The Christian Science Monitor has an exclusive story which must be causing some serious embarrassment in parts of the US military and intelligence community.
Iran guided the CIA’s “lost” stealth drone to an intact landing inside hostile territory by exploiting a navigational weakness long-known to the US military, according to an Iranian engineer now working on the captured drone’s systems inside Iran.
Iranian electronic warfare specialists were able to cut off communications links of the American bat-wing RQ-170 Sentinel, says the engineer, who works for one of many Iranian military and civilian teams currently trying to unravel the droneâ€™s stealth and intelligence secrets, and who could not be named for his safety.
Using knowledge gleaned from previous downed American drones and a technique proudly claimed by Iranian commanders in September, the Iranian specialists then reconfigured the drone’s GPS coordinates to make it land in Iran at what the drone thought was its actual home base in Afghanistan.
“The GPS navigation is the weakest point,” the Iranian engineer told the Monitor, giving the most detailed description yet published of Iran’s “electronic ambush” of the highly classified US drone. “By putting noise [jamming] on the communications, you force the bird into autopilot. This is where the bird loses its brain.”
The â€œspoofingâ€ technique that the Iranians used â€“ which took into account precise landing altitudes, as well as latitudinal and longitudinal data â€“ made the drone â€œland on its own where we wanted it to, without having to crack the remote-control signals and communicationsâ€ from the US control center, says the engineer.In 2009, Iran-backed Shiite militants in Iraq were found to have downloaded live, unencrypted video streams from American Predator drones with inexpensive, off-the-shelf software. But Iranâ€™s apparent ability now to actually take control of a drone is far more significant.
Iran asserted its ability to do this in September, as pressure mounted over its nuclear program.
Gen. Moharam Gholizadeh, the deputy for electronic warfare at the air defense headquarters of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), described to Fars News how Iran could alter the path of a GPS-guided missile â€“ a tactic more easily applied to a slower-moving drone.
â€œWe have a project on hand that is one step ahead of jamming, meaning â€˜deceptionâ€™ of the aggressive systems,â€ said Gholizadeh, such that â€œwe can define our own desired information for it so the path of the missile would change to our desired destination.â€
Gholizadeh said that â€œall the movements of these [enemy drones]â€ were being watched, and â€œobstructingâ€ their work was â€œalways on our agenda.â€
That interview has since been pulled from Farsâ€™ Persian-language website. And last month, the relatively young Gholizadeh died of a heart attack, which some Iranian news sites called suspicious â€“ suggesting the electronic warfare expert may have been a casualty in the covert war against Iran. …
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told Fox News on Dec. 13 that the US will “absolutely” continue the drone campaign over Iran, looking for evidence of any nuclear weapons work. But the stakes are higher for such surveillance, now that Iran can apparently disrupt the work of US drones.
US officials skeptical of Iranâ€™s capabilities blame a malfunction, but so far can’t explain how Iran acquired the drone intact. One American analyst ridiculed Iranâ€™s capability, telling Defense News that the loss was â€œlike dropping a Ferrari into an ox-cart technology culture.â€
Yet Iranâ€™s claims to the contrary resonate more in light of new details about how it brought down the drone â€“ and other markers that signal growing electronic expertise.
A former senior Iranian official who asked not to be named said: “There are a lot of human resources in Iran…. Iran is not like Pakistan.”