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SYDNEY -- Australia's top cyberwarrior revealed Wednesday that his country actively participated in the electronic war against the Islamic State militants in Syria, degrading their communications during military operations and actively stopping people seeking to join the extremist group.

The director-general of the government-run Australian Signals Directorate, Mike Burgess, spoke publicly for the first time about his agency's work.

Burgess cited an example of how the cyberwarfare body helped the Australian Defense Force and its allies win a critical battle with the Islamic State.

"Just as the coalition forces were preparing to attack the terrorists' position, our offensive cyberoperators were at their keyboards in Australia -- firing highly targeted bits and bytes into cyberspace," Burgess said in a speech at the Lowy Institute, an Australian strategic think tank.

He said Islamic State communications "were degraded within seconds."

"Terrorist commanders couldn't connect to the Internet and were unable to communicate with each other. The terrorists were in disarray and driven from their position -- in part because of the young men and women at their keyboards some [6,900 miles] or so from the battle."

Burgess said the operation required weeks of planning by his agency and military personnel, and was unprecedented in terms of how cyberwarfare was closely synchronized with the movements of military personnel.

"And it was highly successful. Without reliable communications, the enemy had no means to organize themselves. And the coalition forces regained the territory," Burgess said.

He said his agency had also inflicted important damage to the Islamic State's "media machine" by locking it out of its servers and destroying propaganda material, undermining its ability to "spread hate and recruit new members."

In a rare departure -- anywhere in the world -- from the secrecy that typically surrounds such operations, Burgess painted a fuller picture of his agency's work in a speech aimed at recruiting more operatives.

"Our targets may find their communications don't work at a critical moment -- rather than being destroyed completely. Or they don't work in the way they are expecting. Or they might find themselves not able to access their information or accounts precisely when they need to," he said.

Operatives came from all walks of life, having studied anything from mathematics to biology and marketing, he said. They sat at computers in Canberra, where they worked against the Islamic State on battlefields in Syria.

A Section on 03/28/2019

Print Headline: Australia cyberwarrior tells of e-war in Syria

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