Israeli government spies hacked into the operations of Islamic State bombmakers to discover they were developing a laptop computer bomb to blow up a commercial aircraft, the New York Times reported Monday.
The Times said the work by Israeli cyber operators was a rare success of western intelligence against the constantly evolving, encryption-protected and social-media-driven cyber operations of the extremist group.
It said the Israeli hackers penetrated the small Syria-based cell of bombmakers months ago, an effort that led to the March 21 ban on carry-on laptops and other electronics larger than cellphones on direct flights to the United States from 10 airports in Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa.
The Israeli cyber-penetration “was how the United States learned that the terrorist group was working to make explosives that fooled airport X-ray machines and other screening by looking exactly like batteries for laptop computers,” the Times said.
The intelligence was so good that the detonation method for the bombs was understood, the Times said, citing two US officials familiar with the operation.
Following the US laptop ban, Britain announced a similar prohibition for flights originating from six countries.
Israel’s contribution to the intelligence on the laptop bombs became public after President Donald Trump revealed details on it to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a May 10 White House meeting.
Trump’s disclosure “infuriated” Israeli officials, according to the Times.