In a first ever on-camera interview, a representative of the Syrian Electronic Army (SEA) reveals the group has no links with the Assad regime.
The blacked-out figure of a Syrian Electronic Army hacker who spoke about the pride the group has in being among the world's most wanted. (YouTube)
The notorious hacking group which supports President Bashir al-Assad has risen to prominence as the cyber-wing of Syrian regime following high-profile attacks on high profile targets such as Sky News, the Financial Times, the Guardian, the BBC and culminating with a hack of the AP Twitter feed which saw $140 billion wiped off the S&P 500 index for a brief period.
In the interview with Ogarit Dandash, a Lebanese reporter on the pro-Assad channel Al-Mayadeen, a anonymous representative of the SEA claims there is no direct link between the hacking group and the Assad government, that some of the group's members are located outside of Syria and that being among the FBI's most wanted won't deter the group from the goals.
While the hour long interview is fawning and completely one-sided it does offer an insight into the group which has previously only communicated via email with media outlets.
From what the interviewee says, the SEA is not your typical hacking group:
"There are other hacking organisations but their intentions were commercial or to cause damage. This distinguishes us from many other hacking organisations, we are fighting for a cause and our cause is righteous. Our main goal is a noble one that fact helped us to keep going."
It is widely believed that the Assad regime is providing some support for the SEA, but this is something the group continues to deny:
"Until now there has been no communication with the government. If there was such a connection we would not be ashamed to admit it. It would be an honour to work alongside the government."
"All we need is a laptop"
When asked about financial support, the SEA member says that "in terms of money or support, all we need is a laptop and the internet and this can be found in any home. So we don't really need money."
The FBI issued a warning recent about the Syrian Electronic Army highlighting just how serious the US is taking the group, but the SEA is "proud" to be on the same list as the military wing of Hizbullah and that being placed on a wanted list by the FBI won't affect the group's work at all according to the interviewee.
Speaking about a recent hack of the US Marines' recruitment website, the anonymous hacker seems to clarify one aspect of the attack which was unclear. As part of the defacement of the website, the SEA posted images purporting to be US soldiers objecting to the war in Syria.
While most people suggested the people in the pictures were not real soldiers, the interview suggests they were: "We put up a message from US soldier who [objected to] war against Syria, and a message of our own."
Not all in Syria
The US has threatened about cutting off Syria's internet access but according to this SEA member, this would not stop their activities, as some of the group are located overseas.
When asked to expand on the fact that some of the SEA operatives are located outside Syria's borders, the SEA member clams up, saying he can't elaborate on the matter.
There has been a lot of debate in the media regarding the make-up and location of the SEA, with a defector claiming in April that the entire group has decamped from Damascus to a secret base in Dubai, which is owned by Assad's billionaire cousin Rami Makhlouf.
In an interview with Mashable in August, a person claiming to be part of the SEA said: "We are all based in Syria." Security researcher Brian Krebs has revealed that he believes the core architect of the group is currently in Turkey.
In the case of an attack by the US on Syria taking place, the Syrian Electronic Army has already chosen its targets for retaliation, and though the specific identity of these targets obviously remains a secret within the organisation, the interviewee did reveal the aim will be to damage the US economy - as well as military and security targets.
However, while the likes of AP, Sky News and the BBC have seen the SEA gain a lot of media attention, in the long term, the group has a bigger goal:
"From the beginning to the end, the main target is the Israeli enemy" the hacker says, adding that it has already hacked the transport ministry in the country along with the Haaretz newspaper.
Leveraging the data they have already obtained from Israeli websites, the SEA warns that it can now "reach highly sensitive targets" within that country.
Asked about the specific targets the SEA chose, the interviewee says:
"We choose the targets according to time and circumstance. When we first chose a target we first assess its reach and effectiveness or the result we can accomplish from hacking it or that particular media could be posting fake news or inciting strife."
The SEA hacker explains that "any target" if thought to be reporting "fabricated" news can be compromised "within hours", using the hack of the Human Rights Watch website as an example.
Some other targets however were more difficult, but only "because it takes time to download documents" such as when the group hacked the Saudi and Qatari ministries of defence.
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