Black Hat USA 2013 - OPSEC failures of spies

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Black Hat

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Shared December 3, 2013

By: Matthew Cole

The CIA is no more technologically sophisticated than your average American, and as a result, has suffered serious and embarrassing operational failures.

This is a rare peek inside the CIA's intelligence gathering operations and the stunning lack of expertise they can bring to the job.

In 2005, news organizations around the world reported that an Italian court had signed arrest warrants for 26 Americans in connection with an extraordinary rendition of a Muslim cleric. At the heart of the case was the stunning lack of OPSEC the team of spies used while they surveilled and then snatched their target off the streets of Milan.

The incident, known as the Italian Job inside the CIA, became an international scandal and caused global outrage. What very few people ever understood was that the CIA's top spies were laughably uneducated about cell phone technology and ignorant of the electronic fingerprints left behind.

The story would be startling, though old, if not for the fact that eight years after the debacle in Milan, history repeated itself.

In 2011, an entire CIA network of Lebanese informants was busted by Hezbollah. The reason: cell phone OPSEC failures. After receiving a warning from Mossad, who had lost their network a year earlier the same way, the CIA dismissed Hezbollah's ability to run analytic software on raw cell phone traffic. But they did. And with a little effort, the CIA's network of spies, as well as their own officers, were identified one by one.

This is the true story of American Intelligence's Keystone Kops.

Martin Lee

Foiled by foil packets at 15"20 - 16"10. Doritos are sold in foil packets which may be an effective Faraday cage, but not available in Italy where many potato chips/snacks are sold in plastic non conductive packets. I bet this is the mistake that they made confusing US foil snack packets with European plastic snack packets.

6 years ago | [YT] | 27

What I learnt today

Did some work with a VoIP telco in the early 2000's. He had Hezbollah running earth-stations from Bekaa valley rooftops. The system worked whereby someone in another country would buy a phonecard for the VoIP system, they'd schedule a call. Hezbollah rocks up at your relatives door and hands them the mobile phone. Don't know how CIA/Mossad missed the fact that Hezbollah are the mobile network in Lebanon.

6 years ago | [YT] | 12


Wow I assumed they'd all be running custom firmware to allow the IMEI to be changed on demand. At least today we don't need to bother with the chip packets thanks to airplane mode.

2 years ago | [YT] | 7


Great video

3 years ago | [YT] | 2