Police in the United Kingdom suspect that Iran may be involved in an attempt to smear the West by hacking a British security company and faking a plot in which the firm was asked to deploy chemical weapons in Syria, the Sunday Times reports.
The company's computers were hacked about two weeks ago, and false emails created as part of the sophisticated cyber attack claimed the plot had been sanctioned by Washington and indicated a desire to frame Syrian President Bashar Assad.
- Syria releases images of site 'targeted by Israel'
- Panetta: Hezbollah could get arms from Syrian 'chaos'
- As she leaves, Clinton sounds warning over Syria
Among the leaked documents were two provocative emails purportedly written by one of Britam Defence’s directors. One email, called “Syrian Issue” and purportedly sent on Christmas Eve to one of the company founders, referred to the alleged chemical weapons plot.
“We’ll have to deliver a CW (chemical weapon) to Homs, a Soviet origin g-shell (gas shell) from Libya similar to those that Assad should have… Frankly, I don’t think it’s a good idea but the sums proposed are enormous.”
According to the Sunday Times, the timing of the email is significant because US President Barack Obama warned Assad in December that he would face “consequences” if he unleashed chemical weapons in Syria.
Another email, headlined “Iranian Issue” and apparently sent last October, sought to link the company to a military training exercise in Saudi Arabia aimed at responding to a possible attack by Iran.
Sources familiar with the hack say it bears similarities to a cyber attack last year on Saudi Arabia’s biggest oil company, which US intelligence officials have blamed on Iran.
According to the report, hackers in that case launched a virus that erased swathes of data from the company’s computers and replaced it with an image of a burning American flag.
Details of the so-called “false flag” plot began to trickle out last week, the Sunday Times said, and Iran’s state-run broadcaster Press TV said in an online report that “in light of recent and continuous attempts by the Israelis and NATO to justify a military intervention in Syria based on fears of ‘chemical weapons,' every potential piece of evidence should be taken seriously.”
Computer security experts called in by Britam have proved that the emails relating to Syria and Iran were fabricated, the report said.
“They are 100% false,” said Simon Lalor, Britam’s chief executive. “From a technical point of view, the emails are fabricated. Who wrote the content is another question.”
He estimated that the company had been “used as a vehicle to create tension and embarrassment for those with a political motivation."
The hacking is being investigated by cybercrime and counterterrorism specialists at Scotland Yard, likely in collaboration with the security services. Iran's possible involvement in the cyber attack is also being probed.
A network of pro-Assad hackers and online activists called the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) have also been named on technology websites as possible suspects, the Sunday Times said.
On Thursday, SEA said it had disabled 50 websites in Israel after reports that the country had bombed a military research facility near Damascus.