Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, chief of the aerospace division of the powerful Revolutionary Guards, related what he said were details of the aircraft’s operational history to prove his claim that Tehran’s military experts had extracted data from the U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel captured in December in eastern Iran, state television reported.
Among the drone’s past missions, he said, was surveillance of the compound in northwest Pakistan in which Osama bin Laden lived and was killed.
Tehran has flaunted the capture of the Sentinel, a top-secret surveillance drone with stealth technology, as a victory for Iran and a defeat for the United States in a complicated intelligence and technological battle.
U.S. officials have acknowledged losing the drone. They have said Iran will find it hard to exploit any data and technology aboard it because of measures taken to limit the intelligence value of drones operating over hostile territory.
Gen. Hajizadeh told state television that the captured surveillance drone is a “national asset” for Iran and that he could not reveal full technical details. But he did provide some samples of the data that he claimed Iranian experts had recovered.
“There is almost no part hidden to us in this aircraft. We recovered part of the data that had been erased. There were many codes and characters. But we deciphered them by the grace of God,” Gen. Hajizadeh said.
He said all operations carried out by the drone had been recorded in the memory of the aircraft, including maintenance and testing.
Gen. Hajizadeh claimed that the drone flew over Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan two weeks before the al Qaeda leader was killed there in May 2011 by U.S. Navy SEALs. He didn’t say how the Iranian experts knew this.
Before that, he said, “this drone was in California on Oct. 16, 2010, for some technical work and was taken to Kandahar in Afghanistan on Nov. 18, 2010. It conducted flights there but apparently faced problems and [U.S. experts] were unable to fix it,” he said.
There are concerns in the U.S. that Iran or other states may be able 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.
Back when the drone was lost, the worry wasn’t just about Iran taking advantage of the recovered drone:
Loss of the stealth drone is “very significant,” says Robert Densmore, a defense journalist and former US Navy electronic countermeasures officer contacted in London.
“These Sentinels are pretty rare technology still, and to have one in such good condition, to be lost to a potential adversary like this, is pretty significant, especially because Iran has open ties to Russia and has been courted by China,” says Mr. Densmore.
“Strategically, the US will suffer from the loss of this because … it has radar, a fuselage, and coating that makes it low-observable, and the electronics inside are also very high-tech,” says Densmore.
Former Vice President Dick Cheney blasted President Obama Monday for his handling of the downed U.S. drone in Iran, 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,” Cheney said.
The president said Monday that the United States has asked for the drone back. “We’ll see how the Iranians respond,” Obama said.
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.”
Not that thinking people necessarily needed it but this is yet another reminder of why Obama must not be re-elected in November.