Reports: British Intelligence Battled Al-Qaida With Cupcakes

Jun 3, 2011

British anti-terror activities took a decidedly sweet turn, last year. The Telegraph, The Guardian and the Associated Press, among others, are reporting that British intelligence agents hacked into one of al-Qaida's English language publications and swapped out a recipe for home-made bombs with recipes for American cupcakes.

The Telegraph reports:

When followers tried to download the 67-page colour magazine, instead of instructions about how to "Make a bomb in the Kitchen of your Mom" by "The AQ Chef" they were greeted with garbled computer code.

The code, which had been inserted into the original magazine by the British intelligence hackers, was actually a web page of recipes for "The Best Cupcakes in America" published by the Ellen DeGeneres chat show.

The hack took place about a year ago, reported The Guardian, when a branch of al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula launched Inspire, an English-language publication aimed at the West. The Guardian adds that the operation was born out a dispute between two U.S. agencies:

The head of the US Cyber Command, General Keith Alexander, said blocking the magazine was a legitimate counter-terrorism target and would help protect American troops overseas, according to the Washington Post.

The CIA argued that such an attack would expose sources and intelligence methods and that it amounted to covert action rather than a traditional military one and was therefore its responsibility.

The CIA won the argument and declined to go ahead with the attack on Inspire, the newspaper said.

The AP confirmed the story with an unnamed British government official, who told them, "We're increasingly using cybertools as part of our work."

The AP reports that the hackers were part of Britain's eavesdropping agecency the GCHQ. The Guardian adds that a British official said publicizing the hack was a bit of propaganda, "just to let them know."

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