CIA spy plane loss exposes covert US-Iran conflict

By DOUGLAS BIRCH | December 10, 2011 | 9:37 AM EST

This photo released on Thursday, Dec. 8, 2011, by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, claims to show the chief of the aerospace division of Iran's Revolutionary Guards, Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, left, listening to an unidentified colonel as he points to US RQ-170 Sentinel drone which Tehran says its forces downed earlier this week. An anti-US banner is placed under the drone. The banner at left shows Gen. Hasan Tehrani Moghaddam, a senior Iranian Revolutionary Guard commander who was killed in an explosion at an ammunition depot last month. (AP Photo/Sepahnews) EDS NOTE: THE ASSOCIATED PRESS HAS NO WAY OF INDEPENDENTLY VERIFYING THE CONTENT, LOCATION OR DATE OF THIS IMAGE.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The loss to Iran of a CIA's surveillance drone with advanced spy technology is more than a propaganda coup and intelligence windfall for the Tehran government.

The plane's capture has peeled back another layer of secrecy from expanding U.S. operations against Iran's nuclear and military programs.

Like the Soviet Union's downing of the American U-2 spy plane during the Cold War, Iran's recovery of the drone has cast a spotlight on part of the U.S.-Iran spycraft.

Experts say the drone probably carried an advanced radar system as well as other specialized sensors, including detectors for monitoring nuclear sites. If those were reverse-engineered by Iran, they could give insights into how to hide its nuclear facilities from U.S. surveillance.