Wired has scored some intel from a Pentagon drone manager and breaks the following interesting revelation. According to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, he believes its not very likely Iran has penetrated the drone`s encryption he told reporters. “I would seriously question their ability to do what they say they’ve done.” A Pentagon drone program manager was far more blunt. Speaking to Danger Room on condition of anonymity, the program manager said Iran’s claim “sounds like complete bullshit.”
Details of the uber-stealthy RQ-170, which played a supporting role in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden, are hard to come by. But the Iranians claim the drone stores its missions like tweets, ready for someone to scroll through. Most autonomous warplanes load their missions during pre-flight preparation, and don’t store their records in an onboard hard drive.
“Also,” wonders the Pentagon program manager, “exactly how would the aircraft ‘know’ it was ‘sent’ to California? It can’t fly from Afghanistan to Lockheed Martin’s Palmdale plant without stopping for gas a few dozen times. If it did go to home in 2010, it was probably in a C-17. My hunch is that the Iranians gathered some information using other sources and claimed it was obtained by hacking the 170′s systems.”
If the Iranians are correct, and the RQ-170 really does keep all its mission data onboard, then that’s a stunning, amateurish security vulnerability. Drones malfunction. Drones crash. If a secret drone that flies over hostile territory actually contains a treasure trove of data for an adversary to recover, that might turn an embarrassment for the U.S. into a scandal. This is not over yet.