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The Latest from Iran (8 December): Waiting for the Return of the Hidden Drone

Iran TV's presentation of the claimed US drone

See also The Latest from Iran (7 December): Rallying the Students

1820 GMT: Drone Watch. More of the regime's presentation of the supposed US RQ-170 drone --- a Revolutionary Guards commander proclaims, "The drone was caught in an electronic ambush and it was brought down with minimum damage. With God's assistance, we caught one of the most advanced American planes, in a trap set by Iran."

The left wing of the aircraft appeared to be broken and mended on the beige-coloured drone. The belly of the plane was covered with posters, “We’ll trample America underfoot.”

1620 GMT: Drone Watch. Iranian State TV has shown images of what it claims is the US RQ-170 Sentinel which fell in eastern Iran on Sunday. Press TV has footage.

Nasim Online, which has been the most vocal outlet amongst Iranian media on the story of the crashed US drone, has also posted video and this photograph:

State news agency IRNA has reported that Iran's Foreign Ministry has summoned the Swiss Ambassador, who represents US interests, to register a "strong protest" over the violation of Iranian airspace by the drone.

1320 GMT: Drone Watch. It looks some folks in the Obama Administration has decided on a new spin to handle the uncertainty and political damage over the crashed US drone --- rather than admit weakness, show how tough the US is....

Joby Warrick of The Washington Post, often used as an outlet for the Administration's message on Iran, writes with Greg Miller:

The CIA’s use of surveillance drones over Iran reflects a growing belief within the Obama administration that covert action and carefully choreographed economic pressure may be the only means of coercing Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions, current and former U.S. officials say.

The administration’s shift toward a more confrontational approach --- one that also includes increased arms sales to Iran’s potential rivals in the Middle East as well as bellicose statements by U.S. officials and key allies — suggests deepening pessimism about the prospects for a dialogue with Iran’s leaders, the officials say.

The administration’s evolving strategy includes expanded use of remote-controlled stealth aircraft, such as the one that came down in eastern Iran last week, as well as other covert efforts targeting Iran’s nuclear program, according to U.S. government officials and Western diplomats, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence-gathering efforts.

The U.S. officials said the stealth drone was part of a fleet of secret aircraft that the CIA has used for several years in an escalating espionage campaign targeting Iran’s nuclear facilities.

As those efforts have surged, the White House also has boosted sales of bunker-busting munitions, fighter jets and other military hardware to Persian Gulf states as well as to Israel, building on long-running efforts to boost the military capabilities of key U.S. allies in the region, the officials say.

What is striking in that, in this new chest-thumping pose, the officials do not appear to have considered possible consequences. One is that the admission of secret flights, and indeed "an escalating espionage campaign", for "several years" means the programme pre-dates President Obama's supposed willingness to pursue engagement with Iran in 2009, but it apparently was not suspended, even though a 2007 National Intelligence Estimate said Tehran had suspended its research and development for a militarised nuclear programme.

It is also notable that --- short of saying, "We assassinate Iranian scientists" and "We put the Stuxnet virus into Iran's computer system" --- the Obama officials have now turned covert action to undermine Tehran's nuclear plans into very-overt efforts.

1250 GMT: The Embassy Attack. I suspect I know what the answer will be, but it is still interesting to note the relatively neutral tone in this announcement on Press TV, "Iran's Majlis [Parliament] Committee on National Security and Foreign Policy will discuss Britain's one-million-pound loss claim following a recent student protest outside the UK embassy in Tehran.

1105 GMT: We're Watching You. Deputy Minister of Education Fatima al-Adha has spoken of plans to put CCTV cameras in each school classroom as they provide oversight for "better educational performance".

1055 GMT: Drone Watch. Nasim Online claims, from an "Iranian military source", that Chinese and Russian military experts have asked to visit Iran to see the remains of the crashed US RQ-170 Sentinel drone.

0745 GMT: Political Prisoner Watch. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that as the number of journalists imprisoned worldwide rose to its highest level since the mid-1990s, Iran leads the way.

The CPJ claims 42 Iranian reporters behind bars. Our partner, Arshama3's Blog, documents more than 80 cases of journalists who are detained, sentenced to long prison terms, or on heavy bail.

0720 GMT: Press Watch. So what are Iranian newspapers featuring? Most headlines this morning are on the economy, as the Government faces the deadline to deliver its budget for 2012/13 to Parliament. There is also coverage of "The Battle Between the US and Iran".

However, the most distinctive story is in the hard-line Kayhan, which reveals --- because we certainly have not seen the news elsewhere --- that protesters of Occupy Wall Street have taken over "a Congress building".

0700 GMT: More chatter, if less clarity, over the mystery of the US drone that crashed in eastern Iran on Sunday --- notably, it continues to come from Washington rather than Tehran.

And, notably, that chatter is far from consistent. A day after one US official told The Los Angeles Times that Tehran had taken the drone "almost intact" and that America's enemies and rivals could gather vital technological information from it, another "senior US official" used The Associated Press to put out the line: "The Iranian capture...shines a light on the American spying mission there, but probably does not tell Tehran much that it did not already know."

The official did offer one clue, "A bigger U.S. concern...was that the Iranians are likely to share or sell whatever they have recovered of the aircraft to the Chinese, Russians or others." That would indicate that part of Washington's confusion is that it does not know how much of the drone survived the impact of the crash. 

There was one break in Iran's silence on Wednesday. State radio reported that the drone, which fell near the town of Kashmar, about 225 kilometres (140 miles) from the Afghan border, would shown be shown on Iranian media. However, the claim was only recycled by one, lesser-known Iranian website, Nasim Online, to our knowledge. Press TV does no more than a possible allusion, "GOPers Call for Covert Ops on Iran", in a story on the Republican Presidential debate. IRNA still leads with a story from last night that the Islamic Republic will soon launch three satellites.

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