Press "Enter" to skip to content

spying an the net

Interesting story about bin Laden, the net, and a bungle.

Apparently, a private US security company, SITE Intelligence Group, breached Al-Qaeda’s internet system a couple of years ago. And in September they intercepted that video of bin Laden (before it was public)…and passed it along to US intelligence services, with the warning: don’t make it public till the video comes out, or the breach will be found.

But the video was leaked to press, and George Bush was talking it up in speeches. Perhaps coincidentally, General David Petraeus was about to give testimony to Congress about things were going in Iraq (“well,” he reported).

Al-Qaeda apparently shut down the breached internet channels immediately afterwards, realizing that there were security holes in their system.

From the New York Sun:

But the disclosure from ABC and later other news organizations tipped off Qaeda’s internal security division that the organization’s Internet communications system, known among American intelligence analysts as Obelisk, was compromised. This network of Web sites serves not only as the distribution system for the videos produced by Al Qaeda’s production company, As-Sahab, but also as the equivalent of a corporate intranet, dealing with such mundane matters as expense reporting and clerical memos to mid- and lower-level Qaeda operatives throughout the world.

While intranets are usually based on servers in a discrete physical location, Obelisk is a series of sites all over the Web, often with fake names, in some cases sites that are not even known by their proprietors to have been hacked by Al Qaeda.

One intelligence officer who requested anonymity said in an interview last week that the intelligence community watched in real time the shutdown of the Obelisk system. America’s Obelisk watchers even saw the order to shut down the system delivered from Qaeda’s internal security to a team of technical workers in Malaysia. That was the last internal message America’s intelligence community saw. “We saw the whole thing shut down because of this leak,” the official said. “We lost an important keyhole into the enemy.”

See details: washington post,, New York Sun.