WIRED, 24 May 2012
When news outlets recently quoted U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton claiming that State Department operatives hacked the websites of al-Qaida affiliates in Yemen, we didn’t know whether to be proud of the feds’ leet skills or appalled at the administration’s hypocrisy regarding hacking.
Turns out the hacks who wrote the stories got it wrong – though Danger Room’s David Axe, who was on the scene, got the story right the first go-around. And now, with the hyped headlines dialed back, we’re just disappointed.
Turns out the team simply purchased anti-al-Qaida ads on the websites to counter anti-American ads the sites were running.
Call it Operation AdWords, if you like.
Clinton was delivering a keynote speech at the Special Operations Command gala dinner in Tampa, Florida, when, as the Associated Press reported, she described how State Department specialists attacked sites tied to al-Qaida, which were trying to recruit new members by “bragging about killing Americans.”
“Within 48 hours, our team plastered the same sites with altered versions of the ads that showed the toll al-Qaida attacks have taken on the Yemeni people,” Clinton said, according to the AP. “We can tell our efforts are starting to have an impact because extremists are publicly venting their frustration and asking supporters not to believe everything they read on the internet.”
The AP rushed out a story with the headline “Hillary Clinton: U.S. Hacked Yemen al-Qaida Sites,” only to revise the story with a more demure headline later, reading “Clinton: US wars with al-Qaida on the web.”
The latter story included new quotes from a State Department official clarifying that the specialist didn’t actually hack the sites. Instead, he said, they challenged extremists in open forums.