Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said yesterday it had decoded all of the data from an advanced CIA spy drone captured last year.
The Guard’s aerospace chief, General Ami Ali Hajizadeh, told state-run TV that that the RQ-170 Sentinel craft had not carried out missions over nuclear facilities before it went down in December 2011 near the eastern border with Afghanistan.
Tehran had previously said it recovered information from the top-secret stealth aircraft, but yesterday’s announcement suggests technicians may have broken encryptions.
“All data from the drone have been completely decoded. We know where it travelled step by step,” Gen Hajizadeh said. “After decoding, our experts discovered that this drone had not carried out even a single nuclear mission over Iran.”
Gen Hajizadeh said Iran had captured the drone and decoded its data without any assistance, including from its allies China and Russia. Iran has said it would reverse-engineer the drone and build its own version. Last week, the guard claimed it captured another US drone after it entered Iranian airspace over the Arabian Gulf, showing an image of what it said was a Boeing-designed ScanEagle drone on state TV.
The Islamic republic has been trumpeting its possession of the drones in an attempt to embarrass Washington over its alleged surveillance of Iran’s disputed nuclear programme.
Gen Hajizadeh said Iran had previously acquired a ScanEagle drone and produced a copy of that, but did not provide evidence to back up the claim.
Last month, Tehran claimed that a US drone violated its airspace. The Pentagon said an unmanned Predator aircraft came under fire at least twice while flying over international waters but was not hit.
Meanwhile, UN nuclear inspectors will press Iran this week for a long-sought green light to visit a key military site, although suspected clean-up work may make it difficult to find evidence of any illicit atomic bomb research there.
Thursday’s talks in Tehran could provide clues as to whether the Islamic state may now be more willing to start addressing growing international concerns over its disputed atomic activity following US President Barack Obama’s re-election last month.
The stakes are high: Israel – widely believed to be the Middle East’s only nuclear-armed power – has threatened military action if diplomacy fails to prevent its arch-foe from acquiring doomsday weaponry. Iran says it would hit back hard if attacked.
But Western diplomats are not optimistic about the chances of a breakthrough in the new discussions in the Iranian capital, after a series of meetings between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) this year failed to make headway.
The Vienna-based UN nuclear watchdog wants Iran to allow its inspectors to visit sites, interview officials and study documents as part of an IAEA investigation – largely stymied by Iranian stonewalling for four years – into possible military dimensions to the country’s nuclear programme.
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