A senior US Air Force official says that insurgents did not compromise the military's intelligence system by tapping into video feeds transmitted by Predator unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) to ground troops.
Lt Gen David Deptula, USAF deputy chief of staff for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, says the hacked videos resulted in no "significant impacts" on operations and tactics.
During an interview this morning with Flightglobal.com, Deptula also challenged a reporter for describing the Predator's intelligence data as "compromised" by the insurgents.
"What do you mean the 'compromise of the data'," Deptula says. "Nothing is compromised. I want to get information out to the joint forces on the ground, you follow me? If someone does pick [the video feed] up and they don't know the context of how the information is being used, what's the compromise?"
Deptula also says the military has been aware of the vulnerability first reported yesterday by The Wall Street Journal.
"We're talking about interception of signals that are broadcast over the air - duh," Deptula says.
Deptula framed the issue as something less than a breach of secure intelligence data. The situation is more analogous to criminals who use radio scanners to monitor the police, Deptula says.
But the fact that insurgents gained access to Predator video feeds has raised questions about the rapid pace of the build-up of UAVs in Iraq and Afghanistan, which the USAF considers one of its key contributions to the current war effort.
Knowing that the Predator's data transmission could be intercepted did not slow the USAF's deployment plans.
Deptula says the risk of the vulnerability was small compared to the potential benefits.
"There's an insatiable demand to get information out to folks on the ground," Deptula says, "and the way you do that is maximizing the number of systems that can provide the information and then rapidly equipping folks with the receivers to pick it up."
Meanwhile, the UAV operators and ground troops developed new tactics to prevent the enemy from doing harm by intercepting transmitted signals, he says.
"There is a balance between getting the information out and the risk that you're taking that a potential adversary might pick it up," he says. "But you have to be inside the signal area that's being transmitted [to intercept the signal], and in many cases that's very small."