The US says the drone that crashed in the Black Sea after encountering two Russian fighter jets will provide no valuable information should Moscow attempt to recover its wreckage.
Russian officials have said they will try to find what’s left of the MQ-9 Reaper, which was shot down on Tuesday.
Sergei Naryshkin, head of Russia’s foreign intelligence service, said his country had the technological capability to recover the fragments of the drone, believed to be off the western coast of Crimea.
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US officials believe Russia has already sent ships to the area.
At a Pentagon press conference, General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, appeared relaxed about the possibility of the $32 million drone being found.
He said: “We’ll work through the salvage operations. That’s US property. But it’s probably broken down. There’s probably not much to salvage, frankly.
“Regarding the loss of anything sensitive intelligence etc… we would take – and have taken – mitigating measures. So we’re pretty confident that anything that used to be of value is no longer so.”
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National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said the US would take “steps to protect information” and “minimize any effort by anyone else to exploit that drone for useful content.”
While officials would not disclose how to protect the Reaper, the US military has acknowledged in the past that it can remotely remove sensitive information from the drone and render its own systems inoperable.
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The United States said it abandoned the surveillance drone at sea after a Russian Su-27 fighter jet spilled fuel on it and then struck its propeller as it flew in international airspace. US officials are working on declassifying surveillance footage of the drone to prove it.
Russia has denied causing the incident, which led to one of the most serious escalations between the two nations in many years.