Iran displays plane identified as downed U.S. spy drone
By Thomas Erdbrink,
TEHRAN — Iran displayed an aircraft Thursday that it said was a U.S. spy drone brought down last week by an “electronic ambush,” a feat that prompted boasts of Iranian technological prowess in the face of increased hostility from the West.
Iranian state television used its main newscast to unveil the drone, identified as a stealth RQ-170 Sentinel made by Lockheed Martin. The drone was shown in a video at an undisclosed location where two men in military fatigues could be seen walking around it. The belly of the plane was covered with banners saying, “We’ll trample America underfoot” and “The U.S. cannot do a damn thing.”
The left wing of the aircraft seemed broken and mended, and the drone had a beige color, different from the models shown in stock footage. It also seemed smaller.
“They wanted to spy on Iran, but it has turned against them,” a news presenter said. “Iran’s wisdom is keeping the Americans awake at night.”
Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, chief of the aerospace division of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps, told state television that the drone was downed by a joint operation of the Guard and the regular army.
“After entering the country’s eastern space, the plane was caught in an electronic ambush by the armed forces, and it was brought down on the land with the minimum damage,” Hajizadeh said.
He said the drone is equipped with advanced systems for gathering electronic, visual and telecommunication information and possesses various radar systems.
U.S. intelligence agencies were examining the Iranian footage on Thursday, with some officials expressing skepticism that the aircraft shown was the downed drone, citing inconsistencies in its color and shape.
U.S. officials do not dispute that Iran has possession of a stealth RQ-170 that had been flown by the CIA. But U.S. officials have said they do not believe the drone was brought down by cyberwarfare, and that a technical malfunction is more likely to blame.
However the drone went down, the crash has been a propaganda coup for Iranian authorities.
“This action has boosted Iranian national morale,” said Saadullah Zareie, a political analyst for Iran’s conservative Kayhan newspaper. After the assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists in 2010 and the U.S. disclosure in October of an alleged Iranian plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington, the capture of a U.S. spy plane was a great success, he said.
“Now the West will realize that confronting Iran is not so easy,” Zareie said. “And those who advise [President] Obama to attack Iran clearly do not know what they are talking about.”
The RQ-170 is one of the more sensitive surveillance platforms in the CIA’s fleet. RQ-170 drones have been used in stealth missions into the airspace of other nations, including Pakistan, where surveillance was conducted for months on Osama bin Laden’s compound before he was killed in a U.S. raid in May.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Obama said Thursday that all options are on the table in dealing with Iran, but he declined to specify them. He made the comment in response to a question about Iran, but he was not asked specifically about the downing of the drone.
“Today Iran is isolated, and the world is unified in applying the toughest sanctions that Iran has ever experienced,” Obama said. “They can break that isolation by acting responsibly and forswearing the development of nuclear weapons . . . or they can continue to operate in a fashion that isolates them from the entire world.”
Staff writer Greg Miller contributed to this report from Washington.
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