US Identifies and Destroys ISIS Headquarters Because of "Selfie"

The news media is buzzing about how the US military identified the location of an ISIS HQ because someone there took a photo and posted it.

Quoting Air Force General Hawk Carlisle, head of Air Combat Command:

"The guys that were working down out of Hurlburt, they're combing through social media and they see some moron standing at this command. And in some social media, open forum, bragging about the command and control capabilities for Daesh, ISIL. And these guys go: 'We got an in.' So they do some work, long story short, about 22 hours later through that very building, three [Joint Direct Attack Munitions] take that entire building out."

It's not clear how the location was identified: physical objects in the background of the selfie, location information in the EXIF fields, or something else.

I'm not sure I believe this story, but it's certainly possible.

EDITED TO ADD (6/7): Here's the photo. Looks like the roadsign in the background helped a lot.

Posted on June 5, 2015 at 2:38 PM • 34 Comments

Comments

AaronJune 5, 2015 2:45 PM

Wouldn't it be smarter for the air force to *not* identify how they identified the target? If they didn't reveal this information chances would be higher that ISIS would slip up and post another helpful photo in the future; now you can bet that they will be taking care to make sure that this particular mistake does not happen again.

Jean MeslierJune 5, 2015 2:56 PM

@ Aaron

I think Bruce may have been implying that the Air Force made the story up. The utility to them is that believing the US can locate training camps through selfies might scare Islamic State into restricting informal social media communications, which is presumably a major propaganda source for them.

JoeVJune 5, 2015 3:17 PM

I dunno. Saying it took 18 hours to hit the place doesn't sound like bragging to me.

TomJune 5, 2015 3:31 PM

And who was in the building 18 hours later ? Did they bother checking or just go full-bore robo-kill on whatever was around ?

RoxanneJune 5, 2015 3:52 PM

Loose lips sink ships. Random selfies on Instagram get one reassigned to the Russian front (or modern equivalent).

Meanwhile it may not be a bad thing that they seem to have turned off the cell tower at the Annual Picnic Grounds. :-)

DanJune 5, 2015 3:56 PM

Hey Isis ~ pay no attention to these guys over in Florida combing through your social media... They're unimportant.

Scott LewisJune 5, 2015 3:59 PM

Hey Tom - I think a command and control center is pretty safely a military not civilian target.

Clive RobinsonJune 5, 2015 4:01 PM

They just say a "selfi" not if the camera was part of a phone or not.

It's possible that if it was a phone that had been previously identified --think image defects as finger prints-- the phones location at the time could have been localised by the same systems used to "Find, Fix and Finish" for drone attacks. Identifing the building may have been then posible from identifing which direction the camera was pointing from the position of the sun via shadows/reflections, thus the number of buildings to check against previous drone footage etc very small.

kewJune 5, 2015 4:11 PM

Yawn. The air force probably got told to produce some good news after the fall of Ramadi. Are we supposed to believe that instead of on-the-ground recon they rely on twitter? ... It's all fake, as if they ever cared to fight their ISIL brothers in arms.

DirkJune 5, 2015 4:44 PM

Begs the question? What kind of (according to FBI) distributed, encrypted, communications does ISIS have that should present much of a problem for the NSA? Apparently the NSA's time, efforts, and resources are poorly prioritized.

David WebbJune 5, 2015 4:54 PM

Okay ... New ISIS attack mode - selfie in front of target building saying it is new ISIS HQ. Let the drones do your destruction for you. No bomb building needed, just a cell phone.

JenniferJune 5, 2015 5:26 PM

I totally understand why many of us have doubts about the authenticity or accuracy of this incident, but do any of you remember the press conference that Gen Schwarzkopf shared a "game plan" to the press for the next military advance? Basically, he gave false information in hopes that the enemy would believe it. They did. These guys on the whole are dumb. Smart enough to win a few battles but not the war. They're smarter than the average bear, but they can't and won't ever be able to really compare with the experience and resources of the US military. Personally, I think their arrogance easily gets the best of them. And it will undoubtedly play a huge factor in all their future plans. They think they're smarter than they are and they think we're dumb. SO, I guess we'll just have to keep showing them how dumb we are.

name.withheld.for.obvious.reasonsJune 5, 2015 5:36 PM

Wow, my new stream filter will modify the headers of all my dic pics and any photos including extended header data (EXIF) with the lat/longs to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington DC. If you are mistaking me for the Sheldon Cooper character from the television show "The Big Bang Theory", this is me be sarcastic.

SamJune 5, 2015 8:02 PM

If the USA wanted ISIS gone, they wouldn't have created it in the first place.

Why don't they bomb ISIS the way they bombed Yugoslavia or Iraq? Because they want ISIS to grow.

EZSmirkzzJune 5, 2015 9:09 PM

Interesting link for those who dare to care, IrfanView , via Arms Control Wonk.

Apparently boneheadedness isn't an exclusive property of the English speaking world.

y7r34June 6, 2015 1:16 AM

Even if this is fake and USAF didn't actually bomb a building, there's one thing we know for sure:

"The guys that [are] working down out of Hurlburt, they're combing through social media..."

Combing through social media. This is serious business for the military. How can anyone continue using Facebook/Google/Twitter as if they're private services? It's unbelievable. If only people knew, and if only they had a good alternative.

hermanJune 6, 2015 7:12 AM

So from now on, all Daesh needs to do is stand in front of some place, post a selfie, then stand back at a safe distance and watch the US bomb it on their behalf. Nice.

AndrewJune 6, 2015 9:40 AM

Whether or not the story is true, it could be that telling the story is useful. For example, saying that the enemy revealed their location through EXIF data reminds their soldiers that location can be exposed through EXIF data. This story will stick with the soldiers in a way that constantly harping on them about regulations will not.

CallMeLateForSupperJune 6, 2015 12:09 PM

Dear General Carlisle,

JDAM exercises, per se, are not impressive; we saw much videotape of them on tele news during Desert Storm...(cough)...twenty-four years ago.

What *would* be news-worthy, though, is how many bad guys those three very expensive weapons "took out" and how many innocents died because they were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Slime Mold with MustardJune 6, 2015 2:48 PM

@65535
If the photo on the page you linked is genuine, I think finding the place would not be very hard. "BIXER HATIN" is Kurdish for "Welcome to". (I don't know what they mean by "HUN" but imagine it is a place name: "Kobane" certainly is.

The sign is stuck in a cement filled bucket, so could be easily moved. If that were the case, the buildings and power lines in the background would not match aerial / satellite photographs.

Other questions remain unanswered.

65535June 6, 2015 5:13 PM

@ Slime Mold with Mustard

From the liveleak webpage it looks like it is linked to google map close to that location. It may have been done by the EXIF file.

TõnisJune 6, 2015 6:51 PM

"Wouldn't it be smarter for the air force to *not* identify how they identified the target? If they didn't reveal this information chances would be higher that ISIS would slip up and post another helpful photo in the future; now you can bet that they will be taking care to make sure that this particular mistake does not happen again."

"I think Bruce may have been implying that the Air Force made the story up. The utility to them is that believing the US can locate training camps through selfies might scare Islamic State into restricting informal social media communications, which is presumably a major propaganda source for them."

@Aaron and @Jean Meslier

More than likely the purpose of this ridiculous anecdote is to con gullible Americans into believing that all NSA surveillance (including surveillance of social media) is vital to stopping terrorists.


GweihirJune 6, 2015 11:36 PM

@Tõnis:

"More than likely the purpose of this ridiculous anecdote is to con gullible Americans into believing that all NSA surveillance (including surveillance of social media) is vital to stopping terrorists."

After surveillance has failed to stop actual terrorists time and again, this is entirely plausible.

MeJune 8, 2015 10:33 AM

I think the obvious (if we assume benevolence of DoD) reason to site the method of location tracking is to make ISIS think twice before posting propaganda.

It seems that mostly what they fear is people flocking to join the group, less exposure would be a bigger win than more locations bombed.

JohnPJune 8, 2015 2:15 PM

Slowing ISIS social media is a good thing for anyone not in ISIS around the world.

Officers in the USAF aren't THAT stupid folks. This was a calculated news release.

Probably 99% of the US military doesn't have much, if anything, to do with the NSA. The NSA isn't really known for sharing any information.

rgaffJune 8, 2015 3:32 PM

@ JohnP

"The NSA isn't really known for sharing any information."

This is using the new NSA word game on the word "sharing"... because the NSA helping the DEA make drug busts and then lie to courts doesn't really count as "sharing" you see... and the NSA helping the GCHQ or FBI constantly doesn't count as "sharing" either... ("sharing" is only when it's done in person, where you personally hand over something, kind of like how "collecting" means only viewing with literal human eyes... so anything done via a phone call or email or letter or fax or direct internet-connected database dump isn't "sharing")

UhuJune 10, 2015 10:59 AM

OBL found out a while ago that they do analyze pictures and videos, and apparently he changed tactics and recorded his videos only inside tents with artificial light and released the videos only after he moved. So this capability isn't news. Maybe these people are new in the game and have not done their basic security briefing.

As most people here I agree that this news release was not an accident, and maybe it is entirely constructed, but it could be for a different reason: to distract from their actual information source (e.g., an informer) or to discredit the person on the picture (maybe he is/was particularly skilled in explosives or something like that).

@Roxanne: I do not understand your reference to the "Annual Picnic Grounds", but it sounds interesting. Could you enlighten me?

@Moderator: I fail to see any connection to the discussion or indeed this blog in "EZSmirkzz"'s comment and thus would suggest it is spam.

@65535: I think the concrete you see in the background is actually some sort of fence around a property (looks very similar to the baricade around OBL's house). Maybe he was standing in front of the command center, but pointing the camera away from it. Just by looking at the picture I would assume that when he marched into this city he shot a selfie to show his friends that he was there. But maybe there was more in the description accompanying the picture (e.g., "me just outside our command post").

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