7:16PM BST 02 Jun 2011
The cyber-warfare operation was launched by MI6 and GCHQ in an attempt to disrupt efforts by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular to recruit “lone-wolf” terrorists with a new English-language magazine, the Daily Telegraph understands.
When followers tried to download the 67-page colour magazine, instead of instructions about how to “Make a bomb in the Kitchen of your Mom” by “The AQ Chef” they were greeted with garbled computer code.
The code, which had been inserted into the original magazine by the British intelligence hackers, was actually a web page of recipes for “The Best Cupcakes in America” published by the Ellen DeGeneres chat show.
Written by Dulcy Israel and produced by Main Street Cupcakes in Hudson, Ohio, it said “the little cupcake is big again” adding: “Self-contained and satisfying, it summons memories of childhood even as it’s updated for today’s sweet-toothed hipsters.”
It included a recipe for the Mojito Cupcake – “made of white rum cake and draped in vanilla buttercream”- and the Rocky Road Cupcake – “warning: sugar rush ahead!”
By contrast, the original magazine featured a recipe showing how to make a lethal pipe bomb using sugar, match heads and a miniature lightbulb, attached to a timer.
The cyber attack also removed articles by Osama bin Laden, his deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri and a piece called “What to expect in Jihad.”
British and US intelligence planned separate attacks after learning that the magazine was about to be issued in June last year.
They have both developed a variety of cyber-weapons such as computer viruses, to use against both enemy states and terrorists.
A Pentagon operation, backed by Gen Keith Alexander, the head of US Cyber Command, was blocked by the CIA which argued that it would expose sources and methods and disrupt an important source of intelligence, according to a report in America.
However the Daily Telegraph understands an operation was launched from Britain instead.
Al-Qaeda was able to reissue the magazine two weeks later and has gone on to produce four further editions but one source said British intelligence was continuing to target online outlets publishing the magazine because it is viewed as such a powerful propaganda tool.
The magazine is produced by the radical preacher Anwar al-Awlaki, one of the leaders of AQAP who has lived in Britain and the US, and his associate Samir Khan from North Carolina.
Both men who are thought to be in Yemen, have associated with radicals connected to Rajib Karim, a British resident jailed for 30 years in March for plotting to smuggle a bomb onto a trans-Atlantic aircraft.
At the time Inspire was launched, US government officials said “the packaging of this magazine may be slick, but the contents are as vile as the authors.”
Bruce Reidel, a former CIA analyst said it was “clearly intended for the aspiring jihadist in the US or UK who may be the next Fort Hood murderer or Times Square bomber.”
In recent days AQAP fighters have capitalised on chaos in Yemen, as the country teeters on the brink of civil war.
Tribal forces marching towards the capital, Sana’a, clashed with troops loyal to President Ali Abdullah Saleh for a third day running yesterday.