U.S. officials say they are still trying to determine whether the aircraft shown on Iranian television today was the American stealth drone that went down in Iran last week.
Early Thursday, U.S. officials said, and ABC News reported, that the craft displayed did not appear to be the highly sensitive RQ-170 Sentinel and might be a model, in part because U.S. imagery indicated the Sentinel had not landed intact. Later, however, officials said it was possible that the Iranians had reconstructed the drone for display on television, but that the evidence was "inconclusive."
Pentagon spokesperson Capt. John Kirby said Thursday that U.S. officials were examining the footage aired in Iran for clues.
"I wouldn't characterize it just as military personnel looking," Kirby told reporters. "We've seen the imagery. There are folks that are looking at it."
Kirby could not confirm that the drone shown on Iranian TV was the one the U.S. military admitted it lost, but said that generally speaking, "When U.S. technology falls into the wrong hands, it's always a concern."
For nearly an hour, Iran's Press TV played and replayed footage of two uniformed military men examining the pristine-looking cream-colored frame of what was supposedly the RQ-170.
The Iranian military had claimed it was able to bring down the drone with little damage through a cyber attack as it was flying through Iranian airspace last week. U.S. military officials said the drone was not flying over Iran, but rather in western Afghanistan, and suffered an innocent malfunction before gliding into Iranian airspace. Today U.S. officials said the drone did not land intact.
The Pentagon's Kirby told reporters Monday there was no indication the drone was brought down by "hostile activity of any kind."
U.S. officials told ABC News Tuesday the drone had been on a secret surveillance mission for the Central Intelligence Agency when its operators lost control. The CIA declined to comment both when Iran claimed to have the drone and after video surfaced today. Iran's semi-official Fars News Agency reported that the drone was designed to automatically destroy sensitive data in the case of a malfunction, but in this case it "failed to do so."
The RQ-170, known as the Beast of Kandahar, is one of America's most advanced unarmed surveillance drones -- so sensitive that the Air Force did not even acknowledge its existence until late 2009. It was reportedly used to keep tabs on the man believed to be Osama bin Laden during the Navy SEAL mission that took out the terror leader in Pakistan in May.