Iranian television aired video Thursday of what it said is an American surveillance drone that the country's armed forces claimed to have brought down during the weekend.
The images were presented as the first proof that Iran has the radar-evading bat-winged aircraft, which appeared to be in good condition, based on the video. It was displayed on a platform bearing a banner saying "We'll trample America underfoot" and a U.S. flag with skulls instead of stars.
A senior U.S. official confirmed Thursday evening that the aircraft shown in the Iranian video was an RQ-170 drone. He said a major concern was that Iran might be able to glean information about U.S. surveillance targets by examining the plane's components.
"It's unclear the extent to which they might know what it was looking at," said the official, who declined to be identified in discussing sensitive intelligence information.
"They might have a general sense, but even when a UAV goes down, there are safeguards," he said, referring to an unmanned aerial vehicle.
Iran's armed forces said Sunday that their electronic warfare unit managed to take control of a U.S. drone and land it, a feat U.S. officials say is unlikely because of its technical difficulty. The unmanned aircraft was detected over the eastern town of Kashmar, about 140 miles from the border with Afghanistan, Iranian news reports said.
A senior U.S. official told The Times that the drone was on a mission for the CIA, raising fears that its sophisticated technology could be exploited by Tehran or shared with other American rivals.
Iranian officials have seized on the incident to brag about the armed forces at a time of deepening diplomatic isolation and growing Iranian anger over the Western campaign to stop the country's nuclear program. The United States and its allies accuse Iran of working to develop an atomic weapon. Iran, however, says its nuclear program is for civilian purposes.
Esmail Kosari, the deputy speaker of the Iranian parliament, described the reported downing of the drone as a "blow to the arrogant power" of the U.S.
On Thursday, Iran's Foreign Ministry summoned the Swiss ambassador to protest "the violation of its airspace," the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported. The U.S. does not have diplomatic representation in Iran, so its affairs are handled by the Swiss envoy.
Iran also filed a complaint with the United Nations over what it called "provocative and covert operations" that violated Iranian airspace.
Special correspondent Mostaghim reported from Tehran and Times staff writer Zavis from Beirut. Times staff writer David S. Cloud in Washington contributed to this report.