Iran shows intact drone, boasts of cyberattack

A photo released Dec. 8, 2011, by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, claims to show a U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel drone which Tehran says its forces downed. AP

Iran, Drone, Amir Ali Hajizadeh
This photo released on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011, by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, claims to show US RQ-170 Sentinel drone which Tehran says its forces downed earlier this week, as the chief of the aerospace division of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, right, listens to an unidentified colonel, in an undisclosed location, Iran.
AP Photo/Sepahnews
Iranian state-run TV showed images of what appears to be a RQ-170 Sentinel drone, which the Islamic Republic claimed to have brought down by cyberattack in its airspace near the Afghanistan border over the weekend.

If it is the U.S. drone nicknamed "Beast of Kandahar," many of the worst fears of intelligence analysts could come true.

"Military experts are well aware how precious the technological information of this drone is," The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps Aerospace Forces Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh told state-run news agency FARS.

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The drone appears to be almost perfectly intact, giving Iran a great opportunity to explore its many cutting-edge and sensitive intelligence-gathering technologies. U.S. officials have said that particular drone's self-destruct function probably did not go off, because at the time of its downing, there was no contact with the drone.

The state-run news agency FARS writes:

"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. 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."

U.S. officials have said little about what exactly brought down the drone, initially only indicating that CIA officials - who had been running the drone at the time - had lost contact with it at some point during its flight.

Many in the U.S. said earlier it is unlikely that Iran would be able to recover any surveillance data from the aircraft, but that was before images of it being apparently largely intact surfaced online.

Joe Cirincione, president of Ploughshares and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, told CBS News that the drone is "one of the most sophisticated surveillance assets the U.S. possesses."

Cirincione said access to its technology adding that if Iran - or Russia or China - were able to glean information from its systems, "It could seriously set back U.S. national security interests."

Gen. Hajizadeh told FARS that the Iranian military had been well aware of drone flights in their territory for some time, and claimed to have shot down several before. For its part, U.S. officials have admitted that drones have been spying on Iran for years, but there has been little to no information about drones being downed there previously.

As for this specific drone flight, Gen. Hajizadeh claimed Iran was aware of it before it happened.

"Recently, our collected intelligence and precise electronic monitoring revealed that this aircraft intended to infiltrate our country's airspace for spying missions," Gen. Hajizadeh said. "After it entered the Eastern parts of the country, this aircraft fell into the trap of our armed forces and was downed in Iran with minimum damage."

Iran, Drone, Amir Ali Hajizadeh
This photo released on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011, by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, claims to show the chief of the aerospace division of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, left, listening to an unidentified colonel as he points to US RQ-170 Sentinel drone which Tehran says its forces downed earlier this week.
AP Photo/Sepahnews

  • Joshua Norman

    Joshua Norman is a Senior Editor at CBSNews.com.

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