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Dec. 9, 2011—
Officially, there is still an unarmed US reconnaissance airplane missing since last week when US and NATO officials say operators lost control of this remotely piloted aircraft during a mission over western Afghanistan.

"We haven't recovered the drone that we believe is missing," said Navy Capt. John Kirby, deputy assistant secretary of defense for media operations, during a Pentagon briefing Thursday.

Unofficially, however, US defense and intelligence officials are telling US media outlets that the secret intelligence-gathering aircraft went down in eastern Iran and that the Iranians have indeed recovered it.

The claims are that this RPA—allegedly the Lockheed Martin-built stealthy RQ-170 Sentinel—went down due to a malfunction.

Conversely, the Iranians are boasting that they brought the aircraft down via a mobile jamming system that disrupted its communications links with its remote controllers.

On Thursday, Iranian state television showed off what the Iranians assert is the recovered RQ-170 looking relatively intact, for full propaganda effect.

"There are folks looking at the [images], but we are not going to comment beyond that," said Kirby, when asked about the Iranian TV footage. He added, "No matter what we might end up thinking about the imagery, I don't think you are going to get confirmation one way or another here. I mean, we are just not going to talk about these kinds of missions and these kinds of capabilities."

NATO's International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan acknowledged the missing RPA on Monday, but did not identify it by type.

DOD representatives are staying otherwise mum.

"When it comes to sensitive reconnaissance missions, we call them sensitive for a reason. So we are not going to add to [that]," said Pentagon Press Secretary George Little at Thursday's briefing.

One outside expert is less reserved.

"There is no doubt that they've now got access to some very sensitive American technology," said John Bolton, former US ambassador to the United Nations, of the Iranians during an appearance Thursday on Fox News.

He added: "That means the Chinese and the Russians will probably have access to it, so it's bad news."

Bolton was intimately involved with the diplomatic efforts to counter Iran's nuclear weapons program during the Bush Administration.

(Little-Kirby transcript) (See AFP report, FlightGlobal report, Fox News report, National Journal report, and Reuters report.) (BBC video of unmanned aircraft shown on Iranian TV)