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Iran Feature: Newsflash --- Tehran Does (Not) Shoot Down An Enemy Drone

One of the US drones that Iran did not shoot down on Saturday

UPDATE 2020 GMT: Reuters has now followed up on its original story, offering an explanation for why the false claim of a drone takedown circulated: "The Islamic Republic News Agency...reported the exercise, but omitted the word "hypothetical", giving the impression that a real drone had been downed.

The agency then posts the Retraction of the Day: "(This story is corrected to make clear that real drone was not downed)"

UPDATE 1540 GMT: The Associated Press' original, incorrect story about the drone takedown is still the most-read article on the Washington Post website.

UPDATE 1500 GMT: The Associated Press has retracted its original drone-takedown story which trying to explain the error, "Iran's powerful Revolutionary Guard is denying that it captured a foreign unmanned aircraft during a military exercise in southern Iran.

In fact, as the Iran Military News blog notes, the Revolutionary Guards never said they had downed a Western drone --- a spokesman said that, in an exercise, the Guards had targeted a "mock enemy surveilliance aircraft".

Instead, it was State nedua which apparently misunderstood the statement, omitting the word "mock" to indicate an actual downing.

UPDATE 0920 GMT: Press TV has now "corrected" its original story. While the item still has the URL of the article that was removed --- "Iran's Cyber-Warriors Take Control of Enemy Drone", the new story calls it the "Mock Enemy's Spy Drone".

A tale of how Iranian propaganda went a bit too far --- and how the Western media, always on the look-out for a story of Tehran's threat, went along for the ride....

Press TV, the regime's English-language outlet, put up the Breaking headline on Saturday night, "Iran Cyber-Warriors Take Control of Drone". As in December 2011 and January of this year, Tehran was going to parade another Western surveillance aircraft before the Iranian press, demonstrating how the Islamic Republic could not only defy the enemy but --- by reverse-engineering the drone --- turn the foe's weapons against it.

CNN quickly picked up the newsflash, and the Associated Press put out a fuller story:

Gen. Hamid Sarkheili, a spokesman for the military exercise, said the Guard's electronic warfare unit spotted signals indicating that foreign drones were trying to enter Iranian airspace. Sarkheili said Guard experts took control of one drone's navigation system and brought it down near the city of Sirjan where the military drills began on Saturday.

"While probing signals in the area, we spotted foreign and enemy drones which attempted to enter the area of the war game," the official IRNA news agency quoted the general as saying. "We were able to get one enemy drone to land."

Sarkheili did not say whether the drone was American.

In Washington, a CIA spokeswoman declined to comment on the report.

The only problem was that none of this was true.

Here's the "real" story:

The Revolutionary Guards began one of their periodic, chest-thumping military displays on Saturday. The showpiece of "Great Prophet 8" was the testing of "different asymmetric tactics and various types of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAVs), including its suicide drones, as well as its special modern warfare units".

General Hamad Sarkheili told reporters that the Guards were also testing the targeting of "hypothetical enemies' drones": "In the other phases of the wargames, the reconnaissance as well as suicide drones, which are capable of attacking the enemies, have been used and their operational capabilities came under assessment."

Somehow, Iranian State media missed the word "hypothetical", and a dramatic story was born.

This morning, all that remains of Press TV's "Breaking" journalism is a ghostly URL. However, Reuters is warning, "Iran Says It Has Brought Down a Foreign Spy Drone", and the Associated Press article still spreads the scary news.

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