Iran claims it has “cracked the codes” of a U.S. drone it captured last December after the unit went down inside the country. On Sunday, Iranian Brig. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh provided “cues…to let the Americans know how deep we could penetrate into the intelligence systems and devices of this drone.”
According to Hajizadeh, the Iranian team discovered from the unit’s memory that the drone had undergone repairs in California in October 2010 and was returned to Afghanistan the following month. In addition, Hajizadeh said the drone flew over Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan prior to the American raid in May 2011 that killed the terrorist leader. The Iranian official further claimed that Tehran already began replicating the drone, although experts largely believe reverse-engineering is beyond Iran’s capability. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Monday dismissed Tehran’s claims, saying, “based on my experience…I would seriously question their ability to do what they say they have done.”
This image provided by the IRGC claims to show Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh (L) with an unidentified colonel near a US RQ-170 Sentinel drone. (Photo: AP)
Still, there is reason for Washington to be concerned. Iran has reverse-engineered technology in the past, such as the centrifuge. And even if Tehran can’t replicate the drone because of protective programs that are built into the system, the unit could be of interest to the Chinese or Russians. China in particular seeks the secret behind the drone’s radar-deflecting coating, and Russia would also be interested in any U.S. intelligence collection capability. In exchange, Moscow could offer Iran ballistics technology useful for a nuclear delivery system, or the guarantee to veto any Iranian actions brought forward at the UN Security Council.
It looks like Iran won’t be returning the drone to Washington, as President Obama requested upon its landing.