March 23, 2010
Via: Washington Post :
By early 2008, top U.S. military officials had become convinced that extremists planning attacks on American forces in Iraq were making use of a Web site set up by the Saudi government and the CIA to uncover terrorist plots in the kingdom.
“We knew we were going to be forced to shut this thing down,” recalled one former civilian official, describing tense internal discussions in which military commanders argued that the site was putting Americans at risk. “CIA resented that,” the former official said.
Elite U.S. military computer specialists, over the objections of the CIA, mounted a cyberattack that dismantled the online forum. Although some Saudi officials had been informed in advance about the Pentagon’s plan, several key princes were “absolutely furious” at the loss of an intelligence-gathering tool, according to another former U.S. official.
The Saudi-CIA Web site was set up several years ago as a “honey pot,” an online forum covertly monitored by intelligence agencies to identify attackers and gain information, according to three of the former officials. The site was a boon to Saudi intelligence operatives, who were able to round up some extremists before they could strike, the former officials said.
- A d v e r t i s e m e n t
At the time, however, dozens of Saudi jihadists were entering Iraq each month to carry out attacks. U.S. military officials grew concerned that the site “was being used to pass operational information” among extremists, one former official said. The threat was so serious, former officials said, that Gen. Ray Odierno, the top U.S. military commander in Iraq, requested that the site be shut down.
The operation was debated by a task force on cyber-operations made up of representatives from the Defense and Justice departments, the CIA, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, and the National Security Council. Lt. Gen. Keith B. Alexander, who directs the National Security Agency, made a presentation.
A group of cyber-operators at the Pentagon’s Joint Functional Component Command-Network Warfare at Fort Meade seemed ideally suited to the task. The unit carries out operations under a program called Countering Adversary Use of the Internet, established to blunt Islamist militants’ use of online forums and chat groups to recruit and mobilize members and to spread their beliefs.