U.S. Drone on CIA Mission Before Crashing Into Iran: Officials
Iran claimed it had downed top secret stealth drone.
Dec. 6, 2011 — -- The American stealth drone that fell into the hands of the Iranian military late last week was on a mission for the CIA when it went down, U.S. officials told ABC News today.
The officials said it was unclear what mission the RQ-170 Sentinel unarmed aircraft was performing when it went down and where exactly it was flying. While Iranian officials were quoted in local media as claiming the drone had entered Iranian airspace, the International Security Assistance Force said in a statement Monday that the drone had been flying over western Afghanistan when its operators lost control.
U.S. military officials contradicted Iranian officials who also reportedly claimed the drone had been "shot down" and that the Iranian military's electronic warfare unit had helped bring the RQ-170 down with little damage.
Pentagon Capt. John Kirby told reporters Monday there was no indication the drone was shot down, nor was it brought down by "hostile activity of any kind" -- ruling out possible cyber attack or electronic jamming.
The military considered the incident strictly an unfortunate accident with a malfunctioning drone, Kirby and Pentagon spokesperson George Little said. One U.S. official said today that after the drone's crash, a host of courses of action were considered, including possibly going into Iran to recover the craft. However, that option was dismissed, as well as several others.
The RQ-170, developed by defense contracting giant Lockheed Martin and dubbed "The Beast of Kandahar" by Aviation Week's Bill Sweetman, is one of America's most sophisticated surveillance drones and was only acknowledged to exist by the Air Force in 2010.
The bat-wing shaped craft is designed to dodge enemy radar and slip unnoticed into hostile territory to gather information or support operations on the ground. 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.
NBC News first reported the role of the CIA in the downed drone Monday.