The sensitive intelligence that US President Donald Trump controversially revealed to the Russians was gathered by an Israeli cyber warfare unit that penetrated an Islamic State group bomb-making cell, The New York Times reported on Monday. The acutely sensitive information obtained by the Israelis reportedly exposed how IS intended to use bombs in laptops to blow up airliners.
Previous reports on the leaked information had indicated that it was an Israeli agent who had infiltrated the organization.
A New York Times report about US cyber-warfare efforts against IS said Monday that the information was specifically about an IS plot to disguise bombs as laptop batteries in a way that would trick X-ray security machines at airports.
The report said this Israeli cyber breakthrough had been one of the only successes in infiltrating IS.
“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 report said.
“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. ”
Armed with the information, US officials imposed a ban earlier this year on taking laptop computers on flights heading to the US from 10 airports in Muslim countries.
According to the report, the bomb information was “part of the classified intelligence that 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.”
Trump’s indiscretion sparked anger in the Israeli intelligence community, prompting calls by some for a scaling-back on intelligence sharing with the US.
Later reports said an Israeli intelligence asset embedded in the terrorist group had provided the tip-off about the planned attack, and that Trump’s information-sharing possibly put the spy’s life at risk.
Trump admitted that he had given information to the Russians, saying in a tweet he had the right to do so, but the exact source of the material was never confirmed. Although media reports pointed first at Jordan, speculation quickly turned to Israel as being the original provider.
The US president then seemed to inadvertently confirm that Israeli operatives were the source of the intelligence when he made on off-the-cuff remark to journalists during his visit to Israel at the end of May.
As he headed into a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump said “I never said the word Israel” in his meeting with the Russian foreign minister, a comment that many saw as confirmation that the source was in fact Israeli.
Reports of the leak made waves in the Israeli intelligence community, with some former heads of the Mossad decrying Trump and calling for the US to be “punished” for the gaffe.
On March 21, Washington announced a ban on carry-on laptops and other electronics larger than a cellphone on direct flights to the United States from 10 airports in Turkey, the Middle East and North Africa.
Last month US aviation security officials stepped back from imposing a ban on carry-on computers on flights coming from Europe, which had been proposed to guard against possible bomb-laden electronics from IS.
Agencies contributed to this report.