The Pakistani intelligence service probably allowed the Chinese military to examine and even take home parts of the top secret stealth helicopter used in the U.S. Navy SEAL raid to take down Osama bin Laden, according to a pair of recently published news reports.
Shortly after the successful raid in early May, photographs emerged online of what appeared to be the remains of a never-before-seen stealth-modified version of a Blackhawk helicopter that, according to the White House, crash-landed during the operation after clipping one of the compound's walls. The SEALs the chopper was carrying attempted to destroy it after the crash -- first reportedly with hammers to destroy the helicopter's sensitive, cutting edge electronics systems -- and then with explosives, but a large portion of the tail section survived the blast.
In the days following the raid, the U.S. had already asked the Pakistani government to return the helicopter's remains, but Pakistani officials, incensed that the U.S. had conducted a lethal operation deep in Pakistani territory without warning, hinted to ABC News then that they may let the Chinese take a peek at the classified bird first.
One U.S. official told ABC News at the time he did not know if the Pakistanis had made the offer to the Chinese, but said he would be "shocked" if the Chinese hadn't already been granted access to the wreckage.
Sunday, the Financial Times reported the American official's intuition appeared to be accurate. Citing "people close to the White House and Central Intelligence Agency", the report said the Chinese did indeed examine the helicopter and took samples of a stealth "skin" covering before it was returned to the U.S. in late May.
In a report published hours later, The New York Times said China had "probably" examined the wreckage but cited American officials who said they "did not have definitive proof that the Chinese were allowed to visit Abbottabad."
A Pakistani military spokesperson told ABC News the assertion the Chinese were granted access to the wreckage was not true and called such reports "kite flying" by the media. Representatives for the White House and CIA declined to comment for this report.
Pakistan and China are known to have a close military relationship and when U.S.-Pakistani tension reached unprecedented highs after the raid, Pakistani officials took a highly publicized trip to Beijing for a major fighter jet deal in what some analysts said was a "snub" to Washington.
Richard Clarke, former counter-terrorism advisor to the White House and ABC News consultant, said in May that Pakistan is allowed access to advanced technology out of China and "Islamabad is always looking for ways to give China something in return."
Any advancements in stealth gleaned from the helicopters remains would have been a "much appreciated gift" to China, Clarke said.
Aviation experts said the unusual configuration of the rear rotor, the curious hub-cap like housing around it and the general shape of the bird are all clues the helicopter was highly modified to not only be quiet, but to have as small a radar signature as possible.