The Wall Street Journal reports: U.S. officials considered conducting a covert mission inside Iran to retrieve or destroy a stealth drone that crashed late last week, but ultimately concluded such a secret operation wasn’t worth the risk of provoking a more explosive clash with Tehran, a U.S. official said…
The officials considered various options for retrieving the wreckage of the RQ-170 drone.
Under one plan, a team would be sent to retrieve the aircraft. U.S. officials considered both sending in a team of American commandos based in Afghanistan as well as using allied agents inside Iran to hunt down the downed aircraft.
Another option would have had a team sneak in to blow up the remaining pieces of the drone. A third option would have been to destroy the wreckage with an airstrike.
However, the officials worried that any option for retrieving or destroying the drone would have risked discovery by Iran.
“No one warmed up to the option of recovering it or destroying it because of the potential it could become a larger incident,” the U.S. official said.
If an assault team entered the country to recover or destroy the drone, the official said, the U.S. “could be accused of an act of war” by the Iranian government.
The New York Times adds: The stealth C.I.A. drone that crashed deep inside Iranian territory last week was part of a stepped-up surveillance program that has frequently sent the United States’ most hard-to-detect drone into the country to map suspected nuclear sites, according to foreign officials and American experts who have been briefed on the effort.
Until this week, the high-altitude flights from bases in Afghanistan were among the most secret of many intelligence-collection efforts against Iran, and American officials refuse to discuss it. But the crash of the vehicle, which Iranian officials said occurred more than 140 miles from the border with Afghanistan, blew the program’s cover.
The overflights by the bat-winged RQ-170 Sentinel, built by Lockheed Martin and first glimpsed on an airfield in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2009, are part of an increasingly aggressive intelligence collection program aimed at Iran, current and former officials say.