Iran Says It Has Recovered Data from Captured US Drone

Footage may match U.S. base in Afghanistan.

February 7, 2013, 12:06 PM

Feb. 7, 2013 — -- Iranian State Television has broadcast video footage it claims was recovered from the RQ-170 "Sentinel" U.S. surveillance drone that crashed inside Iran in December 2011.

While Iran says it downed the aircraft, U.S. officials say the craft malfunctioned during a CIA mission over Afghanistan and drifted into Iranian territory before crashing.

In the days after the crash, Press TV broadcast video of what appeared to be the drone in good condition. Iranian officials said then they were going to analyze the advanced aircraft.

On Wednesday night Iranian TV broadcast a half-hour narrative of the RQ-170's mission that contained black-and-white video showing a mix of aerial footage and ground footage. The ground footage appears to have been taken as the aircraft was taxiing on an airport runway that may have been its home base at Kandahar, Afghanistan. ABC News has not been able to independently determine whether the footage shown on the Iranian broadcast is real.

In the Iranian broadcast, General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, identified as the chief of the Revolutionary Guard's aerospace division, says "This aircraft is taxiing in Kandahar base and then flying over." He added, "This is a base that the unmanned aircraft RQ170 took off from and never returned to, and the pictures and films are there to prove it."

The broadcast also contained images purportedly taken at the location where the drone crashed. Still photos show parts of the drone aircraft being sling-loaded by a helicopter and other parts being loaded onto a flat bed trailer.

Hajizadeh said Iranian commanders considered the possibility that "the U.S. would either bombard the area or bring commandos to destroy the aircraft." They calculated the probability of such a U.S. move as being 15 percent, and "therefore we were militarily ready...that if they attack, then we have to attack the American bases."

A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment on the authenticity of the videos.

Former Marine Corps Col. Stephen Ganyard, an ABC News military consultant, finds it surprising that any video could have survived the crash. However, he believes the video may be what the Iraniansclaim it is, noting that the nose landing gear shown on the video appears to be a close match to that of the RQ-170. The taxi footage also shows C-130 aircraft as well as aircraft hangars and shelters that he said "are very much like what you'd see on an airbase -- a US airbase in the Middle East."

Also shown are what appear to be the trailers from which operators control unmanned aircraft for takeoffs and landings. At least one Predator drone is shown on the flight line.

"This is quite clearly video from a U.S. base somewhere in the Middle East ," said Ganyard. "This is not something that the Iranians could've staged -- although it could be video from some other place at some other time. This would very strongly suggest that they got at least part of the video out of this RQ-170 after it had come down within Iran."

Ganyard said that if real, the video is a propaganda coup for Iran, but it also raises concerns. "The real concern here is that we have a very, very capable airplane -- it's stealthy, it can go along way, and we spent a lot of money to develop it. To have it go down in enemy territory and have something, if anything at all, be compromised is quite disturbing and quite embarrassing."

Iran has been known to doctor images for propaganda purposes. Most famously it added a missile to a 2008 photo showing an Iranian missile launch from a desert range. The Iranians retracted the photo after criticism.

Most recently, U.S. officials have cast doubt on Iran's claim that it safely returned a monkey from space. At Monday's State Department briefing spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said it was unclear if the same monkey they sent to space was the one shown to have survived the launch.

"The Iranians said they sent a monkey, but the monkey that they showed later seemed to have different facial features," Nuland told reporters. "He was missing a little wart."

The Iranians have said the pictures don't match because the initial photo was a stock image of a different monkey astronautfrom 2011, while the post-flight photo showed the actual monkey from the flight. According to Harvard astronomer Jonathan McDowell, the monkey with the mole died in an unsuccessful Iranian launch in 2011.

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