One might assume that an international intelligence apparatus like Britain’s MI6 would wreak havoc when hacking into a terrorist-affiliated website. The truth is they did little more than likely annoy al-Qaeda after hacking a recruiting website. The result wasn’t exactly devastating unless you’re someone who hates cupcakes.
It’s hard to imagine even the most hardcore of Islamist extremist terrorists hating cupcakes, though it’s even harder to imagine one of them eating one.
In 2011, the U.K.’s external intelligence service was in an all-out information war with al-Qaeda and the terrorist organization’s affiliate groups. In particular, Her Majesty’s secret service was looking to disrupt the activities of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and its effort to recruit “lone wolf” attackers abroad. One of the ways it recruited disgruntled Westerners was through its English online magazine, called “Inspire.”
But when avid readers of Inspire went to download the June 2011 Issue to read “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of your Mom” by “The AQ Chef” they actually downloaded a semi-unintelligible computer code. The code still revealed a recipe, but it had nothing to do with mom’s kitchen and everything to do with some cupcakes that “might” be described as “da bomb.”
MI6 reportedly hacked the website and replaced Inspire with a number of episodes for delicious cupcakes, including a recipe featured on The Ellen Degeneres Show dubbed, “The Best Cupcakes in America” as well as a number of original recipes from Ohio-based cupcaker Main Street Cupcakes. Al-Qaeda initiates came looking for bomb-making information and instead received a flavor explosion, with varieties such as white rum cake with buttercream frosting, rocky road, and a delicious-sounding mojito flavor.
Whether Inspire’s readers made MI6’s infamous cupcakes is unknown — but they definitely had the recipe.
On top of removing the bomb-making instructions, intelligence analysts replaced articles by Osama bin Laden and his second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, on “What to Expect in Jihad.” Both MI6 and the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency had been planning on disrupting the publication and dissemination of the magazine since they discovered it.
Although the CIA and MI6 were able to successfully put off the publication of Inspire, the full issue and more issues were published immediately anyway. Anwar al-Awlaki, the executive editor of al-Qaeda’s signature magazine in the Arabian peninsula, was killed in a drone strike in Yemen just a few months later.
The western allies have deployed a number of cyber weapons to disrupt al-Qaeda’s information warfare operations.