Islamic State’s online army is a Russian front, says German intelligence

Cyber CaliphateA German intelligence report alleges that the so-called ‘Cyber Caliphate’, the online hacker wing of the Islamic State, is in fact a Russian front, ingeniously conceived to permit Moscow to hack Western targets without retaliation. The group calling itself Cyber Caliphate first appeared in early 2014, purporting to operate as the online wing of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), later renamed Islamic State. Today the Cyber Caliphate boasts a virtual army of hackers from dozens of countries, who are ostensibly operating as the online arm of the Islamic State. Their known activities include a strong and often concentrated social media presence, and computer hacking, primarily in the form of cyber espionage and cyber sabotage.

Since its inception, the Cyber Caliphate has claimed responsibility for hacking a number of European government agencies and private media outlets. Its targets include the BBC and French television channel TV5 Monde, which was severely impacted by cyber sabotage in April of 2015. The Cyber Caliphate said it was also behind attacks on the servers of the United States Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Defense, and the website of the Pentagon’s US Central Command. The US has since retaliated, both with cyber attacks and physical strikes. One such strike resulted in the killing of Junaid Hussain, a British hacker of Pakistani background, who was said to be among the Cyber Caliphate’s senior commanders. Hussain, 21, was reportedly killed in August 2015 in Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital in Syria, reportedly after clicking on a compromised link in an email, which gave away his physical whereabouts.

Now, however, a German intelligence report claims that the Cyber Caliphate is not associated with the Islamic State, but is rather a fictitious front group created by Russia. According to German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, which said it had seen the classified report, German authorities suggest that the Cyber Caliphate is in fact a project of APT28 (also known as ‘Pawn Storm’), a notorious Russian hacking collective with close ties to Russian intelligence. The German intelligence report echoes previous assessments by French authorities, which in 2015 stated that the TV5 Monde cyber attack was a false flag operation orchestrated by APT28. Also in 2015, a security report by the US State Department concluded that despite the Cyber Caliphate’s proclamations of connections to the Islamic State, there were “no indications —technical or otherwise— that the groups are tied”.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 20 June 2016 | Permalink

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Obama authorizes Special Forces, CIA, to conduct assassinations in Syria

Islamic State convoy in SyriaThe United States Central Intelligence Agency is collaborating with the country’s Special Forces in a targeted killing program aimed against senior members of the Islamic State and other militant groups in Syria. The program, which has been directly authorized by US President Barack Obama, is limited in scope and has so far involved fewer than a dozen strikes against suspected militants. But it is believed to reflect increasing frustration in Washington about the lack of progress shown by the military campaign against the Islamic State. Recent reports by American intelligence agencies confirm that the militant group is “fundamentally no weaker” today than it was a year ago, despite an intense US-led bombing campaign involving thousands of airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.

The Washington Post, which revealed the existence of the program on Tuesday, said it brought together the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC) and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). The CTC is believed to be primarily responsible for identifying and locating senior Islamic State figures in Syria, while the JSOC is in charge of killing them, mostly through the use of unmanned drones, according the paper. The two agencies continue to operate separate drone centers, said The Post, in Virginia and North Carolina respectively; but they have exchanged several of advisors who have constant access to each other’s drone video feeds.

The goal of the targeted killing program is to assassinate what the CIA refers to as “high-value targets”, which includes Islamic State leaders and those members of the organization whose job is to build a membership base outside the territorial boundaries or the Islamic State’s self-described caliphate. The Post said that the list of Islamic State members killed by the CIA-JSOC program includes Junaid Hussain, a British citizen who was instrumental in building and maintaining the Islamic State’s outreach campaign on social media. The paper noted that the CIA-JSOC targeted killing campaign is not part of the wider American military offensive against the Islamic State.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 01 September 2015 | Permalink