Officials in the US are now scrambling over the intel that could fall into the hands of Iran and its allies after a surveillance aircraft originally reported downed over Iran is being revealed as a top-secret stealth drone.
Though American officials quickly denied that an aircraft crashed at all last week, reports from overseas revealed that an US plane had indeed been flying over Iran. Now officials within the US government are admitting that the craft was actually an unmanned, robotic spy drone equipped with some of the country’s finest technologies and kept under wraps for years.
Furthermore, the craft was flying in an intelligence-gathering operation for the CIA, and if its cutting edge technology is examined by enemy forces, some of America’s top secrets could be exposed.
"It's bad — they'll have everything,” an official speaking under condition of anonymity tells the Los Angeles Times.
The craft, a RQ-170 Sentinel drone, has been in America’s arsenal for years and first publically acknowledged by the Pentagon in 2009. Since then, the US has gone to great lengths to keep its actual capabilities hidden. The Times adds that insiders have said that the drone has the capability not just to conduct photographic and video surveillance from miles in the sky while remaining undetected, but it can also monitor cell phone conversations and can sniff out chemicals in the air, helping identify factories that could be using dangerous ingredients for complex warheads.
Earlier this year, Iranian lawmaker Ali Aqazadeh Dafsari told Press TV that the Iranian military had downed another American spy plane on the lookout for nuclear plants.
Back in May, the Sentinel was used by the CIA to conduct clandestine surveillance over Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan as officials plotted the raid and execution of the former al-Qaeda leader.
"It carries a variety of systems,” author Peter W. Singer tells the Times, “to its allies . . . it's a potential gold mine.”
Other insiders say that a threat is minimal, with defense policy analyst Loren Thompson telling the Times that "A lot of information about this aircraft was already known by foreign military intelligence officials."
“The cat's already out of the bag with stealth technology," adds John Pike, director of a website that deals with military policy research.
Since the DoD has gone to great lengths to keep the craft a secret from Americans, however, it comes surprising that, despite these efforts, America’s own enemies have been privy to the plane’s powers. Earlier this year, China revealed that it had finished a stealth fighter jet believed to have been developed with the aid of American technology onboard a F-117 downed over Serbia in 1999. With China at odds with America yet favored by Tehran, the information obtained from the wreckage of the RQ-170 Sentinel could be detrimental to America’s defense as the rivals work to one-up the US.
While a normal aircraft would spiral and crash uncontrollably by being downed by attacks, this craft in particular is believed to have simply lose contact with its handlers and, given its sophistication, safely glide to the ground and landed unscathed. “The way these things are built, they are very stable; they are very predictable,” Jennifer Griffin of Fox News says a senior US military official with knowledge of the incident revealed to her.
Perhaps the biggest blow to America, however, is that Iran has caught the US red-handed in a mission to sneak through the skies overseas as tensions between nations grow. To CNN, an unnamed military official from Iran calls the whole thing a "clear example of aggression" and says that Iran is "fully ready to counter any aggression.”