A top Iranian military commander on Tuesday denied a US news report that the CIA has been successfully sending spy drones over Iran over the past three years.
"No unmanned or manned (surveillance) aircraft have entered Iran's air space" apart from one US stealth drone that was captured last December, Brigadier General Farzad Esmaili of the Revolutionary Guards' air defence command told the official IRNA news agency.
He was reacting to a story in The Washington Post newspaper last weekend that said the Central Intelligence Agency sent its first surveillance drone over Iran three years ago with "never even a ripple" detected in Iran's air defences.
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The report said CIA drones subsequently scoured dozens of sites in Iran, making hundreds of passes over suspicious facilities before the stealth drone -- an RQ-170 model -- crashed inside Iran's borders in December.
The expanded intelligence collection reinforced the view within the White House that it will have early warning of any move by Iran to assemble a nuclear bomb within its disputed nuclear activities, the report said.
But Esmaili was quoted as saying: "No surveillance unmanned aircraft has passed over Iran, and published photos were been (taken) by satellite systems."
He said "you witnessed what happened" when the captured RQ-170 tried to make its flight in December.
But while the Iranian commander insisted that US drones had been unable to fly over Iran, he asserted that "drones operated by the Guards and the (Iranian) military have flown over American ships (in the Gulf) and have taken photos of them."