When the Iranians captured a downed U.S. Sentinel drone intact, the U.S. lost more than just the technology inside their high-tech spycraft. A secret program to gather intelligence about Iran’s nuclear sites was revealed and the U.S. had to admit they were running spy missions from an air base in Western Afghanistan.
It's the latest in a series of mysterious events, including explosions and assassinations targeting Iran's nuclear scientists and its ballistic missile program.
Some argue that the covert war against Iran's nuclear program is under way, but it began more than a year ago.
First, there was a cyber attack largely believed to have been carried out by the Israelis with U.S. help targeting the uranium enrichment facility at Natanz in June 2010. More than 1,000 centrifuges were destroyed by the Stuxnet worm.
Then there were the dozen or so mysterious explosions at the homes of Iran's nuclear scientists, including the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, who was wounded by a car bomb in November 2010.
Last month, there was an explosion at a secret missile base near Tehran, and the head of Iran’s long-range missile program was killed along with 17 top members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps.
Alireza Jafarzadeh, author of “The Iranian Threat” who first revealed intelligence that Iran had a secret uranium enrichment facility at Natanz, says there are indications Iran was testing a new solid fuel rocket. “As they were doing the final preparations, fully loaded with a warhead and the fuel, it exploded. And with it, it took the entire crew of the missile team, including the top commander and the top missile expert,” Jafarzadeh said.
Two weeks later on November 30, 2011, a blast at a uranium enrichment plant in Isfahan raised more suspicions that a covert war was already under way.
Satellite images obtained by Fox News and the Institute for Science and International Security, or ISIS, from August 27, 2011 show buildings that have been near the plant for 15 years. However, after the November blast the buildings appear to have disappeared.
“The fact that there were reports about an explosion somewhere near the nuclear site at Isfahan -- it warrants more scrutiny, when it comes to a facility that used to be standing but is now gone,” said Paul Brannan, a senior analyst with ISIS.
The US Central Command in Tampa, Florida, has been honing longstanding military plans to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities. Pentagon officials are concerned Israel will decide covert action is not enough and will unilaterally strike Iran's nuclear program, dragging the U.S. into a more overt mission to halt Iran’s nuclear ambitions.