In the latest claim, an unidentified Iranian engineer told the Christian Science Monitor that Iran exploited a vulnerability in the drone’s navigation system to bring it to a safe landing.
Iranian officials had previously said that they had brought down the drone with a cyberattack.
U.S. officials don’t dispute that Iran now has possession of an RQ-170 aircraft, the same type of stealth drone that was used to conduct surveillance of the Pakistani compound where Osama bin Laden was killed.
But the CIA and other agencies investigating the matter said that it is clear the drone went down as a result of technical failure, and likely sustained damage. U.S. officials said the investigation has identified potential explanations for the crash, but is still trying to determine the exact cause.
An American official briefed on the probe said the United States obtained imagery of the downed aircraft showing that its frame was still in one piece. Asked whether that means the aircraft was in tact, the official said, “It depends on how you define that.” Even if the frame was still together, the official said, many of its components are likely to have been destroyed “when something hits the ground that hard.”
The drone was being used by the CIA to conduct surveillance flights over Iran, which U.S. intelligence agencies believe is pursuing the development of a nuclear bomb.
Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, indicated during a public appearance this week that the cause of the crash “was a technical problem that was our problem, nobody else’s problem. I think there’s a lot of public relations going on.”