to say "Yeah, hey guys... I actually came here on the 'death to america' ticket, but it turns out I like jeans, scantily clad girls, beer, and decent-paying jobs and, you know, I'd be grateful if you could, I don't know, keep me?" ... you'd probably be both surprised and a little bit heartened. I'm not saying it's a frequent occurrance, but it happens often enough to be worth writing home about as it were.

      That said... the terrorists may be working on ways to neutralize drones, but so too is every major military, including our own. Early generation drones didn't have a lot of failsafes, and several were successfully jammed. If it lost the signal, it just fell out of the sky. Some advancements have since occurred and they now have the same basic logic as a cruise missile, which is 'complete last command' on the event of a communications loss. Which is to say, if it's on a kill mission, it will complete the job if jammed... so by the time you see it, you're already fucked.

      Advancements now mean that they can rely on a variety of sensors beyond GPS for navigation and have a 'return to base' command in the event of a loss of communications -- they can often fly entirely autonomously and record everything for later (manual) retrieval. Communications after take-off is not necessary for many operational profiles.

      In fact, it is also very hard to jam surveillance drones as they employ rapid frequency shifting and super wide spread spectrum -- you have to basically jam tens of Ghz of spectrum to have a shot at impairing a drone's operation -- or the encryption keys, from which the PRNG used to syncronize the transmitter and receiver during these frequency hops, which occur at over 30,000 times per second. Basically, good luck even finding the signal, let alone jamming it, or getting a lock on it. This is the same technology used for stealth technology to prevent radio comms from giving away the position of our bombers, etc.

      And since it's all implimented using highly specialized FPGAs that are wiped on a power loss event or if the aircraft suffers any number of failure modes that prevent successful retrieval of the aircraft, it auto-erases and goes to a failsafe mode, transmitting it's location just prior to impact and then powering off. Which must have really pissed Iran off when they captured one of our Predator drones, popped it open, and found nothing but a melted fuck you scorch mark where the control logic was.

      Now, that doesn't mean all drones in all flight profiles use this technology. I'm just saying, it's available, so drones can be used even in an emissions-hostile environment. Sometimes it isn't used, but these are for reasons of practicality and ease of use. If you want a drone with an electronics package that says "Fuck you" in fifty foot tall neon lettering to anyone trying to jam you... there's an app for that.

      • That's their problem right there. They should send them to the Birmingham University. The English one. They'll be dying to get back home.

      • by AmiMoJo (196126) *

        That drone was an intelligence bonanza for Iran and China. It came down mostly intact and without self-destructing. We know this because they released video footage that it recorded as proof. I'm sure some stuff was auto-erased, but even so merely being able to dissect the electronics to see what systems it has and perform tests to determine their accuracy and weaknesses would have been extremely valuable.

        Notice how Iran's own drone programme got a nice boost afterwards too. They clearly learned from it.

        Mor

  • Not just al Qaeda (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Livius (318358) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @09:34PM (#44762787)

    I'm guessing every other military in the world is also interested in a defence against drones.

    • I'm guessing every other military in the world is also interested in a defence against drones.

      Every other military in the world does not consist of lightly armed tribal peoples, and therefore can easily detect and defend from what constitutes a threat in rural Yemen/Pakistan.

  • by real gumby (11516) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @09:49PM (#44762839)

    I can't believe the summary mentioned Khalid Sheik Mohammed without mentioning that he's not just any trained engineer -- he designed a classified vacuum cleaner [newyorker.com] .

    Sheesh...and they call this "News for Nerds"....though come to think of it all the true nerds already knew this!

  • "Al-Qaeda has a long history of attracting trained engineers..."

    More evidence that the STEM crisis is a myth. [slashdot.org]

  • Whenever it's a terrorist collaboration they are called cells? Why don't they just call them teams or work groups? Then they can start buying those motivational posters, have team-building programs, etc.
    • by Deadstick (535032) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @10:13PM (#44762919)

      Bad people have cells.
      Good people have teams.
      Useless people have focus groups.
      Self-serving parasites have Six Sigma groups.

    • What they really need is a mission statement.

      We have committed to synergistically coordinate high-impact terrorism across multidisciplinary cells so that we may collaboratively provide access to inexpensive leadership skills in order to destroy infidels.

      • by jd2112 (1535857)

        What they really need is a mission statement.

        We have committed to synergistically coordinate high-impact terrorism across multidisciplinary cells so that we may collaboratively provide access to inexpensive leadership skills in order to destroy infidels.

        Congratulations! You have developed an almost infallible plan to eliminate Al Qaeda as a threat by means of buzzword-speaking management consultants! Before long they will be attempting to apply Six Sigma methodologies to suicide bombings (which will probably result in the suicide bombers, well, committing suicide.)

    • by AHuxley (892839) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @10:59PM (#44763085) Homepage Journal
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clandestine_cell_system [wikipedia.org] provides some background.
      Ireland is really a great place to start in terms of operational cells and how the UK was able to 'buy'/'spy' their way in once a few members where connected.
      If the enemy get in deep, internal security structure can be persuaded to hunt their own cells.
      Cells were great for sneaker net but with todays cell and net use - its getting more tricky.
  • I can't put myself in the head space of someone who would go there. The only aspect of the profiles I happened upon suggest most recruits are twenty somethings with a hormonal state that pushes them to "adventure" and status. I just can't get there from where I am. The world's moving so fast away from the mindset of fundamentalists like al-Qaeda that were they not so psychotically violent they'd be pathetic and pitiable.
    • by AHuxley (892839)
      It motivates mil/gov spending by the West and keeps many people in great jobs. Freedom fighters can do what a nation state may not want to be seen doing. Win win.
    • by 0111 1110 (518466) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @11:03PM (#44763105)

      To be fair, Bin Laden's original vision was at least partly to strike back at us for killing muslims almost kind of for fun and practice. Including children. When you start murdering children based on their nationality and religion that does tend to make people mad. How would you feel if some Muslim country started bombing buildings and indiscriminately killing thousands including innocent children in the US? You'd probably be pissed off. Maybe not enough to blow yourself up, but if you did you wouldn't be doing it because you were "psychotically violent". This idea of evil arabs who are just evil because they were born that way is laughable. These people have good reason to be mad and want revenge and every drone strike we make just increses that anger and desire for justice.

  • I guess the CIA training offered to Al Qaeda, back when they were our guys, didn't cover drones.

  • Fear (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bmo (77928) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @10:48PM (#44763041)

    We're supposed to be afraid of these douchebags? We're supposed to fear their engineering "prowess"? Is that what this is supposed to mean?

    They make underpants bombs that won't even work under the best of circumstances. I grew up in the Cold War. I feared Russian engineering, because they actually could lob a *nuclear* tipped missile over the North Pole or from a submarine (they never solved the "launch from under water" thing, though). And the both the Bush and Obama administrations were calling these underpants bombs "sophisticated." Bullshit. Complete, utter bullshit. You know what's sophisticated? Over-the-horizon radar. ICBMs. Nuclear submarines. Tsar Bomba even if it was impractical.

    What is not sophisticated: IEDs. ANFO bombs. Flying planes into buildings. These are not sophisticated. These can be pulled off by people of average intelligence and just enough insanity to believe in their bullshit cause.

    "But they have a world-wide network of engineers!!!1111ONE@#$@#$R"

    What a lot of crap. All the engineering in the world isn't going to help you if you can't implement your "master plan" and the only logistics that they seem capable of is ground fightin' and IEDs. Bring down drones? There are governments that have been throwing money at this problem and Iran got just *one* drone to show for all their work, and it's even disputable that they got it by jamming GPS (which is possible if you've got a loud enough transmitter and a crappy enough receiver). That's not much of a return on investment.

    When all you have is a bunch of mentally-ill (because this kind of religious devotion is mental illness) engineers and suicidal foot-soldiers, you really don't have a lot of bright people. You have dolts. Dedicated, but not too bright. Because if they were bright... well... I'll leave you with this apropos quote:

    "Daniel Dravot: You are going to become soldiers. A soldier does not think. He only obeys. Do you really think that if a soldier thought twice he'd give his life for queen and country? Not bloody likely."

    --
    BMO

    • Re:Fear (Score:5, Interesting)

      by grumpy_old_grandpa (2634187) on Thursday September 05, 2013 @12:20AM (#44763329)
      > this kind of religious devotion is mental illness

      That strikes awfully close to home, don't you think? According to a 2007 Gallup poll [wikipedia.org], about 43% of Americans believe that "God created human beings pretty much in their present form at one time within the last 10,000 years or so." Viewed from the other side, our current mission to bring "democracy to the world" (or whatever the hell we're doing and excusing it with), might just as well be seen as modern day crusades. I'm absolutely sure both you and I would fight it if we were at the other end of the stick.

      As for the quote from Rudyard Kipling's story, that applies to any enlisted or ranked man, in any military at any point in history. See Gwynne Dyer's documentary "War" [wikipedia.org] for an excellent view into the training of Western world enlisted men. So yeah, maybe your comment was indeed sarcastic? Hard to tell. Some people actually do believe that "the team I'm with is better than and morally superior to yours". Tribe belongingness is after all how human kind has survived over the millennia. I wouldn't call it sophisticated, though.

      Finally, are we supposed to be afraid? Well, but of course we are! How else would our masters be able to pull a sock over our head and go on with their cocaine induced power-trips? "We've always been at war with Eastasia", and so on.
    • I feared Russian engineering, because they actually could lob a *nuclear* tipped missile over the North Pole or from a submarine (they never solved the "launch from under water" thing, though).

      Um... yeah they did. From the Yankee class (1968) onwards they could launch submerged.

    • What made AQ strong for a while was OBL's incredible intelligence. He was smart enough to more than make up for the rest of them being total morons. To use a demolition analogy, he could tell you when and where to tap a dam with a hammer and bring the whole thing down. Without his little nuggets of genius they're just a bunch of idiots with hammers.

  • by 3seas (184403) on Wednesday September 04, 2013 @10:54PM (#44763067) Journal

    ... they are not supposed to defend themselves....

  • Perhaps it would be a good time for DARPA to offer one of their technology challenges... perhaps $1m to the first team/person who can successfully bring down a drone using a home-made countermeasure.

    That way we'd know for sure just how viable such "amateur" countermeasures would be (and I'd be $1m richer :-)

    Seriously though -- drones flying at lower altitudes (ie: 5000m or lower) would *not* be that hard to take out using "off the shelf" technology adapted and applied in innovative ways.

  • They clearly don't appreciate that the US can hurt them without putting any human into their reach. If they do succeed in disabling or destroying a drone, all they get is hardware. No hostage. No video opportunity for a nice beheading. No propaganda victory.

    Serves them right!

    After all, they are evil death cult followers hell-bent on killing women and children for reasons so insane it's out of this world, and any blow we can deal them is both justified and well deserved.

    Terrorists have by their inhumane acti

    • by Nyder (754090) on Thursday September 05, 2013 @07:58AM (#44764635) Journal

      ... They use bombs to target only random innocent people and that is so evil it's hard to comprehend, so getting targeted by drones even when hiding their cowardly asses behind their women and children is completely fair in every way.

      Wait, let me get this right. You are saying since they kill innocent people it's okay for us to kill innocent people?

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