SciFi Headline Turns Real: US Drone Kills ISIS Hacker

from the headlines-from-the-future dept

Welcome to your dystopian future. Reports from yesterday say that a US drone strike in Syria has killed a British-born computer hacker who had joined ISIS and was involved in that group’s online activities:

A US air strike is believed to have killed a British citizen who rose to prominence within the Islamic State, officials have told the Guardian.

The Birmingham-born Junaid Hussain, who adopted the nom de guerre Abu Hussain al-Britani, had been a key figure within Isis?s so-called ?Cyber Caliphate? before being killed in the strike in Syria, where he had travelled in 2013.

Remember when President Obama said (of Ed Snowden): “I’m not going to be scrambling jets to get a 29-year-old hacker.” Apparently, that changes when the hacker is working for ISIS (and the hacker is only 21 years old).

There’s no doubt that ISIS is a dangerous organization, but sending drones to go after hackers, even those targeting American interests, still feels like a pretty big overreaction.

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Comments on “SciFi Headline Turns Real: US Drone Kills ISIS Hacker”

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105 Comments
nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 ha ha

Not sure who ‘the guy’ is, but I don’t see any sarcasm in this thread.

Right here:

“You calling our black president a liar?
You must be some sort of racist”

He doesn’t actually believe that anyone calling Obama a liar is a racist, he is mocking the people who (he believes) say that. I think that’s a straw man personally but I could be wrong.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: ha ha ha

Many had the same reaction when the US started kidnapping and torturing people after 9/11. We now know that many people weren’t kidnapped and tortured because they were terrorists, but merely to test vague and often wrong suspicions that they had some connection to terrorism.

We also know from a joint study by Stanford and New York Universities of drone strikes in Pakistan that they’ve been killing 49 people for every known terrorist. Not just because of innocent bystanders being killed. It’s because of the US’s use of “double-taps” – something the US itself calls terrorism – where after the first strike they’ll send in more missiles to target rescuers.

But by all means, enjoy your laugh.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: ha ha ha

It establishes an interesting precedent — the US leadership believes that hacking is either an act of war that justifies a military strike, or that a drone strike is not an act of war at all.

If they’re right, then the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center wasn’t an act of war either, they just used manned ‘drones’.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: ha ha ha

It establishes an interesting precedent — the US leadership believes that hacking is either an act of war that justifies a military strike, or that a drone strike is not an act of war at all.

A wonderful point – apart from two things.

1) Hussain wasn’t attacked for hacking – he was attacked because he was part of a self declared state that has declared war on the US. If you were a radio operator on the Bismarck you weren’t targeted for being a radio operator – you were targeted for being on the Bismarck.

2) It wasn’t a drone strike.

Anonymous Coward says:

He also said

He also said that attacking the interests of our country through cyber means would be the same as attacking with conventional weapons and would be considered an act of war. He then went ahead and attacked several other countries networks around the world using cyber attacks… So he is charging full ahead in trying to create wars and conflicts around the world, but still avoiding using those pesky legal terms of war and military use that Congress demands he use whenever an actual war or conflict is declared.

Anonymous Coward says:

pffft

This is just a “spray and pray” drone war. You pray the little bit of ELINT you get is correct and blow shit up. Hopefully you actually hit someone, hopefully they were a target, hopefully it wasn’t civilians or goats AND hopefully the enemy actually admits you hit the person you were after. I really don’t like the idea of us having boots on the ground but this is beginning to remind me of Vietnam. I can still remember the huge kill counts from that police action but we still seemed to lose that skirmish.

Hell, if ISIS had any brains they would say someone important died every time we droned them and our gov’t would probably stupid enough to believe it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Mike, you are wrong. Why should an enemy combatant not be treated like an enemy combatant?
Just because the weapon in his hand is not connected to a gun or missile, his keyboard can cause equal or more destruction.

And all teh FUD about drones, why? Lets call these drones what they really are. An Unmanned Aircraft weapons platform.
Would your argument and analysis be any different if the missile was launched from the ground, or a human-occupied flying weapons platform?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I don’t think that is what Mike meant, he was specifically talking about Obama’s comment not not wasting resources on a hacker.

I really do not think you will find too much resistance to taking out the terrorists but the problem always comes down to America just killing people because we put the label terrorist on them.

Due to the amount of lying the Government does these days, seeing any truth from them is a very precious rare gem. I have no reason to believe whom the government calls a terrorist these days.

Roger Strong (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Questions:

Someone from ISIS sneaks into California from a ship off the coast. Carrying an anti-tank rocket in a guitar case. Wearing an arm band or anything else resembling a uniform. He makes his way to the front gate of a base where the drones are remotely piloted from.

A car comes out of the base, and he blasts it at the next traffic light. Civilians in two cars are also killed.

Has the ISIS member committed a war crime? (People in the base are killing the enemy from within. It’s a war zone, and they don’t leave it when they fetch lunch.)

Think carefully here; at some point the US will be fighting another recognized government of a recognized country. “We’re killing from here but the war zone is over there” ain’t going to fly.

Now add drones. We live in a world where over a decade ago a legally blind guy with almost no budget built a drone and flew it across the Atlantic ocean. You can imagine what small governments can do, especially with GPS-enabled smart phones that didn’t exist back then.

Someone is going to decide that drones are the modern-day “great equalizer” similar to guns in the past. They may not do much real damage, but they’ll be highly disruptive terror weapons.

Do you think it was particularly bright for the US to pre-establish that sending drones into other countries that you’re not at war with, to kill enemies and many more bystanders, is perfectly acceptable behavior?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Why should an enemy combatant not be treated like an enemy combatant?
Just because the weapon in his hand is not connected to a gun or missile, his keyboard can cause equal or more destruction.

OK: this guy’s not doing anything that the US government isn’t doing to multiple governments and organizations (including those inside the US itself). When the US does it, it is espionage and counterintelligence. When ISIS does it, it’s a weaponized attack by an enemy combatant?

Sure, it makes sense to round up people who are aiding in the torture and killing of innocents. But we should have all this on a level playing field. Either the US declares war on ISIL (with Congressional approval) or the US doesn’t. And if this is considered an act of war, than the US should admit it is at war with everyone, even its own citizens.

Anonymous Coward says:

Mike, you are wrong. Why should an enemy combatant not be treated like an enemy combatant?
Just because the weapon in his hand is not connected to a gun or missile, his keyboard can cause equal or more destruction.

And all teh FUD about drones, why? Lets call these drones what they really are. An Unmanned Aircraft weapons platform.
Would your argument and analysis be any different if the missile was launched from the ground, or a human-occupied flying weapons platform?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

…Would your argument and analysis be any different if the missile was launched from the ground, or a human-occupied flying weapons platform?…

Or a Special Forces team raiding the premises? Doesn’t matter which team (even an ad-hoc team with personnel from all the different units) goes in: they’re all trained to shoot their target(s) dead, no questions asked.

sigalrm (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Or a Special Forces team raiding the premises? Doesn’t matter which team (even an ad-hoc team with personnel from all the different units) goes in: they’re all trained to shoot their target(s) dead, no questions asked.

Wow. You’re really equating a special ops teams capabilities to a missile platform? Do you really have so little respect for US soldiers?

A soldier with a rifle is capable of determining who their target is and shooting them. They’re also – at least in theory – able to distinguish between combatants and non-combatants, and will not generally kill indiscriminately (or, at least, the special forces guys I’ve known wouldn’t). If they go into a building and determine its filled with nuns and orphans, they can make an intelligent decision and, for example, not execute the orphans. Doesn’t mean they always make the “right” decision, but at least they have the capability to do so.

A missile platform’s targeting capability is only as granular as its blast radius.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

the special forces guys I’ve known … If they go into a building and determine its filled with nuns and orphans, they can make an intelligent decision and, for example, not execute the orphans

Ah – so US special forces are the Pirates of Penzance!

Frederic
Well, then, it is my duty, as a pirate, to tell you that you are too tender-hearted. For instance, you make a point of never attacking a weaker party than yourselves, and when you attack a stronger party you invariably get thrashed.
Pirate King
There is some truth in that.
Frederic
Then, again, you make a point of never molesting an orphan!
Samuel
Of course: we are orphans ourselves, and know what it is.
Frederic
Yes, but it has got about, and what is the consequence? Every one we capture says he’s an orphan. The last three ships we took proved to be manned entirely by orphans, and so we had to let them go. One would think that Great Britain’s mercantile navy was recruited solely from her orphan asylums — which we know is not the case.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 That does raise a question...

Or was he just one of the bystanding militants caught in the shrapnel?

Well, italics work as well as scare quotes, I guess. But that aside, are you saying

> any drone strike will be aimed at one-and-only-one ‘person of interest’ and anyone else killed is a ‘militant’

It sure seems like you are implying that anyone not specifically targeted is an innocent civilian. And that premise seems no more valid than assuming that all casualties are militants.

It’s schrodinger’s drone strike, dude. You don’t know unless you observe the casualties. And even then you might not know. For…

When a felon's not engaged in his employment (his employment)
or maturing his feloious little plans (little plans)
his capacity for innocent enjoyment (-cent enjoyment)
is just as great as any honest man's (honest mans)

They get married, they go on vacation with their wives and children, they go bowling (maybe), they shoot shit up in the hills when boozed up…

And one thing they don’t do, is carry around dog tags identifying them as bona fide militants just in case someone blows them up.

Are they militants? Are they not? Much of the time, you simply can’t tell unless they’ve got weapons in their hands right then.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Juxtaposition of who a person is vs. what he does.

I’m pretty sure a felon who is engaging in more benign activities is just a person with the same rights as anyone else.

It is the the activity that makes someone a militant. Take the gun out of the revolutionary and let him raise a farm and a family, and he’s a farmer and family man.

If you want to be fair and just and ethical, you don’t blow people up for fear of what they might do.

As for our victims of missile strikes, sure we at home aren’t told who they are. The US calls them all militants. When I heard the statistic, civilians were specified.

I do know this: US officials lie a lot and they have now a long running history of lying to cover their own asses (contrast: the asses of their workforce or of the US in the eyes of the international community). So I’ve learned to be not just skeptical, but cynical when an official statement is made about anything.

That said, I have good cause to presume casualties are civilians and innocent until proven otherwise. As a child I was raised under the notion that this is a wise and good presumption to make regarding anyone. At least anyone whose affiliation is unknown.

When we pick up the bodies, do they have ISIL membership cards? Or do we presume any Muslim or Arab or brown-skinned person in the area is an ISIL affiliate?

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Juxtaposition of who a person is vs. what he does.

I’m pretty sure a felon who is engaging in more benign activities is just a person with the same rights as anyone else.

Let me paraphrase:
” When a felon’s not engaged in his employment
Or maturing his felonious little plan
His capacity for innocent enjoyment
Is just as great as any honest man
Lyrics from eLyrics.net

WS Gilbert

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Not so sci-fi?

Maybe read more William Gibson or anything in the cyberpunk genre.

Computer hackers explore / rob big corporations, get distracted by big terrible secrets. Meanwhile the corporation has traced the hacker to his location and gets his house SWATted.

Sometimes the hacker escapes, sometimes he doesn’t.

The rest of the story is how the secret gets leaked and to where. Less relevant, usually, is what the secret is.

Paul says:

Idiotic logic...

I’m not a huge “Hey lets nuke all terrorists and middle east” kinda guy… But it seems kinda ridiculous for you to suggest we not use the technology we have available to us against a terrorist organization so headlined that al-Qaida has disavowed them as too extreme.

Seriously? You compare Edward Snowden to a “Key figure” in the ISIS leadership simply because they both know their way around a computer?

That is pretty messed up… That makes about as much sense as saying bananas share 50% of the same DNA that makes up the terrorists DNA so we should exterminate all bananas.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Idiotic logic...

The second line in the original Guardian article reads….
“Abu Hussain al-Britani, was much more than just a computer hacker and was a key figure inside the movement…He is believed to have been involved in plots in the US and in the UK and elsewhere in Europe and his removal was significant.”

Techdirt has a habit of leaving out facts, and in this case inserting drivel, to induce reader outrage, encourage comments, and increase page views.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/aug/27/junaid-hussain-british-hacker-for-isis-believed-killed-in-us-airstrike

The original story is here, for those who like their facts with a little less hyperbole.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Idiotic logic...

“Abu Hussain al-Britani, was much more than just a computer hacker and was a key figure inside the movement…He is believed to have been involved in plots in the US and in the UK and elsewhere in Europe and his removal was significant.”

That reads a little fluffy. Notice the lack of detail.

Uriel-238 says:

Re: Re: Hacker season.

I’m curious about their headline choice.

ISIL Hacker slain rather than High ranking ISIL officer slain or ISIL ECM saboteur slain.

I guess hackers are a more exciting kill? That is, for some of us, a disturbing trend.

Certainly when I think of hackers I think of people who crack security of websites, not military specialists.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Using drone strikes to kill ISIL terrorists

Makes sense when they’re clustered together in their training camp far removed from anywhere else, including their own families.

Drone strikes into towns full of civilians to get one or two guys, less so.

And the casualty statistics coming out of the drone strike program seem to imply that we’re hitting towns full of civies. US pilots, officers and officials are willing to massacre a whole bunch of people to get one guy.

Maybe we should choose a more appropriate technology by which to get tangos where there are civilians? Because it’s looking more and more like we believe The only good brown-skinned foreigner in his own country is a dead one.

Sheogorath (profile) says:

Come on, Techdirt, tell the truth!

The difference between Ed Snowden and Junaid Hussein is that Hussein was actually threatening American interests, whereas Snowden was threatening the interests of the US government by protecting those of citizens internationally. That’s why Hussein got killed in a drone strike and Snowden wasn’t. ;(

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Come on, Techdirt, tell the truth!

My guess would be that Snowden is in a country that has atomic bombs and a kind of huge army. If the US screws with them too much it could hurt a bit.

Besides it is good PR that Snowden is safe in Russia but will probably be killed in the US. So they will do quite a lot to keep him alive.

Sheogorath (profile) says:

Re: Re: Come on, Techdirt, tell the truth!

I believe it was in War Games where it was pointed out that both Russia and the US have equal nuclear capabilities and if one of them fired a missile and the other country retaliated, between them they’d turn this planet into a radioactive wasteland. I remember the computer saying that it was like a game of Tic-tac-toe: “The only way to win is not to play.”

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Come on, Techdirt, tell the truth!

While the term “The only way to win is not to play.” is true the US has iirc about three times as many nukes as russia. And about 30% of those nukes are stored outside the US on sovereign countries. Heck the US even had to renew the nukes stored in Germany because they started to leak or something and might explode by accident.

So closest Russian nuke to the US is in Russia
Closest US nukes to Russia are in Germany (just a few 100’s).

If it comes to a conflict…guess which one is closer to the so called “enemy”. Google if you are not sure although the difference in distance is about 10,000 miles at least.

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

An extremist viewpoint is one where someone wishes to force their ideology on others, and/or kill those who hold to a different ideology.

Hmm – actually the content of the ideology itself matters here.

If killing others who disagree is part of the ideology then that is extremist.

If killing is a revenge response or an action taken to prevent others being killed then that is different – not necessarily right but different.

Thus the Nazi killing of the Jews was extremist – but the allied response in WW2 was not – even though the allies committed many atrocities in the process.

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Persons in support of ISIS or ISIL...

…or any terrorist front are often people who don’t know where else to turn, or don’t have a choice.

Now emotionally, Glenn, I’m right there with you. After the assassination of Dr. George Tiller, I was hot to decide that every single pro-life family was made up of crazies as bad as Roeder, who’d gun a man down in a church. I would have been glad to see them all burn.

But realistically, I know different, and I know that’s not fair. Even that creepazoid who was running Operation: Rescue, who was ready to go out with his buddies for hot wings and beer on the afternoon of the murder.

So no. We (by which I mean the US and its rag-tag team of willing coalitionists) have to resolve to be better than that, and demonstrate our civility is genuine. This would mean striving to extend to ISIS / ISIL reasonable war provisions and rights that would be due any people (maybe as demonstration that we are, in fact, civilized). Historically, by treating our enemy better than they do, we would be able to sway the people away from affiliation with terror groups and towards NATO relief organizations.

If we’re not going to do this, we need to come to terms with the truth (according to our behavior so far) that we don’t give a fuck about any of those shitskins on the ground, and we don’t care that this makes us as bad as ISIL or the taliban or the Huns or the Nazis for that matter.

And at that point we can do fire strikes on the towns and seed bioagents all over the theater and wipe out the entire population… unless we’re wanting to round up the children and sell them into sex and labor slavery. (Probably at ~$8K per virgin female child).

Right now the US pretends we have the moral high ground and then shits everywhere. We should either abide by morality, or get rid of the pretense and get busy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Persons in support of ISIS or ISIL...

Woah, hold on a moment! You can’t compare some mid east bum to a supreme being which a US citizen is.

Just take a look at the Haditha killings*. The US paid 38,000 for 15 Iraqi people killed. That means an Iraqi is worth about $2,500. Now in comparison add up how much was spend over the years in the name of the 3,000 people killed in 2001 and you see the difference.

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Haditha_killings

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re: Persons in support of ISIS or ISIL...

Right now the US pretends we have the moral high ground and then shits everywhere. We should either abide by morality, or get rid of the pretense and get busy.

There is always a moral problem in dealing with an immoral enemy. In WW2 the allies did some terrible things, Hamburg, Dresden and the atomic bombs to mention just a few.

However there are some rights and wrongs here that are clear.

1. It is wrong to invent a spurious classification of “enemy combatants” and then deny them the benefits of either the Geneva Convention or Civilian Justice.

2. The article here is wrong to conflate this guy with Edward Snowden. This guy is living in a pseudo state that has de-facto declared war on the US (and in fact on most of the rest of the world). The US is already bombing that territory with conventional aircraft. ISIS is so bad that some of the captured Yazidi women have called out “if you know where we are please bomb us!”. It is that bad. If you believe in war at all then this guy (as part of the command structure of that pseudo state) is as legitimate a target as Goering was in WW2. Snowden is completely different. His motivations were to improve the US government – not to replace it with a caliphate. Also he is in a country that has a stable, legitimate government and a US embassy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Trial?

I can’t find a case against him on the internet. Does anyone know the case number or name?

For someone to be put to death would certainly need a court to rule him guilty and there must be some evidence that proved without a doubt that this person was guilty. The US is a state of law, is it not?

Otherwise this was a terrorist attack meaning killing a foreign national(s) without them to be proven guilty of a crime.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: "The innocent until proven guilty has no truck in a tyranny"

I might not agree with you on the tyranny part but I do think it is remarkable that certain people can do or act as they want with impunity. Those “certain” people I mean are called cops. Beat up, kill anyone. The subject was handcuffed behind his back? Of course he used his own hidden weapon to shoot himself in the head… and the judge buys the story because cops don’t lie!

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Trial?

guilty if we say they are is the new law.

That’s pretty much it. The executive branch has decided that it is not necessary to involve the judicial branch in the determination of whether someone is a terrorist. And it’s difficult for those people to appeal that decision to the judicial branch, and nobody else has standing to do it. Convenient, isn’t it?

Glenn says:

Anyone who initiates violence against others, anyone who joins a group which initiates violence against others, anyone who supports a group which initiates violence against others deserves to die… screaming.

That’s where I stand “emotionally”. Murderers and the “cohorts” of murderers all deserve to die. They have no respect for life or the basic human rights of others.

Jack says:

Re: Re:

So put a gun in your mouth and start screaming, because we torture and kill and have no respect for the basic human rights of others in the middle east. Sure, we carry a big stick and kill scumbags, but we kill far more innocent people in the process who are just trying to live their lives in countries torn apart by was that we started.

You need to realize that the USA isn’t some shining beacon of democracy and we have far bloodier hands than the vast majority of first world countries. Just because we are better than ISIS just means we aren’t the biggest dickheads in the world.

ECA (profile) says:

DIFFERENCES??

DRONE
Cruise missile..

Whats the difference here…

I thought there was a restriction on cruise missiles going over countries..without declaring war..

ALSO, my earlier post about Locating hackers..
HOW??

Did they call up the ISP in the area and ask for an address?? BAD HACKER..
He didnt setup a remote, VPN, and SIT miles away from the location..
TELL me how you find a Good hacker, and I will suggest you have the WRONG ADDRESS..

Richard (profile) says:

Re: DIFFERENCES??

DRONE
Cruise missile..

Whats the difference here…

Well – drones are a newer technology – which is why techdirt is interested.

However it seems that this was neither – it was a regular bombing attack from a manned a/c.

I thought there was a restriction on cruise missiles going over countries..without declaring war..

ISIS has declared war on the US.

Otherwise it seems that these attacks have the tacit approval of the Syrian government – which is also bombing ISIS. The US is desperate not to be seen to be helping Assad but Assad is quite happy for the US to help him.

GEMont (profile) says:

Heil the King

“Obama is the biggest puppet ever to lead United States.”

Actually methinks he may well be an employee stock-holder in the Corporate Shadow Government, rather than just a typical figurehead puppet.

He’s really rich and that makes him a member in good standing of the Ownership Society, so like Gee Dubbya Bush before him, he won’t have to fall on his sword when he’s replaced by the next fake Democratic Ringer. He’s a willing participant in America’s demise and will receive a cut of the bounty.

As far as “lead” goes, I’d prefer to use the term “drag”, since most Americans really won’t want to go where he’s dragging them, once (and if) they figure out where that is.

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