Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
December 08, 2011

Years Of Drone Flights Find No Iranian Nuclear Weapons Program

The officials say the RQ-170 Sentinel drone that went down over Iran was part of a fleet of secret aircraft that enabled the CIA to carry out dozens of high-altitude surveillance flights deep into Iranian territory without being detected.

A former senior Defense Department official said the stealth drone flights had been underway for “at least four years," ...
...
The CIA is thought to have a dozen or so of the batwing-shaped, radar-evading aircraft, which are capable of being fitted with different “sensor payloads,” meaning they can be equipped to capture a range of intelligence material, including high-resolution images, radiation measurements and air samples.
WaPo, Dec 8 2011

One important point seems to get lost in the reports on the U.S. stealth drone Iran managed to obtain by electronic means.

Despite such espionage by flying sophisticated spy drones over Iran "for at least four years" those flights have not found any hint of an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Then National Intelligence director Dennis Blair told Congress in 2009 that Iran had not made the decision restart and alleged nuclear weapons program:

But as for the nuclear weapons program, the current position is the same, that Iran has stopped its nuclear weapons design and weaponization activities in 2003 and did not — has not started them again ...

U.S. spy drones had been flying over Iran for some two years when that statement was made.

In February 2011 the current National Intelligence director James Clapper gave a similar testimony (pdf) at a Congress hearing:

We continue to assess Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons in part by developing various nuclear capabilities that better position it to produce such weapons, should it choose to do so. We do not know, however, if Iran will eventually decide to build nuclear weapons.

When that statement was made radiation sniffing and air sampling spy drones had been flying over Iran for some three and a half years. Obviously they had not detected anything the intelligence community identified as a nuclear weapons program. Otherwise Clapper's statement would not hold.

That is the real important point to take from this drone brouhaha. Despite using them for years in highly sophisticated espionage on Iran no sign of an Iranian nuclear weapons program has been found.

Posted by b on December 8, 2011 at 03:16 AM | Permalink

Comments

A pithy commenter at another board suggests the following in which I mostly agree, " Israel ain't launching no attack. The reason all the noise is getting so "shrill" is because Israel's agents are trying to pressure Obama into bombing Iran for Israel before the elections. On the one hand, the Republican candidates have all been running off at the mouth about how they want to bomb Iran for Israel's sake -- if a Republican president does it and it goes badly for America, as it must, the zionist lobby in the US and its influence will be the target of a lot of very, VERY angry American citizens, with no "plausible deniability". On the other hand, once Obama achieves a second term, the zionists will lose a substantial amount of leverage that they can use against him, and he may just decide not to do it. So expect the warmongering hysteria to reach a crescendo in the months leading up to the presidential elections." On a different note, isn't invading Iran's airspace a blatant act of war? Not that has ever stopped us, but why isn't that highlighted by any party of sanity?

Posted by: Uncle | Dec 8, 2011 4:07:56 AM | 1

On a different note, isn't invading Iran's airspace a blatant act of war? Not that has ever stopped us, but why isn't that highlighted by any party of sanity?

Breaches of international law or UN resolutions only mean something when a non-western interest does it? I mean, isn't that why the US hasn't signed on to the ICC? So they don't have to follow anyone else's rules, or even their own?

Posted by: Pyrrho | Dec 8, 2011 4:24:41 AM | 2

"On a different note, isn't invading Iran's airspace a blatant act of war?"

No, because it is no more an "invasion" of Iranian airspace than sneaking spies into Iran is an "invasion" of Iranian territory.

It's a violation of Iran's sovereignty, sure, no question.

But flying spy planes over Iranian airspace is not an "armed attack" on Iran and, therefore, it can not be an "act of war" against Iran.

Or, put another way: Iran is perfectly within its rights to shoot down that plane and the USA would be in no position to make a song and dance about it, just as the USA has no "right" to take offense if/when the Iranians shoot a few CIA "assets".

But the other side of the coin is not true i.e. Iran is not entitled to launch an armed attack on the USA (i.e. to "go to war") simply because American spy planes refuse to turn back when they reach the border.

Posted by: Johnboy | Dec 8, 2011 5:09:24 AM | 3

@Johnboy - do you really think that if the Iranians launched unarmed spy drones over the US, most US politicians wouldn't regard it as an act of war?

Posted by: blowback | Dec 8, 2011 5:20:37 AM | 4

“Despite such espionage by flying sophisticated spy drones over Iran "for at least four years" those flights have not found any hint of an Iranian nuclear weapons program.”

Have the lessons of recent history already been forgotten?

Sadly, inconvenient truths are often ignored by our government. Or, their lies are turned into “truth.”

Watch the movie Fair Game. War justified by lies.

Posted by: DakotabornKansan | Dec 8, 2011 6:31:00 AM | 5

This move to demonize Iran isn't about Nuclear ambitions, it's an excuse to remove their leaders for refusing to go along with the globalization project now underway by the 1%ers. National sovereignty is viewed as an obsolete concept by these oligarchs, and Iran WILL comply. One way, or another.

Posted by: ben | Dec 8, 2011 10:40:29 AM | 6

Ben--you got that right. "Iranian nukes" is just a pretense designed to get the gullible to support whatever action the 0.1% deem necessary to force Iran to heel.

Posted by: JohnH | Dec 8, 2011 10:44:59 AM | 7

Iran releases video of the US drone:
http://www.farsnews.com/media.php?nn=13900917000696

Posted by: Paul | Dec 8, 2011 11:16:19 AM | 8

Let's see if I've got this right. An aggressor nation like the US can pierce through the airspace of a non-aggressor nation like Iran and conduct espionage missions there without getting so much as a slap on the wrist. But if the tables are turned and a non-aggressor nation did this to an aggressor nation, it would be called on the carpet and slapped to the ground in a heartbeat. The message from this is glaringly clear to me: it don't pay to be non-aggressive.

But if aggressors are recognized as winners and their counterparts as losers, then it pays in the end to be non-aggressive. At least that's what I see as the take-away message from Steely Dan's "Deacon Blues" -- the losers of the world have been furnished with the freedom to rise above the winners of the world:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ck1N1I-LzWc&feature=related

Posted by: Cynthia | Dec 8, 2011 11:30:07 AM | 9

"Let's see if I've got this right. An aggressor nation like the US can pierce through the airspace of a non-aggressor nation like Iran and conduct espionage missions there without getting so much as a slap on the wrist."

Exactly Cynthia, But, it's not just the U.S., it's the consortium of nations that pursue the goals of the "New World Order" or "Globalism", or whatever name people want to give it.

Posted by: ben | Dec 8, 2011 11:44:24 AM | 10

Paul

Thanks. It does appear to be undamaged.

Posted by: dan | Dec 8, 2011 11:51:19 AM | 11

Higher quality video (select to watch in 1080p):
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nJOrRp4HrnE

The lower section of the UAV is not visible; thus probably damaged during landing. The right wing also has some very minor damage (a dent), and may have been reattached to the main body. Other than these, the Sentinel is in really good shape.

Posted by: Paul | Dec 8, 2011 11:58:57 AM | 12

Remember Francis Gary Powers. Bottom line -- this makes Iran look good and the US, bad. In other words, look at these matters not as military matters but for their propaganda value. After all, it's a battle for peoples' minds, which the U.S. doesn't understand. (But b does hint at)

Iran is not isolated, as the U.S. claims. No way. Iran is supported by most of its neighbors in Central Asia, by Turkey and Syria, by South American countries, by the huge BRIC countries, and by the 115-nation NAM. Iran's only enemies it the axis of US/Israel/Western Nato. The people in these many countries side with Iran against American imperialism, of which this is an example. So -- a reason to celebrate.

Posted by: Don Bacon | Dec 8, 2011 12:00:43 PM | 13

Iran shows film of captured US drone BBC, includes video.

Posted by: b | Dec 8, 2011 12:08:13 PM | 14

So now the question. Is it real or a muck up? And what will be the US spin on this.

Posted by: ThePaper | Dec 8, 2011 12:12:58 PM | 15

The Paper - it is real. The U.S. will continue spinning the issue. They have already lied more about it in the last few days than they usually do in months.

They now say that the technology wasn't that important and that this was just an accident and by chance.

All wrong, but that's the spin.

Posted by: b | Dec 8, 2011 12:43:22 PM | 16

Regarding Iran's alleged nuclear weapon program --
BBC: However, a recent report by the UN's nuclear watchdog said Iran had carried out tests "relevant to the development of a nuclear device".
NYTimes: “Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear device”

These conclusions are based on a recent politically-motivated IAEA report which principally includes claims on:
1. Iran activities prior to 2008
2. Procurement of electrical switches etc. which have multiple applications
3. Alleged information from "Member States" -- i.e. US & UK

on the latter point, from the Nov 18, 2011 IAEA Report:
--Information which the Agency has been provided by Member States, some of which the Agency has been able to examine directly,
--Additionally, among the alleged studies documentation provided by that Member State,
--The Agency has been informed by a different Member State that these arrangements directly reflect those which have been used in nuclear tests conducted by nuclear-weapon States.
http://www.iaea.org/newscenter/focus/iaeairan/bog112011-65.pdf

In any case the IAEA is acting outside its authority. It is not some super-agency -- its treaty activities are restricted to preventing diversion of nuclear materials. The IAEA has consistently found that Iran is not diverting, including in the above report.
NPT: "Each non-nuclear-weapon State Party to the Treaty undertakes to accept safeguards, as set forth in an agreement to be negotiated and concluded with the International Atomic Energy Agency in accordance with the Statute of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the Agencys safeguards system, for the exclusive purpose of verification of the fulfillment of its obligations assumed under this Treaty with a view to preventing diversion of nuclear energy from peaceful uses to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices."

Posted by: Don Bacon | Dec 8, 2011 12:43:48 PM | 17

Nice to come accross a sophisticated readership/ commenters.

Posted by: Unknown Unknowns | Dec 8, 2011 1:04:09 PM | 18

@4: "do you really think that if the Iranians launched unarmed spy drones over the US, most US politicians wouldn't regard it as an act of war?"

Sure, just as Israeli politicians insist that Lebanon obtaining AA missiles is a "red line" that justifies an attack, even though it is ISRAEL who is violating Lebanese airspace, not vice versa.

But, then again, you are dealing with two irrational regimes in Washington and Jerusalem.

I'm explaining to you in RATIONAL terms why flying spy planes into someone else's airspace is not an "act of war", but I can't help it if there are IRRATIONAL politicians who react with unwarranted hysteria when such things happen.

Posted by: Johnboy | Dec 8, 2011 2:39:19 PM | 19

Well, the spying may not be acts of war, but wouldn't the bombing of a missile site (or whatever it was) be an act of war? As well as killing scientists and funding and supporting an internal "terrorist" group? The economic sanctions and possible destructive covert economic actions may be traditional act of war as well, no? What about funding of opposition groups or encouraging acts of rebellion on Iranian soil as opposed to simply "spying" on them? It seems the U.S. took these actions in Libya and probably Syria and how do we know what U.S. spies are really doing?

Also, releasing electronic viruses to cause damage to infrastructure is an act of war, right? Didn't the U.S. recently announce it would treat cyber attacks against it, presumably even less invasive attacks like DOS attacks, as warfare?

As Johnboy points out just b/c the U.S. said that is the law does not make it so of course. . . but if any cyber attack would classify as warfare I would think it's a virus meant to destroy infrastructure and/or endanger life, as the cyber attacks on Iran appear to involve.

Posted by: Walter Wit Man | Dec 8, 2011 3:31:26 PM | 20

Walter, the term "act of war" is not something that comes out of Alice in Wonderland i.e. you can't simply make it mean whatever you want it to mean, neither more nor less.

In legal terms you can't "choose" to go to war (forbidden under Article 2(4) of the UN Charter), and so the only time you are legally allowed to resort to arms is if/when you are under an "armed attack" (which triggers the self-defense provision of Article 51 of the Charter).

So the criteria for deciding wether *this* action or *that* provocation is an "act of war" is pretty simple: does that amount to an "armed attack" on you or your ally?

If it does then you can fight a war over it (Article 51 allows that).
If it doesn't then you can't fight a war over it (Article 2(4) forbids it).

With that said, looking over your list....
Q: "but wouldn't the bombing of a missile site (or whatever it was) be an act of war?"
A: Yeah, I'd say so, which is why nobody is putting their hand up to claim credit for it.

Q: "As well as killing scientists and funding and supporting an internal "terrorist" group?"
A: Doubtful, but you could make a case for it.

Q: "The economic sanctions and possible destructive covert economic actions may be traditional act of war as well, no?"
A: No.

Q: "What about funding of opposition groups or encouraging acts of rebellion on Iranian soil as opposed to simply "spying" on them?"
A: What about it?

Q: "Also, releasing electronic viruses to cause damage to infrastructure is an act of war, right?"
A: Wrong.

Q: "Didn't the U.S. recently announce it would treat cyber attacks against it, presumably even less invasive attacks like DOS attacks, as warfare?"
A: They can also announce that wearing your jocks on your head would be regarded as chemical and biological warfare against the ol' USofA.

But simply because the USA makes that announcement does not mean that sticking your underpants on your head turns your y-fronts into a chemical weapon, precisely because the USA is not entitled to unilaterally re-write binding treaties as and when the whim takes it.

It's a country, it ain't The Ruler Of The Known Universe.

Posted by: Johnboy | Dec 8, 2011 4:26:39 PM | 21

test

Posted by: Q49 | Dec 8, 2011 7:53:54 PM | 22

>> [b]: @john - one "spin" report said it has no self destruct. I don't believe that. But why should it self destruct if it was taken over on its legitimate control channel?
and
>> [johnboy]: "Why did it not self destruct?" Because its small, and so is its engine. Weight is therefore going to be critical,

First, with reference to johnboy's comment re weight -- yes, of course, all aircraft fret over weight, big aircraft and small aircraft. But weight is not an issue here. You could destroy the plane with very little weight penalty. Small charges at critical points would bust the thing open and, when flying at any sort of altitude at any sort of speed, bye-bye aircraft. Sensitive electronics could also be destroyed with little effort and all milspec harddrives must be able to wipe themselves clean automatically (See here: http://www.emphase.com/2-5-sata-ssd-s5-military-grade/ under "Erase and destroy.")

With reference to b's suggestion that it is likely the drone had a self-destruct capability that was not used because "it was taken over on its legitimate control channel" -- I think this too misses the mark. The ground station operators would have known immediately that the aircraft had been hijacked. These operate on a predetermined flight plan and as soon as the aircraft started to deviate from the flight plan they would have known something was up.

So why didn't the self-destruct capabilities get deployed? Here is my semi-educated guess. As soon as the Iranians gained control via a LOS comm link, the ground station, of course, lost control and with control, it also lost the ability to manuslly trigger the self-destruct. (Maybe this is what b is saying.)

I suppose they could have programmed in an auto self-destruct, but what would trigger this? Deviation from course would be too soft a trigger. Certainly, you could tell it if it ever found itself on the ground (or close to it) in certain places and not moving, blow up. Another idea would be to add an encrypted heartbeat circuit to the active control link. If the remote ever stopped receiving friendly tokens, it would assume it was under hostile control and automatically "fly home" or blow up.

Anyway, this is obviously a major security hole. It appears the US thought their comm protocols couldn`t be hacked. And certainly they appear to have lacked a Plan B if they ever were. Ooops.

It is interesting to speculate if the sat link was lost (or deliberately disabled) or rather if only the ability to assert control via sat link was lost. If the latter, I can imagine the horror on ground station faces. They would have watched as the aircraft deviated from its course and went an landed somewhere inside Iran. I'll bet you could have heard a pin drop.

I wonder how the Iranians did it? -Q49.

Posted by: Q49 | Dec 8, 2011 8:00:25 PM | 23

"I wonder how the Iranians did it? -Q49."

Indeed, and a definite step up from the "there is no way that the Iranians could do it!" spin of the last few days.

I suspect very much that the answer - when it finally comes - will leave everyone slack-jawed at the simplicity of it all.

Heck, maybe they just attached a Big Ol' Net to the underside of a Big Ol' Cargo Plane and simply plucked the damn thing out of the sky.....

Posted by: Johnboy | Dec 8, 2011 8:14:04 PM | 24

"First, with reference to johnboy's comment re weight -- yes, of course, all aircraft fret over weight, big aircraft and small aircraft. But weight is not an issue here. You could destroy the plane with very little weight penalty. Small charges at critical points would bust the thing open and, when flying at any sort of altitude at any sort of speed, bye-bye aircraft."

A flying wing is inherently unstable, and so the Americans would have made the assumption that if it ever lost control of one when it was "flying at any sort of altitude at any sort of speed" then it's bye-bye birdy without any need for any neat-o self-destruct mechanism.

It is an assumption that aero-engineers have *always* made and, let's face it, the British and the Americans spent all of WW2 sending super-secret equipment winging over Germany without once putting a "self-destruct" explosive charge inside those Mosquitos, Lancasters or Lightnings.

All the people who express amazement at the lack of a self-destruct mechanism have that problem i.e. if they were ever asked to point to anything else that whizzes through the sky with a Black Box That Goes Boom! inside it then they might just struggle to come up with an answer.

Here's one: The Starship Enterprise NC1701, Stardate 8210.3, "The Search For Spock"

Any others?

Posted by: Johnboy | Dec 8, 2011 8:33:52 PM | 25

-- A flying wing is inherently unstable, and so the Americans would have made the assumption that if it ever lost control of one when it was "flying at any sort of altitude at any sort of speed" then it's bye-bye birdy without any need for any neat-o self-destruct mechanism.

When I say "control of the aircraft" I mean control from ground control, not control in some aerodynamic stability sense. All drones are controlled from the ground. Ground control uploads a flight plan and the plane flies the flight plan. You can change the flight plan anytime you like by activating a new flight plan. Control between waypoints -- guidance, in other words -- is achieved onboard. In other words, you could lose comm with the ground control and the plane would still keep flying the flight plan.

There is no doubt there would have been self-destruct provisions built into system. They just didn't get triggered.

The hard security measures (encryption, etc.) would have been tough to break. Maybe Iran did have some sort of Bletchley Park operation in a suburb of Tehran, but this seems unlikely. I am just guessing. A "soft" compromise seems as likely or more. The US has made a lot of enemies in that part of the world. Maybe someone on the inside was helping? Some Bradley Manning type character who's just had enough and wanted to expose what was going on?

Posted by: Q49 | Dec 8, 2011 9:50:06 PM | 26

"There is no doubt there would have been self-destruct provisions built into system."

I doubt that.
I doubt it very, very much.

It would not have occured to the Americans that those dumb-ass Persians could hijack their systems.

After all, that's what the AMERICANS do to other people, not vice versa.

The engineers would have given about as much thought to fitting a self-destruct as they would have considered the necessity of rigging up a spinnaker or planting a keel on the damn thing.

Posted by: Johnboy | Dec 8, 2011 11:16:30 PM | 27

"There is no doubt there would have been self-destruct provisions built into system."

I doubt that.
I doubt it very, very much.

It would not have occured to the Americans that those dumb-ass Persians could hijack their systems.

-------------

Yeah, this would not have been a decision based on Iranian capabilities. Not letting your hardware fall into enemy hands goes back to the dawn of warfare. Again, look at the various standards hard drives have to meet before they go into any sort of data collecting roll for the military:

Erase and Destroy MIL-SPEC:
- USA-AF AFFSI 5020
- DoD 5220.22-M
- USA Navy NAVSO P-5239-26
- NSA 130-2
- USA Army 380-19
- NISPOMSUP Chap 8, Sect. 8-501

http://www.emphase.com/2-5-sata-ssd-s5-military-grade/

I know a little bit about this. There would have been a self-destruct provision / protocol. The Iranians found a hole through it.

Posted by: Q49 | Dec 8, 2011 11:48:09 PM | 28

Look, Q49, I have no doubt whatsoever that military hard drives are designed to be easily destroyed with the push of a button.

There is NOTHING new about that: WW2 codebooks were weighted so they could be easily thrown overboard when the first shots are fired across the bows, and WW2 Lancasters had sledgehammers in them so any crew that survided the crash could demolish the radar set before Jerry arrives to send them to Luft Stalag 111B.

But what I am pointing out is that allowing your soldiers/pilots/sailors the time to destroy the secret stuff before they wave the white flag is not at all the same thing as designing a Remote Control Full Frontal Lobotomy of your smart weapons.

When Main Battle Tanks get disabled in the field you **DON'T** see the divisional commander press a button that blows the turret clean off the damn thing.

When your blockade runner is boarded you **DON'T** see the First Lord of the Admiralty keying in the super-special code that remotely scuttles the ship.

When your aeroplane stays so far off course that a MIG 29 rudely suggests that you land right *here* and right *now* then there isn't a Big Red Button in the Pentagon War Room that blows that plane up on the tarmac.

Those things don't happen.
Those things have NEVER happened.

Remind me again when they did start happening.....

Posted by: Johnboy | Dec 9, 2011 1:24:20 AM | 29

beware Iran it is unlikely that the drone would not have a self destruct ,so i would wonder if the mo sad saying [victory through deception does not apply],this will be another tool for use in the desire too bomb Iran by israel and u.s .to show a true desire too work at a peaceable middle east the returning of the drone would show the world , as i believe Irans desire to have such peace
thanks joed

Posted by: joed | Dec 9, 2011 5:24:44 AM | 30

"beware Iran it is unlikely that the drone would not have a self destruct"

You know, it really is becoming unseemly to see this particular wet dream exposed to the world, time after time after time after time.

Remind me again how many *other* aircraft have sported a remote self-destruct mechanism...

Can you name even **one** aircraft that has ever been destroyed "by remote control"?

Posted by: Johnboy | Dec 9, 2011 5:54:23 AM | 31

Johnboy@31
"Can you name even **one** aircraft that has ever been destroyed "by remote control"?"

I guess I can't prove it, but I'd say at least two of the airliners used on 9/11 were destroyed by remote control...
Aircraft flown by remote

Yeah, I realize it's a tinfoil thought and it isn't the same thing as an internal self-distruct device, but...

And yeah, I'm still a freak.

Peace

Posted by: DaveS | Dec 9, 2011 10:03:41 AM | 33

"Q: "The economic sanctions and possible destructive covert economic actions may be traditional act of war as well, no?"
A: No."

If sanctions are enforced by blockades, surely, the stopping and searching of ships are 'Acts of War."

Posted by: bevin | Dec 9, 2011 10:55:44 AM | 34

Remind me again how many *other* aircraft have sported a remote self-destruct mechanism...

Can you name even **one** aircraft that has ever been destroyed "by remote control"?

You mean aircraft with pilots inside? I will assume operators here feel it preferable to wait until the pilots have left the building, so to speak, before zapping the aircraft. But what do you think happens when a pilot pushes the "eject" button? I am going to guess that, in addition to launching the pilot skywards, you also nuke all the sensitive components, including the drives.

As for drones -- you ask for a single example of one being destroyed by remote control. Ever heard of drones crashing before? How do you know these "crashes" weren't by design? What evidence would you need to see in order for you to accept that the drones are equipped with self-destruct capabilties? A YouTube clip of a drone coming into land, stopping on the tarmac and then, five minutes later, blowing up?

Seriously....

Posted by: Q49 | Dec 9, 2011 1:12:28 PM | 35

On self destruction devices.

One does not build these into planes, drones and other stuff because they have the nasty habit of exploding while friendlies are around. Some electrical glitch during maintenance in a hanger and boom goes the drone and the personal. No way any military would allow that chance.

A drone may self-destruct under certain circumstances though. Total loss of communication over a longer time might be a criteria. The self-destruct would then wipe the computers and let the drone take a high speed dive until it hits the ground. That will destroy a lot, if not all, of the secret stuff.

Posted by: b | Dec 9, 2011 1:24:15 PM | 36


A drone may self-destruct under certain circumstances though. Total loss of communication over a longer time might be a criteria. The self-destruct would then wipe the computers and let the drone take a high speed dive until it hits the ground. That will destroy a lot, if not all, of the secret stuff.

The drones that I have worked with behaved as follows: On comm loss, return to known, pre-determined waypoint and loiter. On GPS loss, crash into the ground. Other drones would no doubt operate differently. But that's how the drones I worked with were programmed.

And yes, they don't pack these things with 100kg of explosives for the reasons you mention (hangar "incidents", etc.) The drives get wiped electronically. Other bits of sensitive gear also get baked some way, somehow. But they don't go up in a big ball of flames. The impact with the ground would do most of the heavy lifting.

Posted by: Q49 | Dec 9, 2011 3:16:03 PM | 37

They would have watched as the aircraft deviated from its course and went an landed somewhere inside Iran. I'll bet you could have heard a pin drop.

It already was, in Iran, that was its mission, from neighbouring occupied Afghanistan. Misusing a mandate to violate both Afghan and Iranian sovereignity, etc ... wonderful imagery though, heart warming LOL :)

Posted by: Outraged | Dec 9, 2011 3:38:41 PM | 38

Thanks Q49 re 37 for the explanation.

On comm loss, return to known, pre-determined waypoint and loiter. On GPS loss, crash into the ground.

Effectively you're saying that b is right, as 'loiter' implies takeover by ground line-of-sight communications to land.

There's a lot of successful electronic hacking going on here.

Either you take the racist point of view, and claim that they would need to have had Russian equipment - or you have to recognise that there are a lot of Iranians in Silicon Valley.

Posted by: alexno | Dec 9, 2011 3:46:35 PM | 39

Another point I was interested in re 37 was the remark:

The drives get wiped electronically.

It is well known that simple MSDOS deletion doesn't actually delete the contents. Even if you overwrite everything with x'es, the classic commercial solution, you can recover the contents from underneath. Overwriting takes time. So what happens? A burst of radiation to wipe everything?

The fact that they got the drone to land, even if a rough landing, suggests that a complete wipe didn't happen.

Posted by: alexno | Dec 9, 2011 4:08:55 PM | 40

Some valuable background for those with short memories or may have missed the original obscure coverage.

Air Force finds out about drone virus from the Internet

Wired reports that a key-logger virus ended up inside the systems at Creech Air Force Base in Nevada two weeks ago, infecting information inside the unmanned cockpits of the military’s drones. While some officials quickly became aware of the infection, cybersecurity specialists who are hired to investigate networks infiltrations like these were unaware of the problem until Danger Room’s report was published.

“Nothing was ever reported anywhere. They just didn’t think it was important enough,” a second source involved in the security division tells Danger Room. “The incentive to share weaknesses is just not there.”

Ingrained sense of superiority, inter-agency, even inter-department rivalry/conflicts mixed in with buerauecratic apathy, inertia, incompetence ... the operational consequences of 'Need to Know' Compartmented ops.

The Iranians would have been monitoring drone ops from inception, including Humint, Elint & Sigint. Traffic analysis, data and comms capture and analysis. Hell, even 'drone spotters' outside the airfields/strips ;)

Throw in actual raw keystrokes/commands(flight control data and telemetry ?), match transmissions, dates/times with relatively weak encryption (even with short life encryption keys) necessary for critical real-time flight control commands re take-off/landing, and a cryptologist' job is much easier indeed. Add in State technical capacity and resources directed to a definite objective, and we see the evidence of the drone on, youtube :)

American exceptionalism indeed. Never, underestimate an opponent.

Posted by: Outraged | Dec 9, 2011 4:20:11 PM | 41

"I will assume operators here feel it preferable to wait until the pilots have left the building, so to speak, before zapping the aircraft."

No, sorry, they don't "wait before zapping".

They. Simply. Do. Not. Zap.

A plane goes out of control = the damn thing plunges to the ground.

As far as the designers are concerned there is no need to do any more, and so nothing more is done, for the good and simple reason that if the secret of that "remote zapper" is ever compromised then your entire airforce will be wiped out with the press of a button.

"But what do you think happens when a pilot pushes the "eject" button? I am going to guess that, in addition to launching the pilot skywards, you also nuke all the sensitive components, including the drives."

Again, that is the equivalent of throwing the weighted codebooks over the side of the sinking ship.

That is **not** what we are talking about here.

We are talking about REMOTELY instructing the electronics of your smart weapon to immolate itself.

Nobody does that, for the simple reason that your super-expensive ultra-high tech weapons of war will be rendered useless if the secret of that "remote zapper" is ever compromised.

Posted by: Johnboy | Dec 9, 2011 4:53:15 PM | 42

"If sanctions are enforced by blockades, surely, the stopping and searching of ships are 'Acts of War." "

Oh, sure, but a ship is considered the territory of the flag country.

Storming it with armed troops enforcing a blockade is therefore an "armed attack" on the flag country, and that is indeed covered by Article 51 of the UN Charter.

Posted by: Johnboy | Dec 9, 2011 4:57:42 PM | 43

Effectively you're saying that b is right, as 'loiter' implies takeover by ground line-of-sight communications to land.

Yes, I think b got it mostly right. I certainly would vehemently takr issue with someone would said the Iranians weren't smart enough to do this -- that's just racist garbage.

I would quibble with you here a little bit. "Loiter" means "fly in circles until otherwise instructed." But, on comm loss the plane heads to its "lost comm waypoint" and loiters. This waypoint is typically within Line Of Sight (LOS) of the Ground Station.

Posted by: Q49 | Dec 9, 2011 6:47:35 PM | 44

"I will assume operators here feel it preferable to wait until the pilots have left the building, so to speak, before zapping the aircraft."

No, sorry, they don't "wait before zapping".

They. Simply. Do. Not. Zap.

What I meant here was that before one destroys a piloted aircraft, one usually ensures the pilot has ejected from the plane. I surely hope you don't take issue with this.


We are talking about REMOTELY instructing the electronics of your smart weapon to immolate itself.

Nobody does that, for the simple reason that your super-expensive ultra-high tech weapons of war will be rendered useless if the secret of that "remote zapper" is ever compromised.

Johnboy, I am not sure what you are talking about, for you have bounced around a fair bit. At first you said there would be no self-destruct because of weight considerations, which was patently BS. Then you challenged us to identify an incident where a drone had self-destructed (any drone crash would satisfy this test.) Now you are talking about a theory involving "REMOTELY instructing the electronics of your smart weapon to immolate itself [sic]". I don't know what you mean by this. My only point is that self-destruct provisions would have been built into the plane. And this much is true.

Posted by: Q49 | Dec 9, 2011 7:07:51 PM | 45

alexno: The drives get wiped electronically.

It is well known that simple MSDOS deletion doesn't actually delete the contents. Even if you overwrite everything with x'es, the classic commercial solution, you can recover the contents from underneath. Overwriting takes time. So what happens? A burst of radiation to wipe everything?

The fact that they got the drone to land, even if a rough landing, suggests that a complete wipe didn't happen.

No, this isn't MS-DOS-style deletion. I don't know exactly how how they do it. But the methods and results have to meet spec. They take this quite seriously. And the MilSpec drives cost A LOT more than the industrial spec drives.

Yes, they got the drone to land and in this way it is clear that the Iranians found a hole in the security. My only point with johnboy is that there would have been provisions to destroy the plane such that valuable information could not be extracted by the enemy. In this case, the Iranians found a way around these provisions.

Posted by: Q49 | Dec 9, 2011 7:17:36 PM | 46

At the end of the day, unless a magnetic data media, ie a hard drive platter, is not 'data scrubbed'(by suitable software using the drive heads, etc), 'degaussed'(extremely powerful electromatic field) literally burnt (thermite charge/incendiary) and then physically destroyed (ie a suitable sledgehammer, etc) in its entirety, then with sufficient skill and faciltities agencies and state actors, hell even private companies specialists, you can recover data ... and heres the rub, even if you do all the above, if you have physical access to the remnants (unless utterly vaporised) you can still recover 'some' data ...

Now, in this case the Iranians very probably have intact data drives, not considering any other Intelligence goodies ... 100% complete (sweet) ... if magnetic media, its possible to also, in addition, recover 'previous' data from the active, useable media ...

With any form of magnetic data media, simple rule is, if opposition gains physical access and control, 'your data belong to us' ;)

Posted by: Outraged | Dec 9, 2011 7:47:30 PM | 47

"Johnboy, I am not sure what you are talking about, for you have bounced around a fair bit. "

No, I am being perfectly consistent i.e. when someone posts something that is nonsense then I write a post to point out that their claim is nonsense.

What that means is that you have to read the post that I Was Responding To if you want to understand where I am coming from which, apparently, you do not bother to do that.

"At first you said there would be no self-destruct because of weight considerations, which was patently BS."

Those "first" posts were in response to claims that either:
(a) It's a trap, Luke!
or
(b) What?!?!?! The USA didn't think install a way of blowing it up? Crazzzzzzzy!!!

That's what I was responding to when I explained that weight considerations made *those* two claims nonsensical

"Then you challenged us to identify an incident where a drone had self-destructed (any drone crash would satisfy this test.)"

!!!!!

By Q49-logic(tm) every airliner that crashes is "evidence" that Boeing must possess a Big Red Button whose purpose is to crash said Jumbo Jet.

"Now you are talking about a theory involving "REMOTELY instructing the electronics of your smart weapon to immolate itself [sic]". "

Look, I can do no more than to repeat myself:
(a) Since time immemorial soldiers/sailors/airmen have been tasked with disposing of The Secret Stuff before they surrender.
(b) There are no soldiers/sailors/airman inside a drone.
(c) THEREFORE, if you want to do it then you have to do it by remote control, precisely because - du'oh! - you aren't there.
(d) If you need to do it by remote control then you run the risk that the secret of how to do this will be compromised, with catastrophic results for your entire airforce.
(e) THEREFORE it is better not to do this at all, because the consequences of being compromised is Too Horrendous To Contemplate.

"I don't know what you mean by this."

Look, if (a)-(e) doesn't do it for you then I'm not going to go thru it again.

"My only point is that self-destruct provisions would have been built into the plane. "

And MY point is that putting "self-destruct provisions" into your aircraft makes perfect sense when you have a pilot in it, precisley because he can decide that its time to hit the button, but makes absolutely no sense whatsoever if that involves triggering those "provisions" via a radio signal from Langley.

The same is true of any mechanism that involves the drone making some autonomous decision based on outside telemetry, because if your opponent finds out what telemetry needs to be spoofed then they aren't going to have much difficulty spoofing it.

Posted by: Johnboy | Dec 9, 2011 8:27:13 PM | 48

@Johnboy, could please tone down your posts a bit? this a whiskey bar, not a theater; there's actually a real conversation here; contribute your knowledge, your opinions, and have a drink in good company

Posted by: claudio | Dec 9, 2011 8:43:58 PM | 49

johnboy -- And MY point is that putting "self-destruct provisions" into your aircraft makes perfect sense when you have a pilot in it, precisley because he can decide that its time to hit the button, but makes absolutely no sense whatsoever if that involves triggering those "provisions" via a radio signal from Langley.

Sorry johnboy, but you don't know what you are talking about, at least when it comes to your absolute assertion regarding provisions for a self-destruct mechanism. For example, this paragraph

"The same is true of any mechanism that involves the drone making some autonomous decision based on outside telemetry, because if your opponent finds out what telemetry needs to be spoofed then they aren't going to have much difficulty spoofing it."

makes no sense at all. Drones are constantly making decisions "based on outside telemetry." That's just a fact. The ground station has the plane on a map and it feeds you back position, attitude, engine params and various payload readings. In turn, ground station controls the general direction of the plane by uploading flight plans. You can click on the map and the plane will change course and fly to where you've told it to fly. So there is two-way telemetry and that's how you control the thing.

What the Iranians appear to have done is hijack the plane by means of their own ground control station. This means they must have figured out what the handshake protocols were. All comm would have been encrypted, so eavesdropping would have just given you white noise. (a) Did the Iranians break the code by means of a Bletchley Park operation? Or (b) was the code compromised by human sources? Somehow I think (b).

Another question to ask is: Was this a security hole with just this model of drone? Or is this hole present across the drone fleet? They`ve only grounded the RQ-170s, but who knows. I sure don`t.

Another consideration: It is not so much that the Iranians brought down the plane (intact!), but rather now everyone -- China, Russia, France, Pakistan, India, etc. -- knows that US drone systems can be compromised. Expect the electronic warfare specialists here to eat lunch at their desks for the next little whil

At any rate, this is one big mess for the US.

Posted by: Q49 | Dec 9, 2011 9:26:04 PM | 50

"Drones are constantly making decisions "based on outside telemetry." That's just a fact."

Yeah, but you don't get it to base a decision to wipe its memory storage based on that outside telemetry, precisely because that gives your oppenent's a simple means of taking out that ship i.e. you don't need to blast an artillery shell through it, simply jam the normal gps transmittion and feed it some false stuff instead.

The drone will then "decide" to lobobomize itself, saving you the trouble of having to shoot it down.

Posted by: Johnboy | Dec 10, 2011 2:51:26 AM | 51

Gads, its amazing to me that all you armchair technicians have missed the obvious.

Just as soon as that AchtungAintHeBad dude gets near this thing Lyndie England is gonna jump out of it and put a leash on 'im!

Posted by: PissedOffAmerican | Dec 10, 2011 9:06:36 AM | 52

POA, Hilarious comment!

Some people here really do take themselves WAY too seriously...so I'm grateful for your efforts to gently chide using satire.

...Poking holes in pomposity - one post at a time...could be your tag line.

I suppose it has to be frustrating for some people to know so much about EVERYTHING while still lacking the requisite tact and language skills needed to effectively and convincingly transfer that knowledge to others.

"Baffle 'Em With Bullshit" comes to mind...LMAO!

Posted by: arthurdecco | Dec 11, 2011 5:50:45 PM | 53

As above so below, as abroad so at home...

Oh, and blatantly stolen:

'Iran hostage crisis day: 13'

Posted by: Uncle | Dec 12, 2011 2:28:46 AM | 54

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