Photo Credit: IDF
IDF Soldier launching a UAV

The US and UK have cracked the special codes connecting the IAF unmanned aircraft system with their bases, and for many years have been tracking and observing everything that was being transmitted, Intercept reported Friday, based on newly published documents and pictures stolen by former Intelligence officer Edward Snowden.

The documents show that Israel operates a large fleet of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), collecting intelligence data in Gaza, Judea and Samaria and the rest of the Middle East, including two drones that are reporting on Iran’s nuclear program. Two of the Israeli UAVs are armed with rockets and bombs for targeted killings. The fleet is operated from several IAF bases, including Tel Nof, Palmakhim, and Ein Shemer.


The new exposed documents offer a peek into Israel’s secret world of intelligence: the targets bank, objectives, preferences and capabilities, through Israeli eyes staring squarely at the enemies. It appears that the US and the UK have relied on Israel’s enormous intelligence capabilities, seeing everything Israel saw.

This image was intercepted early on the morning of January 7, 2010.

“There’s a good chance that we are looking at the first images of an armed Israeli drone in the public domain,” said Chris Woods, author of Sudden Justice, a history of drone warfare. “They’ve gone to extraordinary lengths to suppress information on weaponized drones.”

According to a senior intelligence official, this is nothing short of an earthquake. “It means they forced stripped us, and, just as important, it appears that none of our secure coding communications are safe from them. This constitutes the most severe leak in the history of Israel’s intelligence service.”

“The broadcast was supposed to be completely secure,” said Ronen Bergman, a reporter for Yediot. “If the NSA and GCHQ were able to crack that, it would come as a big surprise, and might well lead to the launch of an inquiry.”

This large-scale US and UK intelligence operation, code-named “Anarchist,” has been going on since 1988, with the goal of cracking the codes and intercepting the communications of major Middle East armies, their air forces and sophisticated weapons systems. The operation has cracked the codes of the advanced weapons systems of Hezbollah, Egypt, Turkey, Iran, and Syria; but at the center of this effort, where the bulk of Anarchist’s resources have been invested, has been Israel.

Operation Anarchist is a collaboration of the US National Security Agency (NSA) and the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ). It operates out of two bases: the Royal Air Force Menwith Hill station near Harrogate, North Yorkshire, England; and Mount Olympus in Cyprus, the peak of the Troodos mountain range, which is 5,856 feet high. The latter is an enormous base, much of which is undergroud, and studded with dozens of antennas and other reception and deciphering equipment.

The depth of Anarchist’s reach is revealed in Edward Snowden’s files, taken from the NSA, which include screenshots from videos as well as images shot by high performance cameras taken directly form the Israeli UAVs in real time. In many cases, the US and UK trackers were able to identify the locations being covered, either because they were well known, such as the separation wall in Judea and Samaria, or because they were able to decipher the portion of the UAV transmission identifying the location.

However, even when fully decoded, the images are of varying quality, often grainy, and often showing nothing but the sky or sun or the drone’s own landing gear nearing the runway.

One GCHQ document speaks excitedly about the unprecedented access which offers a unique opportunity to understand the IDF decision-making process, in order to enable the understanding and prediction of future operations.

According to Intercept, the documents highlight the conflicted relationship between the United States and Israel and U.S. concerns about Israel’s potentially destabilizing actions in the region. The two nations are close counterterrorism partners, and have a memorandum of understanding, dating back to 2009, that allows Israel access to raw communications data collected by the NSA. Yet they are nonetheless constantly engaged in a game of spy versus spy.

A shot of a Heron TP, taken almost six minutes into a recording captured on June 9, 2010.

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