Iran Claims It Hacked Controls Of Downed US Drone – OpEd


I’ve been hesitant and careful about entering into the debate about how the downed U.S. stealth drone came to crash inside Iran.  The U.S. claims it “lost contact” with the aircraft.  Iran originally claimed it “shot down” the HQ-170, also known as the Beast of Kandahar (the base from which it operates).  More recently it claimed that it hacked the controls of the drone and caused it to land.  The Iranians have displayed video of the captive prize and it appears largely intact.  So it certainly wasn’t shot down.  But whether its capture was a mishap or a deliberate case of cyber-hacking by the Iranians is an open question.

Defense Update, an Israeli defense industry publication, reported the Iranian claims and bolstered their credibility by noting that Russia recently sold Iran advanced cyber-technology that might enable it to sabotage the communications system of such a surveillance craft:

Iran’s semi-official news agency Press TV quoted a senior official saying the Iran’s electronic warfare unit successfully targeted the Sentinel drone after it crossed into Iranian airspace over the Eastern border with Afghanistan.

…According to Flight International DEW Line blog by Stephen Trimble, Iran has recently received a shipment of Russian 1L222 Avtobaza, a ground mobile electronic intelligence system, designed to spoof airborne fire control and ‘side looking’ radars (commonly referring to synthetic aperture radars); It is also capable of intercepting weapon datalink communications operating on similar wavebands. The new gear may have helped the Iranians employ active deception/jamming to intercept and ‘hijack’ the Sentinel’s control link.

A reporter I know consulted a robotics expert who said that it was “quite possible” the Iranians hacked the controls of the drone using the technology referenced above.  This is not conclusive, of course, but it is suggestive.  The journalist also raised the important point that since the U.S. is claiming it “lost contact” with the craft before it crashed, we can’t possibly know whether the communications were hacked.  In fact, it’s quite possible that we lost contact with it precisely because the Iranians took it over by jamming our signals and replacing them with their own.

This article appeared at Tikun Olam

Richard Silverstein

Richard Silverstein is an author, journalist and blogger, with articles appearing in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward, Los Angeles Times, the Guardian’s Comment Is Free, Al Jazeera English, and Alternet. His work has also been in the Seattle Times, American Conservative Magazine, Beliefnet and Tikkun Magazine, where he is on the advisory board. Check out Silverstein's blog at Tikun Olam, one of the earliest liberal Jewish blogs, which he has maintained since February, 2003.

7 thoughts on “Iran Claims It Hacked Controls Of Downed US Drone – OpEd

  • December 11, 2011 at 1:23 am

    Guys, the drone was not “hacked” and then landed by an Iranian drone pilot. Think about it — it takes hundreds of hours of training to create a drone “pilot” and and a lot of drone-specific hardware. The Iranians have no such capability.
    There are only 2 possibilities: (1) We had a drone pilot go rogue and deliver the drone to the Iranians or (2) We purposely planted a bogus drone in Iranian territory for reasons unknown.

    • December 11, 2011 at 6:25 am

      i am iranian.we can create a better than one.dont afraid we dont attack to u.s.a beacuse we are not wild like u.s.a

  • December 12, 2011 at 2:58 pm

    im not agree with stump! u.s.a never send such a highteck airplane for unknown reasons. and u should accept this that iranian people are very smart. u can refer to history books to see capability of iranian people. now iran is under plessure of western countries but with all this problems iran has advanced very good in this recent years. but western medias show iran to there people as a very poor and unsafe country but belive this that irans situation is very good. better than u think!

  • December 12, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    Lets face it. Hats off to Iran for a very clever hack if thats indeed what they have done. You don’t just “lose contact” with sonething that sophisticated. Using the above mentioned equipment, taking control should be relatively easy. I have no doubt being a fully fledged drone pilot is very hard but for the purposes of this scenario, surely someone with a joystick and steady hands could land it.

  • December 13, 2011 at 7:47 pm

    I believe it is possible for the iranians to hack
    US systems just as it was possible for the US to hack iranian centrafuges
    its begining to look like cyber warfare and who knows what next?gas pipelines exploding?
    satalights being disabled?
    electricity grids melting down?
    or how about air trafic control systems crashing?

  • December 13, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    Ther is another posibility; the drone could have malfunctioned. Either way I believe there would be failsafes just like the posiden aircraft that was forced down in north korea(?) a few years ago. Incendiary devices ruined the electronics. the only info they might get is the skin. In my opinion it looks like they are faking it but after killing bin laden I do not think Obama is smart enough to play along by asking for a fake back? He does enjoy making us look bad though.

  • December 15, 2011 at 6:45 pm

    My understanding is that the drone is programed to attempt a safe landing in the event that it loses communication with both the controllers and GPS. This is so expensive hardware won’t be lost during a solar flare etc. All the Iranians had to do was jam both at the right time (When the drone is traveling in the right direction) to cause the drone to land in Iran.

    What bothers me is that the drone doesn’t appear to have some form of contingency plan to prevent it from falling into enemy hands. Something that has technological secrets on board would be better off destroyed accidentally during a GPS blackout than fall into enemy hands. At the very least, they should have programed the drone to use dead reckoning to verify against GPS coordinates to prevent spoofing or to find it’s way to friendly territory should it lose communication. This knowledge is what pilots used long before GPS was available.


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