- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Trump administration’s decision to ban large electronic devices in the cabins of certain U.S.-bound aircraft last month arose after Israeli hackers successfully infiltrated the Islamic State terror group and gleaned sensitive intelligence involving its plan to down planes using bomb-equipped laptops, The New York Times reported.

Israeli hackers “penetrated a small cell of extremist bomb-makers in Syria months ago,” The Times reported Monday, citing U.S. officials familiar with the international campaign against the Islamic State, also known as ISIS.

Once inside, Israeli hackers gathered intelligence indicating the Islamic State “was working to make explosives that fooled airport X-ray machines and other screening by looking exactly like batteries for laptop computers,” the report said.

“The intelligence was so exquisite,” the Times reported, “that it enabled the United States to understand how the weapons could be detonated.”

The U.S. and U.K. acted on the data in late March by barring international travelers from bringing large electronics into the cabins of flights originating from several Muslim-majority countries.

Despite its role in allowing the U.S. and its allies to defend against an aerial attack by the Islamic State, however, the intelligence ultimately proved problematic for the White House after President Trump shared information about the operation with Russian diplomats last month — enraging Israel, given Moscow’s alliance with Iran, Israel’s biggest foe.

U.S. officials who spoke to The Times praised the Israeli hacking campaign as “one of the rare successes against the Islamic State” achieved in the digital realm. Washington officially launched its own cyberwar against the Islamic State in November, Operation Growing Symphony, but experts interviewed by the Times agreed the effort has hardly eroded the terror group’s activities.

Instead, rather, officials said the biggest success attributable to the U.S. operation involved hacking into the internet accounts of Islamic State operatives and changing their passwords — a tactic that disrupted the group’s online operations, albeit only briefly.

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