Days after the Pentagon first denied and then admitted that it lost touch with a high-tech drone aircraft, authorities in Iran are now saying that they have the plane — and its condition is pristine.
The unmanned, robotic aircraft — a RQ170 Sentinel drone plane — disappeared last week. American authorities quickly dismissed claims that they lost the plane over Iran, only to later admit that the CIA was flying a reconnaissance mission over Afghanistan when they lost touch with the top-secret stealth drone. Soon after it was believed that communication was cut once the plane waded through the air in Iranian territory. American officials then claimed that satellite imagery showed that the drone had crashed and was beyond repair.
Officials out of Tehran, however, now say that they intercepted the craft and have it in perfect shape. For proof, Iran television has even broadcast footage of the craft.
Tehran is saying that they brought down the drone themselves with the Iranian Army’s electronic warfare unit after they caught the craft in Iran, around 140 miles from the country’s border with Afghanistan.
The Sentinel has been in the arsenal of the US military since 2009 and the Pentagon has gone to great lengths to keep its exact capabilities under wraps, though those speaking under condition of anonymity to the Los Angeles Times have revealed that among its powers is the ability to intercept cell phone transmissions and sniff out toxic chemicals from miles above the Earth’s surface, all while remaining undetected.
“It’s bad — they’ll have everything,” one official added to the Times.
“It carries a variety of systems,” author Peter W. Singer tells the Times, “to its allies . . . it’s a potential gold mine.”
Given the craft’s complex technology, the interception out of Iran allowed for authorities to down the drone in what appears to be perfect condition. BBC security correspondent Frank Gardner says such supports the claim by Iran that its forces electronically hijacked the plane brought it down without a crash.
Is the hacking of the drone’s complex system a possibility for Iran? Less than two months ago, RT reported that a key-logger virus was installed on the computers at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, infecting information in the cockpits of drones. The Air Force officials on the base were not made aware of the incident until an expose in Wired’s Danger Room revealed the details.
As it so happens, the Sentinel is dispatched out of the same base. If that virus from months back was in fact perpetrated by Tehran, the United States could be the victim of cyber warfare courtesy of Iran. Such an attack has been among the Pentagon’s worries for years now, and in May the DoD formally filed paperwork that says computer sabotage from another nation counts as an act of war. Speaking to the Wall Street Journal at the time, one unnamed military official was quoted as saying, “If you shut down our power grid, maybe we will put a missile down one of your smokestacks.”
While the US investigates how they managed to lose the craft to Iran, the biggest concern for America right now is what Tehran will do with the craft. As threats grow of a potential nuclear program overseas and tensions between countries worsen, the technology of such an advanced craft in the hands of the perceived enemy — and its allies — could be detrimental to any military action the US intends on carrying out in the future — or any action dished out by Iran.
“Among the United States’ main concerns is that Iran could use an intact aircraft to examine the vulnerabilities in stealth technology and take countermeasures with its air defense systems,” reports Iran’s FARS news agency. “Another is that China or other US adversaries could help Iran extract data from the drone that would reveal its flight history, surveillance targets and other capabilities. The drone was programmed to destroy such data in the event of a malfunction, but it failed to do so.”
“The blow has been so heavy that the US officials do not still want to accept that Iran brought down the plane by a cyberattack.”