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Al Qaeda nerds in Pakistan working on drone killers

September 04, 2013 13:03 IST

Al Qaeda nerds in Pakistan working on drone killers

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Pakistan-based Al Qaeda engineers are making several efforts including developing a laser warning system and shoulder-fired missiles to counter American drones, according to a report.

Al Qaeda leadership is still active inside Pakistan and it has been seriously working to develop counter measures to the successful drones of the US, The Washington Post reported, citing classified documents it received from former CIA contractor Edward Snowden, who leaked some of America's most closely guarded secrets.

According to The Post, these classified documents indicate a growing sense of unease among US agencies about Al Qaeda's determination to find a way to neutralize drones.

"Al Qaeda Engineers in Pakistan continue development of laser-warning systems in effort to counter UAV strikes," read the headline of one classified report in 2011, referring to the military acronym for unmanned aerial vehicles.

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Beyond the threat that Al Qaeda might figure out how to hack or shoot down a drone, however, US spy agencies worried that their drone campaign was becoming increasingly vulnerable to public opposition, it said.

Observing that Al Qaeda leaders have become increasingly open about their anti-drone efforts, the daily said that in the absence of a high-tech silver bullet, Al Qaeda affiliates around the world have taken to sharing hard-earned lessons about the importance of taking basic defensive measures.

The Post said that in January 2011, US spy agencies detected an unusual electronic signal emanating from near Miran Shah, a jihadist haven in North Waziristan, Pakistan.

The Defence Intelligence Agency called the signal "the first observed test of a new terrorist GPS jamming capability," it said, adding the test apparently did not pose a threat to military GPS frequencies or encrypted communications links.

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In addition, whoever was beaming the mysterious signal mistakenly believed that jamming ground-based GPS receivers would interfere with drones' ability to aim missiles or munitions at fixed targets, the report said, adding despite such missteps, Al Qaeda has been undeterred.

In a separate report, the DIA stated that affiliates in Miran Shah and the Pakistani city of Karachi were pursuing other "R&D projects", including one effort to shoot down drones with portable shoulder-fired missiles known as manpads.

The Post said Army intelligence analysts uncovered similar projects, including attempts to develop laser detectors that could give warning whenever a US Predator drone was about to fire a laser-guided Hellfire missile.

In 2011, the DIA concluded that an "Al Qaeda-affiliated research and development cell currently lacks the technical knowledge to successfully integrate and deploy a counter-drone strike system."

DIA analysts, however, said if Al Qaeda engineers were able to "overcome these substantial design challenges, we believe such a system probably would be highly disruptive for US operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan." 

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