The Pentagon acknowledged that a drone was lost before Iran’s December 4th announcement. US officials also confirmed that the drone belonged to the CIA. The drone took off from a US Afghan base at Shindand in western Herat Province. The Iranian Foreign Ministry lodged a protest over the incident with Afghan’s ambassador to Iran.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guard claimed to have brought down the surveillance aircraft with an electronic ambush, causing minimum damage to the drone.
US intelligence assessments indicate that Iran did not shoot the drone down, nor did it use electronic or cyber-technology to force it from the sky. The US experts contend that the drone malfunctioned.
US officials are concerned that it may be possible to reverse engineer the chemical composition of the drone’s radar-deflecting paint or the aircraft’s sophisticated optics technology that allows operators to positively identify terror suspects from tens of thousands of feet in the air.
The RQ-170 is capable of cruising over a surveillance target for hours at 50,000 feet. American officials have said that the drone was part of a stepped-up effort to monitor Iranian nuclear sites.
They are also worried that adversaries may be able to hack into the drone’s database, although it is not clear whether any data could be recovered. Some surveillance technologies allow video to stream through to operators on the ground but do not store much collected data. If they do, it is heavily encrypted and therefore likely to be of little use to an adversary.
Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta, who previously directed the CIA, said how much information could be retrieved from the drone partly depends on the condition of the wreckage.
“It’s a little difficult to know, just frankly, how much they’re going to be able to get from having obtained those parts,” he said. Independent news media have not been allowed access to the drone
President Obama said Monday that the US was pressing Iran to return the aircraft, but refused to answer any questions from reporters about it.
“We have asked for it back. We’ll see how the Iranians respond,” Obama said. It was his first public comment about the lost drone.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in separate comments, said that the US had made a “formal request for the return of our lost equipment, as we would in any situation to any government around the world.” She added: “Given Iran’s behavior to date, we do not expect them to comply.”
NOBODY RETURNS THE EVIDENCE
A senior commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said on Sunday that Iran would not return the drone to the US, adding that “no one returns the symbol of aggression.”
Iran lodged formal complaints last week about the drone incursion to both the UN Security Council and Switzerland’s ambassador to Iran, who is responsible for American interests in the country. The US and Iran broke diplomatic relations more than 30 years ago.
Iranian lawmaker Parviz Sorouri, a member of the parliament’s national security and foreign policy committee, said Monday that the extracted information will be used to file a lawsuit against the United States for what he called the “invasion” by the unmanned aircraft. He said Iran will “soon” start to reproduce the drone after a process of reverse engineering, which is nearly finished. “In the near future, we will be able to mass-produce it. . . . Iranian engineers will soon build an aircraft superior to the American [drone] using reverse engineering,” he said.
OBAMA REQUEST RIDICULED, RESPONSE QUESTIONED
President Obama’s request for Iran to return the drone to the United States opened him to ridicule both domestically and abroad.
Iranian news agencies mocked the request on Tuesday, as Iranian officials made clear they had no intention of giving back the American drone.
“Obama begs Iran to give him back his toy plane,” proclaimed a headline from Iran’s Fars News Agency. “We are still wondering how [Obama] shamelessly asked Tehran to give the US back the stealth drone which had violated the Iranian airspace for espionage.”
“The American espionage drone is now Iran’s property, and our country will decide what steps to take regarding it,” Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi told ran’s ISNA news agency on Monday. “Instead of apologizing to the Iranian nation, [the United States] is brazenly asking for the drone back.”
On Monday, former Vice President Dick Cheney blasted Obama for his handling of the downed drone, saying he should have destroyed the drone immediately to protect U.S. intelligence.
“The right response to that would have been to go in immediately after it had gone down and destroy it,” Cheney said told Erin Burnett of CNN’s’ “OutFront.”
Cheney said the president had three options on his desk but rejected all of them.
“They involved sending somebody in to try to recover it or, if you can’t do that, and admittedly that would be a difficult operation, he certainly could have gone in and destroyed it on the ground with an air strike,” he said. “But he didn’t take any of the options. He asked nicely for them to return it. And they aren’t going to do that.”
Instead of returning the drone, Cheney said the Iranians will likely “send it back in pieces after they’ve gotten all the intelligence they can out of it.”
Asked for his reaction to Washington’s statements regarding the drone, Nader Mokhtari, an Iranian columnist and political commentator, told Press TV that “it is unorthodox for the intelligence community, the US military to keep quiet, and then for the US president to come and shoulder the burden of asking for the drone back.” He added, “I think it’s a bit of an embarrassment, and it’s quite humiliating for a US president to do that. It’s not within the US protocol for the president to be asking for a spy drone.”
“The right response…would have been to go in immediately after it had gone down and destroy it,” Cheney told Burnett, “You can do that from the air. You can do that with a quick airstrike, and in effect make it impossible for them to benefit from having captured that drone. I was told that the president had three options on his desk. He rejected all of them…
They all involved sending somebody in to try to recover it, or if you can’t do that, admittedly that would be a difficult operation, you certainly could have gone in and destroyed it on the ground with an airstrike. But he didn’t take any of the options. He asked for them to return it. And they aren’t going to do that.”
CBS Early Show co-anchor Rebecca Jarvis on Tuesday asked Cheney if an air strike on Iran could have potentially led the U.S into a war with them.
“Well, if you look at what Iran has done over the years,” responded Cheney, “they’ve been the prime backers of Hezbollah, of Hamas, the bombing of the Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983 that cost us 241 American lives. These were Iranian-supported ventures. It’s not as though they haven’t already committed acts that some people would say come close to being acts of war.
“For us to go in and take out the drone that crashed would have been, I think, a fairly simple operation, and it would have denied them the value of the intelligence they can collect by having that aircraft,” Cheney said. “But the administration basically limited itself to saying, ‘Please give it back,’ and the Iranians said no.”
Asked about Cheney’s comments on Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said “any steps that the United States has taken on this issue reflect the unanimous views of our national security team …I’m not sure what information Mr. Cheney was basing his recommendation off of, but this was the course of action that was recommended unanimously by the entire national security team.”
Obama and his aides have continually declined to comment in detail on the drone case, citing national security concerns.
“I can tell you that we’re highly confident in our own unique capabilities,” Carney said, declining to explain further.
Senator Joe Lieberman joined his 2000 Republican vice presidential foe, Cheney, in criticizing Obama for not doing more to destroy the spy drone.
“I wish we could have found a way to destroy it,” the retiring Connecticut senator said on Tuesday.
Asked if he feared Iran would be able to tap the top secret CIA-run drone for information that could end up hurting U.S. interests, Lieberman added, “That’s what I worry about.”
Lieberman said he was not up on all the intelligence regarding where the drone was, but he called it “an extraordinary American asset, this drone.” He added that “I think that it would have been very difficult to rescue it, but at least try to destroy it so the Iranians and anyone that they might share it with would not have the benefit of the tech breakthroughs that it represents.”
SECRET US-IRANIAN WAR CONTINUES
Iran has asked Interpol to arrest two former US officials, retired US Army General Jack Keane and former CIA agent Reuel Marc Gerecht. Iran claims that the two men urged the Obama administration to use covert action against Iran and kill some of its top officials, including General Ghassem Soleimani commander of the Quds Force, the special foreign operations unit of the Revolutionary Guard.
In the central Iranian city of Yazd, meanwhile, another in a series of mysterious explosions rocked a steel factory, killing at least eight people, including some foreigners.
The blast was caused by “scrapped ammunition,” an Iranian lawmaker said. It was the third major explosion in Iran in three weeks. Iranian news agencies reported that several managers of the plant were arrested after the blast.
In comments unrelated to the drone incident, Iranian lawmaker Parviz Sorouri said Iran would soon hold a navy drill to practice closing the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf. Shutting down the narrow passageway would block about 40 percent of the world’s oil tanker traffic and about 17 percent of oil traded worldwide. Such a blockade would drive the market price of crude oil much higher, damaging the economies of oil importing countries worldwide.
Noting the strategic importance of the strait, Sorouri said, “We will hold a military maneuvers on how to close the Strait of Hormuz soon. If the world wants to make the region insecure, we will make the world insecure.”
Iran has made the same threat many times before. In 1987 and 1988, the US military provided armed escorts for Kuwaiti owned oil tankers in the Persian Gulf to protect them against attacks by Iran, which was engaged in the Iran-Iraq War. The escort missions led to several shooting incidents between US ships and planes and Iranian forces in the region.
The Washington Post and the Associated Press contributed to this story.