In the ongoing saga of whether or not Iran hacked our RQ-170 Sentinel drone to down it in December of 2011, Marcy has asked many questions. More recently, Iran announced last December that they had decoded all of the data from that drone and from the less sophisticated ScanEagle they had just claimed to have captured, which prompted more questions on the RQ-170’s mission before it came down. Today, Iran is releasing video and stills that it claims to have come from the decrypted imagery carried on the RQ-170.
Here is PressTV’s description of the video:
Iran has for the first time released decoded video recordings obtained from a US RQ-170 Sentinel stealth drone downed and captured by the Islamic Republic in December 2011.
The recordings have been made by the drone’s underbelly camera, and include views from the area surrounding the Kandahar base as the drone is about to land.
So what kind of camera is in the underbelly of an RQ-170? The website airforce-technology.com has a profile of the RQ-170 that includes these snippets:
Flying at an altitude of 50,000ft, the RQ-170 can offer its operators with real time intelligence data by executing surveillance and reconnaissance operations over a large area.
An electro-optic camera was incorporated beneath the front fuselage section to seize the real time imagery or videos of the battlefield it is surveying.
Okay, then. What are the capabilities of an electro-optic camera? Here is NASA on that question, on a web page that includes a photo of what looks like the nose of a different type of drone:
The Electro-Optic Camera (EOC) System is an experimental sensor under development by the High Altitude Missions Branch at NASA Ames Research Center. The system captures high resolution digitized images from a solid-state array and stores the imagery on magnetic tape. The EOC will acquire imagery along a twelve mile (20 km) swath width at pixel resolution of thirty-two feet (10 m) in three pre-selectable channels of data over a spectral range of 400 to 900 microns. The camera also tilts fore and aft automatically for bi-directional reflectance measurements and will be equipped with a rotating polarizer.
An electro-optic camera can fly at 50,000 feet with a resolution of 32 feet at ground level. And yet, we see this in one of the stills Mehr News put up:
There simply is no way that the video and stills Iran has released have the quality that an electro-optic camera would produce even though Iran claims their images came from the underbelly camera and the available literature says that camera should be an elecro-optic one. I’m no expert in encryption and decryption of images, so unless this low image quality is a strange result of only partial success in the decryption process, I think we have to call bullshit on Iran’s claims here. [It appears they also could use some coaching on the proper spelling of “aerial”.] The only other explanation would be if a second, lower resolution camera also is present as a backup to the electro-optic system, but there is no way this could be the imagery that the US would be collecting for intelligence gathering purposes.
Update: It seems that the New York Times and experts they cite differ with me (as does PJ Evans in comments below) on the authenticity of the imagery released by Iran.
Update 2: This article suggests the latest sensors have much better resolution than the 10 meters at 50,000 feet number quoted above. It cites six inches at 15,000 feet. And with the RQ-170 being a newly developed drone, one would expect it to have the best available imaging.
Iran’s Mehr News English website (but not, at the time of this writing, its Fars News website or the PressTV site) carries a sloppy and poorly translated story in which Iran claims to have captured a number of CIA agents. Such claims from Iran are not unprecedented, and, as usual, there is no clear indication of when the agents were claimed to have been captured. The poor translation is reflected in the current headline:
I would posit that intelligence agents are not being intelligent if they are captured by the country in which they are operating. The story carries photos of a number of the people Iran claims to have captured. The unifying characteristic appears to be that each of those captured is said to have been in Iran through some association with high technology.
Iran describes the operation these agents are accused of carrying out (or more likely, the Iranian Intelligence Ministry operation that caught them, once again, the writing is sloppy) as “constant and smart” and says cryptically that “part of the operation was carried out in France and elsewhere”.
It appears that Iran claims that a man they identify as Matti Waluk was the leader of the group. Here is the photo they posted of him:
As with the entire article, the description of Waluck is very difficult to decipher:
Matti Waluk, a CIA operator and executive of a CIA intelligence plan was arrested by security and intelligence agents of Iran along with other members of anti-Iran group.
“In 2008, I registered an employment website, NGR, and signed contracts with European prestigious companies to introduce expert human force to them. In 2009, an individual calling himself Steven Logano, contacted me via Prizma Company Email, purportedly to cooperate,” Mati Waluk accounts.
“In first days, I recognized that his real name was not Steven Logano, and that he is a senior CIA officer, with mission of infiltrating Iranian elite circles and collecting information on Iranian developments in hi-tech industries,” he adds.
The final paragraph of the story is just as unintelligible:
The plan was aborted by the Iranian intelligence systemtracking the agents , and thus their mission, who would endanger Iran’s critical structures, had it failed.
Back in November of 2011, Iran claimed to capture 12 CIA agents. In an article about those arrests, CBS News noted:
Iran periodically announces the capture or execution of alleged U.S. or Israeli spies, and often no further information is released.
By including photos of those who they claim to have captured, Iran would appear to be fairly confident that they have indeed captured agents. It will be interesting to see whether there is any response from the US in the next few days.
This development comes as we learn that the two days of negotiations between Iran and the IAEA ended yesterday without an agreement on the framework for an IAEA inspection of the Parchin site. Negotiations are set to resume February 12, so there is still some hope an agreement can be reached.
Update: Here is a YouTube (not in English) that is said to be a documentary from the Iranian Intelligence Ministry on the arrests: