Extraordinary

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There’s an article in the Times today about how US cyberwarfare, used to such great effect against Iran and North Korea, has been a relative disappointment against ISIS. Part of the issue seems to be that ISIS’s use of technology is more basic and mundane, though not necessarily less effective. They’re not running major industrial projects like massive installations of centrifuges or missile design programs. Much of the stuff isn’t that different from running a website. Break it down and it’s easy enough to build back up.  But down below the lede in the Times story is this fascinating detail.

One of the stand-out cyber-warfare or spying feats against ISIS was carried out by Israel. And it was that operation that President Trump blabbed to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and Ambassador Kislyak.

Even one of the rare successes against the Islamic State belongs at least in part to Israel, which was America’s partner in the attacks against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Top Israeli cyberoperators penetrated a small cell of extremist bombmakers in Syria months ago, the officials said. That 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 intelligence was so exquisite that it enabled the United States to understand how the weapons could be detonated, according to two American officials familiar with the operation. The information helped prompt a ban in March on large electronic devices in carry-on luggage on flights from 10 airports in eight Muslim-majority countries to the United States and Britain.

It was also part of the classified intelligence that President Trump is accused of revealing when he met in the Oval Office last month with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, and the ambassador to the United States, Sergey I. Kislyak. His disclosure infuriated Israeli officials.

What’s not clear here is whether Trump revealed the modalities of the intelligence as opposed to just the substance. But it shows what a wild and still, in my book, entirely unexplained decision this was.

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Josh Marshall is editor and publisher of TalkingPointsMemo.com.
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