Iran showed off their new toy, courtesy of the CIA, on state-run television, proving their possession of a US surveillance drone.
The 2.5-minute video clip of the remote-control surveillance aircraft was the first visual evidence to emerge that Iran had possession of the drone since Sunday, when Iran claimed that its military had downed the aircraft. American officials have since confirmed that controllers of a pilotless drone aircraft, based in neighboring Afghanistan, had lost contact with it.
The drone shown on Iran television appeared to be in remarkably good condition inconsistent with an uncontrolled landing. It was displayed on a platform clearly constructed for propaganda purposes, with photos of Iran’s revolutionary ayatollahs on the wall behind it and a desecrated version of the American flag, with skulls instead of stars, underneath its left wing.
The condition suggests that the Iranians took control of the remotely-piloted aircraft rather than shooting it down. This has a host of implications for the future of drone-based intelligence. The latest salvo in cyberwarfare could be between engineers trying to wrest remote control of airplanes from one another. US intelligence experts doubt the use of a cyber attack from Iran in securing the drone, but they cannot explain the incident either.
Iran also lodged a formal complaint over having its airspace violated, using the ambassador from Switzerland (they have no diplomatic ties with the US, and they just took down the US’ new virtual embassy) to raise the complaint. The most formal US response borders on bragging that they work hard to monitor the Iranian nuclear capacity:
The CIA’s use of surveillance drones over Iran reflects a growing belief within the Obama administration that covert action and carefully choreographed economic pressure may be the only means of coercing Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, current and former U.S. officials say.
The administration’s shift toward a more confrontational approach — one that also includes increased arms sales to Iran’s potential rivals in the Middle East as well as bellicose statements by U.S. officials and key allies — suggests deepening pessimism about the prospects for a dialogue with Iran’s leaders, the officials say.
The administration’s evolving strategy includes expanded use of remote-controlled stealth aircraft, such as the one that came down in eastern Iran last week, as well as other covert efforts targeting Iran’s nuclear program, according to U.S. government officials and Western diplomats, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence-gathering efforts.
The U.S. officials said the stealth drone was part of a fleet of secret aircraft that the CIA has used for several years in an escalating espionage campaign targeting Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Left unsaid: whether any of these strategies follow international law and constitutional and federal statutes. Somehow, this entire conversation over the drone has occurred in this vacuum where it is accepted as a given that the US can fly drone planes over foreign countries and perpetrate aggressive, even offensive activities without any formal declarations of war or even a public debate. Somehow, the New York Times can only go so far as to say that “Iran’s leaders… point to the drone as evidence of hostile American intentions toward Iran.” Well, aren’t they right? And not only do we have the evidence of the drone strike, but also the assassination of nuclear scientists and ballistics experts, the introduction of computer viruses to bog down missile production, and more.
Just one question from the press corps about the apparently massive undeclared war we’re fighting in Iran would satisfy me at this point.