Thursday, December 22, 2011
MSNBC: The United States is investigating a combination of pilot error and mechanical failure as possible causes for the crash of a classified U.S. drone in Iran and does not believe Iran brought down the plane, according to two U.S. government officials.
The unmanned RQ-170 Sentinel drone, which had been on a sensitive CIA surveillance mission over Iran, crashed and was apparently reassembled by Iran before being put on display in Tehran, said one of the officials, who was speaking on condition of anonymity given the sensitive nature of the investigation.
While exactly what went wrong with the aircraft is not publicly known, it is now becoming clear that its operators could have crashed the plane and destroyed it if they had taken action while it was still at a higher altitude, according to a source familiar with the aircraft and its operation.
Instead, the stealthy drone built by Lockheed Martin Corp broke up into several large pieces, allowing Iran to reassemble the plane and possibly share some of its technological secrets with China, Russia or other U.S. competitors.
Once the plane, built by Lockheed Martin Corp, dropped to a low enough altitude, its aerodynamic design made a catastrophic crash impossible, said one person familiar with the plane's design and operating procedures.
Pilot error has not been confirmed, but it is one of the causes under examination, according to the two officials.
The new information explains why the drone was not destroyed and instead fell into Iran's hands in an incident that has significantly heightened tensions with the United States.
The plane measures over 40 feet from wing tip to wing tip, and carries a full-motion video sensor that was used this year by U.S. intelligence to monitor al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden's compound in Pakistan ahead of the raid that killed him.
The main concern about technology Iran could pilfer from the drone centers on special coatings on the craft's surface that make it largely invisible to radar.
The computers onboard the drone are believed to have been heavily encrypted and its sensors were not the most sophisticated tools in the U.S. arsenal.
The United States and other Western nations tightened sanctions on Iran last week and Britain withdrew its diplomatic staff from Tehran after hard-line youths stormed two diplomatic compounds.
The United States has not ruled out military action against Iran's nuclear facilities if diplomacy fails to resolve a dispute over the program, which Washington believes is aimed at developing atomic weapons.
READ THE FULL STORY HERE
Posted by Steve Douglass at 8:15 PM
CBS/AP) BAGHDAD - A wave of at least 14 bombings ripped across Baghdad Thursday morning, killing at least 60 people in the worst violence in Iraq for months. The apparently coordinated attacks struck days after the last American forces left the country and in the midst of a major government crisis between Shiite and Sunni politicians that has sent sectarian tensions soaring.
The bombings may be linked more to the U.S. withdrawal than the political crisis, but all together, the developments heighten fears of a new round of Shiite-Sunni sectarian bloodshed like the one a few years back that pushed Iraq to the brink of civil war.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But the bombings bore all the hallmarks of al Qaeda's Sunni insurgents. Most appeared to hit Shiite neighborhoods, although some Sunni areas were also targeted. In all, 11 neighborhoods were hit by either car bombs, roadside blasts or sticky bombs attached to cars. There was at least one suicide bombing and the blasts went off over several hours.
The deadliest attack was in the Karrada neighborhood, where a suicide bomber driving an explosives-laden vehicle blew himself up outside the office of a government agency fighting corruption. Two police officers at the scene said the bomber was driving an ambulance and told guards that he needed to get to a nearby hospital. After the guards let him through, he drove to the building where he blew himself up, the officers said.
Sirens wailed as ambulances rushed to the scene and a large plume of smoke rose over the area. The blast left a crater about five yards wide in front of the five-story building, which was singed and blackened.
"I was sleeping in my bed when the explosion happened," said 12-year-old Hussain Abbas, who was standing nearby in his pajamas. "I jumped from my bed and rushed to my mom's lap. I told her I did not want to go to school today. I'm terrified."
At least 25 people were killed and 62 injured in that attack, officials said. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.
Figures gathered from Iraqi health and police officials across the city put the death toll at 60, and 160 injured. The spokesman for the Iraqi health ministry put the death toll at 57 and said at least 176 people were injured. But conflicting casualty figures are common in the aftermath of such widespread bombings.
For many Iraqis and the Americans who fought a nearly nine-year war in hopes of leaving behind a free and democratic country, the events of the past few days are the country's nightmare scenario. The fragile alliance of Sunnis and Shiites in the government is completely collapsing, large-scale violence with a high casualty toll has returned to the capital, and Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is displaying an authoritarian streak and may be moving to grab the already limited power of the Sunnis.
Video: U.S. troops home from Iraq for Christmas
Al-Maliki's Shiite-led government this week accused Vice President Tariq al-Hashemi, the country's top Sunni political leader, of running a hit squad that targeted government officials five years ago, during the height of sectarian warfare. Authorities put out a warrant for his arrest.
Many Sunnis fear this is part of a wider campaign to go after Sunni political figures in general and shore up Shiite control across the country at a critical time when all American troops have left Iraq.
Iraq PM tells Kurds to hand over Sunni VP
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told "The Early Show" on Thursday that the wave of violence represents an "I told you so" moment in his mind. McCain long opposed deadline-oriented withdrawal plans for U.S. troops, arguing the Obama administration's claim that Iraq is now a relatively peaceful nation with a capable domestic security apparatus was a fallacy.
"It was pretty obvious if we did not have a residual force there, things could unravel very quickly. All of us knew that," said McCain.
"The president campaigned saying he would bring around the end of the war. ... He made interesting comments, 'We are leaving behind a stable Iraq,' which we knew is not true. We needed the residual force there. It's not there and things are unraveling tragically."
Because such a large-scale, coordinated attack likely took weeks to plan, and the political crisis erupted only few days ago, the violence was not likely a direct response to the tensions within the government. Also, al Qaeda opposed Sunni cooperation in the Shiite-dominated government in the first place and is not aligned with Sunni politicians.
The Sunni extremist group often attacks Shiites, who they believe are not true Muslims.
U.S. military officials worried about a resurgence of al Qaeda after their departure. The last American troops left Iraq at dawn Sunday.
READ THE REST OF THE STORY HERE
Posted by Steve Douglass at 6:07 AM