WASHINGTON (AP) - The Iranian capture of a high-tech, stealth U.S. drone shines a light on the American spying mission there, but probably doesn't tell Tehran much that it didn't already know, a senior U.S. official said.
The RQ-170 Sentinel was providing surveillance over Iran and didn't just accidentally wander away from the Afghanistan border region, as first suggested. The official said Wednesday that the Iranians will no doubt be able to tell where the aircraft flew. A bigger U.S. concern, the official said, was that the Iranians are likely to share or sell whatever they have recovered of the aircraft to the Chinese, Russians or others. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the mission.
Experts and officials acknowledge that there is no self-destruct mechanism on the Sentinels - which are used both by the military and the CIA for classified surveillance and intelligence gathering missions.
Iranian state radio reported Wednesday that the drone was deep inside Iran's airspace, flying over an eastern town famous for Persian carpets and saffron when it was detected by Iranian forces over the eastern town of Kashmar, about 140 miles from the Afghan border. The radio report said the craft was downed by Iranian armed forces.
It did not speculate as to why the drone flew over that town.
The radio added that Iran will soon broadcast video footage of the downed drone.
U.S. officials said that while they have enough information to confirm that Iran does have the wreckage, they said they are not sure what the Iranians will be able to glean technologically from what they found. It is unlikely that Iran would be able to recover any surveillance data from the aircraft.
Officials said that the U.S. employs a range of capabilities to gather information about Iran, particularly its nuclear program. As a result, officials said this type of mission is probably no surprise to Tehran and therefore is not seen by the U.S. as a diplomatic tipping point.