Photo: Lockheed Skunkworks
The RQ-170 Sentinel drone lost over Iran late last year was not the United State’s first foray into Iran with the stealth UAV, and the Sentinel was not simply plying the northern border of Afghanistan as officials have maintained.The doomed flight, where the Iranians claim they brought down the drone electronically, and the U.S. says it went down due to a malfunction, was simply the most recent reconnaissance mission deep into Iran by the CIA in the three years since the missions began.
Joby Warrick and Greg Miller at The Washington Post report that RQ-170s have flown more than 600 miles inside Iran for that long before the most recent incident brought the surveillance program into the limelight.
The effort began with president Bush who committed to increased intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program during the final years of his presidency, and has been turning out choice information for years.
The drone operations are one part of a multi-agency effort.
The CIA’s Iran Operation Division, known internally as “Persia House,” is working with the NSA to pull high quality intelligence out of the Middle East country to offer President Obama the options he’ll need to decide if Iran’s nuclear program focuses on weapons.
It’s these intelligence reports the administration has cited recently when it argued against a preemptive military strike by Israel.
According to Warrick and Miller the best intel the U.S. can come up with shows that while the Iranians may remain committed to assembling essential parts of a nuclear weapons program, the country’s leaders have yet to design an actual nuclear warhead.
“It isn’t the absence of evidence, it’s the evidence of an absence,” a intelligence official told the Post. “Certain things are not being done.”
According to a senior U.S. official, unnamed in the story, the U.S. has a six month lead time in making any decisions on Iran.
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