The doomed flight, where the Iranians claim they brought down the drone electronically, and the U.S. says it went down due to a malfunction, was simply the most recent reconnaissance mission deep into Iran by the CIA in the three years since the missions began.
Joby Warrick and Greg Miller at The Washington Post report that RQ-170s have flown more than 600 miles inside Iran for that long before the most recent incident brought the surveillance program into the limelight.
The effort began with president Bush who committed to increased intelligence on Iran's nuclear program during the final years of his presidency, and has been turning out choice information for years.
The drone operations are one part of a multi-agency effort.
The CIA's Iran Operation Division, known internally as "Persia House," is working with the NSA to pull high quality intelligence out of the Middle East country to offer President Obama the options he'll need to decide if Iran's nuclear program focuses on weapons.