December 11, 2011
A Jedi Mind Trick

These are not the drones you’re looking for.

This is either an intelligence bonanza for Iran and our purported enemies, a potential CIA Trojan horse with far-reaching implications, or just another case of Iranian exaggeration. 

Just a week ago, Iran claimed to have shot down an unmanned spy plane that violated its eastern airspace.  "An advanced RQ170 unmanned American spy plane was shot down by Iran’s armed forces. It suffered minor damage and is now in possession of Iran’s armed forces," the official Irna news agency reported.  True to form, U.S. officials initially denied the report of a shoot down, instead acknowledging the loss of a reconnaissance drone, claiming operators has lost control of the aircraft over western Afghanistan.  And so it begins.

You see, this isn’t the first time in recent memory Iran has made a similar claim. In January, Iran announced that it downed two unmanned aircraft over the Arabian Gulf. In July, they claimed the shoot down of another over its Fordu nuclear site.  So a fair amount of skepticism is warranted in this case as well.  This time, however, Iran revealed the intact drone to the public in a series of videos. Or did they?

This is where things get interesting.  First, it was a shoot down.  Then it was a “navigation system failure.”  Now, UN ambassador John Bolton is suggesting that Russia may have aided Iran in bringing down the drone using electronic jamming.  If that doesn’t get your attention, this will: it might not even be real.

If it is real, there are some unanswered questions.  For instance, why would you pay $6 million for a drone that could land on its own, but without a self-destruct or homing system?  Both of those seem pretty basic to an aircraft that would spend most of its lifespan collecting intelligence over unfriendly skies.  Self-destruct mechanisms are pretty standard fare, and we all know how easy it can be to push the button.  But if it is real, the craftsmanship that $6 million buys today leaves a lot to be desired.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to find a prop like this in a “Team America” sequel, with a team of puppet marauders hiding inside.

But if it isn’t real, what is it?  The odds favor more Iranian nonsense.  After claims of four shoot downs in a year, they probably need to unveil something or risk losing even more credibility. But, seriously, folks, can you at least come up with something that doesn’t look like it earned Honorable Mention at a local science fair?  The other side of this coin is a possible Trojan horse, purposely flown into Iranian hands.  That could prove to be the most interesting scenario, but to what end?  

For now, the only answers seem to be coming from the disembodied voice of the RQ-170, entertaining a small group of followers on Twitter: “It’s a battle of wills between me and my interrogators. Except they have a blow torch.”

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