Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Monday dismissed Tehran’s claims that it has recovered data from a US spy drone that went down in Iran late last year.
Without providing details, Panetta said that “based on my experience I would seriously question their ability to do what they say they have done.”
Iranian officials claimed Sunday that they were building a copy of the drone and that they had recovered information that the aircraft was used to spy on Osama bin Laden weeks before he was killed.
Panetta, a former CIA chief, traveled to Colombia Monday morning and spoke with reporters on the plane. His comment echoed previous suggestions from US officials that it would be difficult to exploit any data and technology on the captured CIA stealth drone because of measures taken to limit the intelligence value of drones operating over hostile territory.
The US also has disputed Iran’s claims that it brought down the RQ-170 Sentinel and instead says it malfunctioned. The drone came down near the eastern Iranian city of Kashmar and was fairly intact, according to photos released by Tehran. American officials eventually confirmed the plane was monitoring Iran’s military and nuclear facilities.
Similar unmanned surveillance aircraft kept watch on bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. And drones have been used routinely by the US military in Afghanistan and Iraq for surveillance and intelligence gathering. Other types of armed drones have also been used to conduct strikes in Yemen and along the border in Pakistan — largely by the CIA.
Officials have suggested that much of the data gathered by the Sentinel is not stored on the drone, but simply passes through it for collection elsewhere.
Washington has asked for the drone back — a request Iran rejected.
Upon arriving in Bogota, Panetta said the US was concerned about alleged attempts by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to expand their influence in the Middle East and South America. “That in my book relates to expanding terrorism,” he said.