Is U.S. Flying Drones Over Iran?
The Washington Post reported it on the front page of yesterday’s paper:
The Bush administration has been flying surveillance drones over Iran for nearly a year to seek evidence of nuclear weapons programs and detect weaknesses in air defenses, according to three U.S. officials with detailed knowledge of the secret effort. The small, pilotless planes, penetrating Iranian airspace from U.S. military facilities in Iraq, use radar, video, still photography and air filters designed to pick up traces of nuclear activity to gather information that is not accessible by satellites, the officials said. The aerial espionage is standard in military preparations for an eventual air attack and is also employed as a tool for intimidation.
The Iranian government, using Swiss channels in the absence of diplomatic relations with Washington, formally protested the incursions as illegal, according to Iranian, European and U.S. officials, all speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
A U.S. official acknowledged that drones were being used but said the Iranian complaint focused on aircraft overflights by the Pentagon. The United States, the official said, replied with a denial that manned U.S. aircraft had crossed Iran’s borders. The drones were first spotted by dozens of Iranian civilians and set off a national newspaper frenzy in late December over whether the country was being visited by UFOs. The surveillance has been conducted as the Bush administration sharpens its anti-Iran rhetoric and the U.S. intelligence community searches for information to support President Bush’s assertion that Tehran is trying to build nuclear weapons.
One would certainly hope our government is taking whatever steps it can to gather intelligence on this issue.
Speaking on CNN’s Late Edition program, Senator [Jay Rockefeller (D,VA) said getting the latest intelligence information on Iran’s nuclear ambitions is crucial. “Everything we can do to gather intelligence information, no matter who is doing it among our intelligence and military agencies, is for the betterment, because we are stretched so thin,” added Senator Rockefeller. “We need all the eyes on the ground that we can possibly get.”
The Administration is sending mixed signals, however.
U.S. sources have given conflicting signals about the veracity of a Washington Post report that said America has been using unmanned flights for the past year to gather intelligence on Iran’s nuclear capability. Three senior U.S. military officials disputed the article Sunday, but two well-placed U.S. government sources confirmed it, saying that the overflights have indeed been taking place. The newspaper — citing three U.S. officials — reported that Washington has been using drones to look for evidence of nuclear weapons programs and to “detect weaknesses in air defenses.” Neither the CIA nor the Pentagon would comment Sunday on the apparent discrepancy.
Senior Defense Department officials said Monday they have no knowledge of any U.S. drone flights over Iran, and U.S. intelligence officials would not comment on any such flights.
But a defense official at the Pentagon told FOX News that “the story has a lot of people scratching their heads in this building. “We’re not the only ones who fly those things,” the official said.
Indeed not. So, apparently, the Defense Department is not, in fact, flying drones over Iran to get information on its nuclear program. The CIA, however, is.
Update (1437): DC Loser points out below that the Israelis fly drones, too. Good point.
See also U.S. Conducting Secret Missions Inside Iran? (Jan. 16)