U.S. drone - Iran TV - 8.12.2011
Iran military officials studying a downed U.S. drone, Dec. 8, 2011. Photo by Iran TV
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The CIA has been operating stealth surveillance drones deep inside Iran for the last three years, the Washington Post reported on Sunday.

The drones were operating freely above hundreds of suspicious facilities, before the aircraft, named the RQ-170 Sentinel, crashed within Iran in December.

According to U.S. officials, the drones, that have been scouring dozens of sites throughout Iran, have given the Obama administration confidence that the U.S. will see any activity that would indicate Tehran decided to assemble a nuclear bomb.

“There is confidence that we would see activity indicating that a decision had been made,” a senior U.S. official was quoted as saying by the Washington Post. “Across the board, our access has been significantly improved.”

The Obama administration believes that the improved intelligence gathered through these covert operations will strengthen its bargaining power in the upcoming nuclear talks with Iran.

According to the report, the surveillance of Iran's nuclear program has been gaining momentum since the last years of the Bush administration. This included increased eavesdropping by the National Security Agency, the establishment of an Iran task force, and an expanded network of spies.

Recently, the Obama administration has cited new intelligence reports to argue against an Israeli preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, however, have been arguing that Iran is nearing the final steps toward developing a nuclear bomb and have been pushing for a more aggressive approach.

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