US drones spied on Iran for the past 3 years

More than three years ago, the CIA dispatched a stealth surveillance drone into the skies over Iran.

The bat-winged aircraft penetrated more than 600 miles inside the country, captured images of Iran’s secret nuclear facility at Qom and then flew home. All the while, analysts at the CIA and other agencies watched carefully for any sign that the craft, dubbed the RQ-170 Sentinel, had been detected by Tehran’s air defenses on its maiden voyage.

“There was never even a ripple,” said a former senior U.S. intelligence official involved in the previously undisclosed mission.

CIA stealth drones scoured dozens of sites throughout Iran, making hundreds of passes over suspicious facilities, before a version of the RQ-170 crashed inside Iran’s borders in December. The surveillance has been part of what current and former U.S. officials describe as an intelligence surge that is aimed at Iran’s nuclear program and that has been gaining momentum since the final years of George W. Bush’s administration.

The effort has included ramped-up eavesdropping by the National Security Agency, formation of an Iran task force among satellite-imagery analysts and an expanded network of spies, current and former U.S. officials said.

Known internally as “Persia House,” the Iran Operations Division was set up in the agency’s Old Headquarters Building. Over time, it swelled from several dozen analysts and officers to several hundred. The division is now headed by a veteran case officer who previously served as CIA station chief in Islamabad, Pakistan.

The division began assembling an informant network that stretched from the Middle East to South America, where Iran’s security services have a long-standing presence. The CIA also exploited the massive U.S. military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq to mount espionage operations against the country sandwiched between those war zones.

Washington Post

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