Insurgents Used Cell Phone Geotags to Destroy AH-64s in Iraq

Here’s a battlefield safety issue that some people have been warning about -and others have been ignoring —  for a while now; an enemy using social media and cellphone geotagging to identify the precise location of troops on a battlefield.

When you take a photo with your cellphone, the gps coordinates of the location you took the picture is embedded into the image. When you upload said photo onto the internet for all to see, people can pull the location data from that picture. If you think this is just people being paranoid and that the Taliban would never do this in Afghanistan, think again. Insurgents figured out how to use this to their advantage in Iraq years ago. In 2007, a group of Iraqi insurgents used geotags to destroy several American AH-64 Apache choppers sitting on a flightline in Iraq.

From an Army press release warning of the dangers of geotags:

When a new fleet of helicopters arrived with an aviation unit at a base in Iraq, some Soldiers took pictures on the flightline, he said. From the photos that were uploaded to the Internet, the enemy was able to determine the exact location of the helicopters inside the compound and conduct a mortar attack, destroying four of the AH-64 Apaches.

During Israel’s 2006 war in southern Lebanon with Iranian-backed militia (more like a full on army) Hezbollah, Iranian SIGINT professionals tracked signals coming from personal cell phones of Israeli soldiers to identify “assembly points of Israeli troops that may have telegraphed the points of offensive thrusts into Lebanon.”

This is just one more example of low-end cyber warfare that can be as deadly as expensive software worms designed to infiltrate an enemy’s most heavily defended networks.



  • Anon

    1) Who doesn’t know about this technology?
    2) Why aren’t soldier specifically told about this
    - and not to take pictures of critical elements

    Don’t people remember, “Loose lips sink ships”.
    Troops responsible for this should be brought up on charges.
    Ignorance is not an excuse, especially during war.

    • tiger

      Well I did not. Because I don’t use a phone with a those gizmos. I actually just make phone calls. Why do they need a phone in the field for any way?

      • Marc Pavone

        Soldiers are told not to do stuff like this. It’s in the SAEDAA (Subversion And Espionage Directed Against the Army) briefings they regularly receive. The problem is, not all of them take it seriously or listen in the first place.

        Even in peacetime soldiers have to listen to SAEDAA briefings. Even then they don’t all listen.

    • TMB

      1. This tech is relatively new and most people I know don’t know their phones can do this.

      2. Soldiers have been specifically told about this for the last 2-3 years I believe.

    • TMB

      And most flight lines (probably all) have signs everywhere that say “don’t take pictures.”

  • Ryan

    I guess the simple solution is don’t carry cell phones or snap pictures in a warzone. Good luck enforcing that though.

    If you do take pictures, use something without a GPS embed.

  • blight_

    I’m surprised they’d do it.

    I doubt soldiers would knowingly put themselves and their fellow soldiers at risk if they knew what they were doing had tactical consequences: rather, I’m willing to assume it is because we naively assume our enemies aren’t on flickr or aren’t adept with mining social media for intelligence. Our enemies do use the internet mostly for communication in as clandestine a means as possible, putting them on the defensive. But it doesn’t mean they won’t use it “offensively” to collect information.

    Lesson learned. It happens. We’ll all move on.

    • tiger

      They are not all illiterate sheep herders. Just like the fake Face book thing. Our foes are getting smarter.

      • Praetorian

        Knowing this, could’nt we use this as a trap now ? Take a picture of a flight line, post the pictures after the flight line is moved, set up some sort of mock up flight line, then wait for incoming attack and pounce. Also with the Facebook thing send them dis-information.

        • blight_

          They’d still be firing into your base, and presumably might log and register it as an actual flight line in case they don’t hear secondary explosions. Best not to give “them” any information.

        • pavo6503

          that is a very expensive and complicated plan. Plus our bases in Afghanistan are on their turf. They see an know all of our movements.

      • Jacob

        It shouldn’t come as a surprise that our enemies are smart. History is full of examples of humans coming up with creative and ingenious ways of fighting wars. The Germans didn’t expect us to break the Enigma code. The British didn’t expect the Italians to use minisubs to sink their warships. The list goes on and on.

    • SFCRET

      We are fighting evil. Osama Bin Laden (evil) Terrorists (evil) Taliban (evil) Kim Jung
      IL (North Korea) evil, Leader of Iran evil, Stalin evil, MAO evil, Hitler evil.

      • blight_

        Many of the Iraq insurgents by and large simply wanted us out of Iraq or were avenging dead family members. Family member killed at checkpoint? Honor demands they not turn the other cheek. It took us four or five years to unwind the chain of honor-bound killings and separate the nationalists from the Al Qaeda types, and to get the Sunnis and Shias to stop killing each other. It doesn’t make them evil, it makes them human.

        In Afghanistan, the Pashtuns have legendarily repelled all sorts of outsiders. Today Pakistan is their friend. If Pakistan came in tomorrow, the Pashtun tribes in Afghanistan and Pakistan would fight Karachi tooth and nail. Outsiders seeking to occupy aren’t welcome in Afghanistan.

        That said, we could always cut our losses and stick to the Panjshir valley. It would be the Puntland to Afghanistan’s Somalia.

        • SFCRET

          Saddam was evil, Al Qaeda are evil, osama bin laden was evil, taliban are evil.

    • James Romines

      It’s been a discipline issue since electronics got small enough to become ‘pocket litter.’ In Vietnam, we didn’t bother to use encrypted radio communications, partly because “they are dumb ***** who wouldn’t understand english, anyway.” It was only in NVA interrogation sessions that we learned that a significant number of their officers had attended colleges and universities during the nineteen-fifties, and graduated with honors! Our leadership still doesn’t conduct proper ORM analysis, and our troops still don’t follow orders they don’t like. We’re still, too often, book smart and street dumb. Part of this problem is that we don’t stop to try to think like our potential enemies. It’s still true that there isn’t a US military airfield anywhere that doesn’t have large signs posted everywhere near the flight-line that say “NO PICTURES”!!! I don’t know about Army patrols, but I know that USMC and SeaBees always inspect to be sure that the only things in pockets are the absolute minimum required for the mission. Discipline! Discipline! Discipline! That ‘pocket litter’ makes noise, and limits range of motion, and all sorts of other problems in tactical situations. IT IS ALWAYS A MATTER OF DISCIPLINE.

      • pavo6503

        I remember reading something to the effect of, “Inspect your troop’s knapsacks often, for they are prone to collecting all sorts of nick-knacks and refuse. This serves only yo slow their march and distract them from their duties.” I doubt the man who wrote that ever expected soldiers would have access to, and use, items that would give the enemy timely intelligence.

        • blight_

          This sounds like something Hackworth (or any number of snake-eating leaders) would say. I might’ve even seen it on old WW2 notes on lonesentry.

  • notasblindasyou

    blah blah……

    Using the same technology currently being placed on our military vehicles and in certain cities to locate the source of a shooting by triangulating sound wave arrival times could easily be used to figure out where ANY of our loud vehicles are ultimately parked.

    Simple math and 3 microphones……….

  • mpower6428

    isnt the NSA suppossed to be making that sort of stuff usefull TOO US…?!

  • A.Physicist

    The Army Times story smells funny. I think this falls into the category of “wash your razor with cold water to make the blade sharper and longer lasting” fib which was spread around in Vietnam, and really just encouraged soldiers to minimize hot water use. Geotagged photos give you no information about the flight line that wasn’t available from publicly available satellite imagery, unless AQAP has a ‘rapid facebook feed response team’. I doubt that a few extra meters of precision makes much of a difference to an unguided rocket or hillbilly mortar.

    • A.Physicist

      To add one thing: The AH-64 story is likely apocryphal, but with some basis in fact. A likely scenario is that:

      a) A G.I. posted a geotagged photo online somewhere.
      b) Subsequently, a mortar attack got lucky in damaging a cluster of Apaches sitting on the apron.
      c) HQ does an investigation, and finds that geotagged photos _may_ have contributed to AQAP knowledge of aircraft positions, but that no specific evidence links the photos to the attack.

      OR perhaps the specifics of the attack are figurative/from a different event, but that geotagged images have shown up in captured laptops. Unless there’s a specific claim that these exact geotagged photos were found on the person of the attacker, I very much doubt the claim. Still, it is a credible threat for the future.

    • Hunter78

      I too am skeptical. What intel produced this story? Generally we know damned little detail about the insurgent ops.

      What did these geotags tell the insurgents, assuming they used them? I believe most geotags today only give the location of the camera, not the images in the picture, though some formats indicate the direction the camera was pointed.

      Can we rule out alternate explanations? People have been hitting targets with mortars since they were invented. Unreasonable to assume some spotter was phoning in directions?

  • xbradtc

    Five years ago, not a lot of people worried about the geotagging feature on their phones. Or even knew about it. Today, every troop knows to turn it off.

  • BAJ15

    This gives new meaning to “loose lips sink ships”.

    • TLAM Strike

      “Loose tweets sink fleets”

  • Lance

    Hate to say but end some of these social media and geo trackers they are a security risk and for time being shut them down.


    We are fighting evil. Osama Bin Laden was evil, the former leader of north korea was evil, Terrorists are evil, Taliban is evil, Hitler was evil, the leader of Iran is evil, Saddam
    was evil, Stalin was evil ,MAO (CHINA) was evil.

    • Josh

      What is wrong with you?

    • Smiller2367

      wait, what in gods name are you going on about?

  • Stephen

    wouldn’t this provide a useful IP path back to whoever queried the geotags ??
    IP address’s provide location just as much as GPS !!

    • Lexington NC

      If the bad guys can get a visual of the target with pretty much any smart phone, from any vantage point, there is a free app that will give them the coordinates, including altitude and the lens direction, of the object in the middle of the frame.

      No need to monitor the uploads from GI’s when Tali-queda can take a current picture and have current “close enough” data to target with. This is especially true of mobile targets. If took the GI an hour to upload the pic, the line of trucks or choppers or tanks or whatever might well be gone. But if Tali-queda took the picture 5 minutes ago …

      In effect, for $39.00 a month, Tali-queda has a $15,000 ranging scope that also makes phone calls and downloads porn — capabilities the US scopes lack.

    • Bob urling

      No IP info embedded but cell phone data packets have unique IDs. If the guy waits until he’s in a crowded cafe to upload what can you do - it might take a minute to upload and you can’t do a drone strike on a cafe. Next version OS s will probably have more covert ways to find the guy like transmitting while it looks like the phone is shut off etc.

  • 71st Regiment

    All good comments. History has shown, never underestimate your enemy. As all the past invaders into Afghanistan have found out, the local tribes are serious warriors and from Alexander to the present, they are extremely adapt at fighting each new enemy.
    The terrain and time are on there side. They may to us look odd in their clothes and their habits, but in the past they where able to build almost perfect copies ot the British Enfield Rifle, so to with today’s modern technology, they can get any type of cell phone, smart phones and all the rest and find ways to use them against us. What they have and what our troops have where probaly made in the same factory in the Peoples Republic of China. Our side needs to put our technology into a stealth mode.

    • blight_

      True, but the modern Khyber Pass copies of AKM’s et al tend to be indifferent at best. However, you don’t need a good gun to shoot a farmer in the middle of the night.

  • Myron

    Okay!!!! I never knew about this thing. Thanks

    • Gunner

      Not only is this true but even if you disable it on your phone some apps like Google can reactivate it without your knowledge.
      It’s a constant effort to keep these apps from using the built in GPS in the program.

      • blight_

        There you have it. Scrub the metadata on a computer before you post. Posting on a function-crippled mobile is a recipe for information security snafu.

  • JJMurray

    You know for a generation that is supposed to be so computer savvy because they were raised with computers, we time and time again see just how dumb they really are. Geo-tagging has been known about for several years and they’re still uploading pictures with this onto the internet. There should be no surprise that geo-tagging exists, just surprise at how foolish some of our folks can be.

  • Mastro

    The soldier who posted the photo should be peeling potatoes in Greenland.

    I hope the military actually learns from this- I’m more worried about our satellites being hacked -

    Of course- if history tells us anything- they will be SHOCKED if that happens.

    • Lexington NC

      The UAV’s are proving to have vulnerabilities that a few hundred dollars of ECM can defeat.

      When someone with access to huge piles of cash goes up against a guy who is desperately fighting for the things he loves … my money is on the guy who is desperate.

      How long before robo-dog is taught to bite the hand that feeds it? The guy in the rags will blast the legs off one … and salvage the electronics. Even if it’s booby trapped, he’l eventually salvage the whole kit, pass it a long to someone who can make sense of it and defeat it and turn robo-pooches against their former owners.

      Even if the pooch isn’t armed, it’d sure be a bummer to see it happily trotting off with the replenishment food & ammo just before things got really serious.

      My point? Don’t rely on the technology … it’s the icing. Know what to do if every bit of it takes a shit at a really inopportune moment.

  • Johnny

    They can turn it off

  • tom mccoy

    Wait til they figure out they can do that to our PCs? Over and Out.


      They have known how to do that better than we do for years. It is their job, sad and scary, however it is true.

  • Jack Luz

    This reminds me of Murphy”s Law: If the enemy is in range, SO ARE YOU!

  • JohnWayne

    Next news Airforce tagged with QR codes, new mortars read them.

  • anthony

    All batteries operated aparatus should be a void in or near a war zone or borders!!Or when batt. are empty deliver them in at central post!Knowing the enemie can make use of the chemicals as batt.keep a eye on it like youre weapon..

    • blight_

      What, you think Iraqis can’t get their hands on lithium ion batteries and crack the open for an uncontrolled hydrogen gas/Lithium hydroxide reaction? As a people, they weren’t technologically unsophsticated. It’s probably why America took so long to subjugate them. Warrior race is nice and all, but when you have stockpiles of HE and enough mechanical junk lying around to McGyver detonators out of cell phones, garage door openers and mechanical timers…

  • Thunder350

    Turning the Geo-Tag option off in the camera settings is too hard apparently… Takes two steps..

    In the camera just hit “settings” and uncheck “Geo-tag photos” problem solved.

  • GioCv

    Tecnology is not for all . Like in plague control , people say , I can’t accept this regulation, thah is not important , don’t care about , nothing will happing , then , they sick . It’s the same with iphones since has gps technology . This apliances will be prohibited in all militar forces in the world . And the bad wars too.