Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Iranians Say US Video Faked (Updated)

By Cernig

Today, Iranian officials are calling the Pentagon's video compilation of the "provocative" close encounter in the Gulf on Sunday a fake. However, there are two different versions of what exactly they say is faked.

The Guards put an anonymous official on State TV:

The footage released by the U.S. Navy was compiled using file pictures and the audio has been fabricated," an official in Iran's Revolutionary Guards was quoted as saying by the state-run English-language channel Press TV.

State TV did not give the name of the Revolutionary Guard official and did not offer more details about how the official knew the footage was "fabricated."
Whereas the Defense Ministry is simply denying that there was any threat to blow up the US ships.
Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar called Western news reports that the boats threatened to blow up the U.S. warships "mischief."

"(Iranian) navy units ... asked them to identify themselves. They responded accordingly and continued their path," the official IRNA news agency quoted Najjar as saying.

He said the encounter was normal.

"The identification of vessels passing through the Strait of Hormuz by Iranian navy units is a natural occurrence," IRNA quoted Najjar as saying. "Islamic Republic of Iran navy units always put questions to passing vessels and warships at the Strait of Hormuz and they need to identify themselves. This is in accordance with the normal procedures."
Indeed, any foreign warship so close to a non-friendly coast could expect several calls to identify itself and it's intentions - so the US Navy's huff that "the American vessels, which were clearly marked, had been identified by Iranian authorities earlier in the day" won't really wash there.

The Iranian Guards statement is quite obviously aimed at a domestic audience and is pure spin. Of course the video is disjointed as if it were put together from clips - that's exactly what was done, but all the clips were shot on scene at the time. However, having watched and listened to the DoD's mash-up, which is a four minute splice together of seperate video and audio tapes taken of the 20 minute encounter, I have to say I find the Iranian Defense Minister's allegation a reasonable one. I know that won't endear me to the exteremist Conservatives - tough.

The section of the released tape which contains the actual threat to "blow up" anyone, as I noted yesterday, comes at the very end and is very much unconnected in any causal sense to the rest of it. The sound is clearer and less cluttered by background noise, while there is no video accpmpanying it - the only such section of the tape - just an ominously black screen. The accent of the alleged Iranian threatener is way wrong. I've known several Iranians well in the UK and their accents when speaking English were all very different from that on the tape - less gutteral.

Regular reader Amir, an Iranian, writes in comments to my previous post:
I also listened to the end of the clip. The dialect is not Persian for sure. For my ears it is more an Arab speaking in English. I expect from someone speaking from a small boat sailing in top speed in the open sea and not in a room to speak with trembling voice with lots of noise from surroundings (they are supposed to be sitting in a speed boat). The guy was near one of the most dangerous sea vessels in the world and receiving warning calls and spoke so calm! I don't believe it.
And there are sceptics aplenty from the region commenting to the version of the tape now on YouTube.

I think the Pentagon has a credibility problem here, and with just cause. The Bush administration doesn't think so.
U.S. Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said the "allegation is absurd, factually incorrect and reflects the lack of seriousness with which they take this serious incident."

National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley warned Iran against more confrontations.

"This is a provocative act — not a smart thing to do, and they are going to have to take responsibility for the consequences, if they do it again," Hadley told reporters aboard Air Force One as President Bush flew from Washington to Israel.

He added that his comments should not be seen as a threat. [Emphasis Mine - C]
yeah, right - not a threat. What should they be seen as then? A promise?

We're back to "bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" because five "pimped out Boston Whalers" - as Jules Crittenden puts it - got close to an Aegis cruiser, a "mini-Aegis" Arleigh Burke destroyer and a frigate with a combined firepower that could probably sink the entire Iranian Navy and down the entire Iranian Air Force. Now that really is absurd.

Update If one discounts the last bit of the audio tape as fakery, BJ has a plausible explantion for the whole "provocative" fracas:
a post I read some time back, (I forget where)... mentioned that IRGC members have a habit of running smuggled goods across the Gulf in such small boats, weaving in and out of the heavy traffic. That post too warned that such activity could find itself causing a confrontation with US naval forces.

I find myself wondering if the white boxes the crews were supposedly tossing over the sides of their boats weren't illicit goods they didn't want to be caught with while their buddies distracted the authorities?

At this point, it's as good an explanation as any.
Especially when one considers that, the first time USS Port Royal was in the Gulf, she was the command ship of choice for anti-smuggling operations. Maybe the boat crews were just Guards smugglers with long memories. Of course, they could have been suicide boats too and I understand why the Navy didn't take chances but even so still had a measured non-conflagratory response. That the response was so measured also, I would say, circumstantially argues that there were no radioed threats and that section of the tape was faked.

Update 2 Hooman Majd, an Iranian-American writing at the HuffPo, also thinks the audio chunk at the end of the DoD's release is faked - and again points to the accent.
the person speaking doesn't have an Iranian accent and moreover, sounds more like Boris Karloff in a horror movie than a sailor in the elite branch of Iran's military. (The tape is also separate from any video.) Any Iranian can immediately identify Persian-accented English, particularly if the speaker has had little contact with the West, as is the case with Revolutionary Guardsmen and sailors. Iranians, you see, have difficulty with two consonants such as "p" and "l" next to each other; even Iranians who have lived in America for years will often pronounce "please" as "peh-leeze", or in this case, "explode" as "exp-eh-lode". On the tape, "explode" is pronounced perfectly, albeit as if the speaker was a villain addressing a superhero.
I dunno - I'd expect any Frenchman to correctly identify Inspector Clouseau's fake accent - so why the frantic defense of authoritay when many native Iranian speakers say they can do the same thing?

Update 3 the NY Times is running with the anonymous Guards official saying the tape is a fake but makes no mention at all of the rather more credible statement of denial about the radio threat from the Iranian Defense Minister. So that's how it's being played, is it?

Update 4 Oh look, the Iranians have a tape too. Just as deliberately manipulative of the facts as the US one.

And while I'm on the subject - did it occur to any of the dittoheads following Michael Goldfarb in criticising Hooman Majd for just being a top music executive that just maybe a man who spends his life involved with audio and video tape production might know maore about said subject than any military analyst or even a warmongering hack like Goldfarb? As for those who have the temerity, in a land of immigrants, to say "ah well, he was born in Iran" -- well so was FOX News analyst Alireza Jafarzadeh but he isn't exactly friendly to the regime there. People willing to make such scurrilous imputations of a man's motives based simply on his place of birth have no shame.

Update 5 Mike Nizza at The Lede has a post which repeats what the Righties are deliberately ignoring: "Unnamed Pentagon officials said on Wednesday that the threatening voice heard in the audio clip, which was released on Monday night with a disclaimer that it was recorded separately from the video images and merged with them later, is not directly traceable to the Iranian military." It also offers some interesting background.
Earlier on Wednesday, a reader posted a comment on The Lede claiming to be a former Navy officer with experience in the Strait of Hormuz and offering an explanation for how easily a mistake could have been made by Navy personnel trying to sift through radio transmissions filled with chatter:
All ships at sea use a common UHF frequency, Channel 16, also known as “bridge-to bridge” radio. Over here, near the U.S., and throughout the Mediterranean, Ch. 16 is used pretty professionally, i.e., chatter is limited to shiphandling issues, identifying yourself, telling other ships what your intentions are to avoid mishaps, etc.

But over in the Gulf, Ch. 16 is like a bad CB radio. Everybody and their brother is on it; chattering away; hurling racial slurs, usually involving Filipinos (lots of Filipinos work in the area); curses involving your mother; 1970’s music broadcast in the wee hours (nothing odder than hearing The Carpenters 50 miles off the coast of Iran at 4 a.m.)

On Ch. 16, esp. in that section of the Gulf, slurs/threats/chatter/etc. is commonplace. So my first thought was that the “explode” comment might not have even come from one of the Iranian craft, but some loser monitoring the events at a shore facility.

The commenter, who signed his posting “SWO officer,” went on to say, “I hope everybody exercises great caution here and doesn’t jump to conclusions.”
There's obviously a possibility that the audio might be fake in that sense but not expressly faked by the White House's "bomb Iran" lobby. That the White House isn't mentioning that possibility at all, however, means either way it is willing to catapult the propaganda.

Update 6 The Navy begins its spin cycle - releasing the full tape and revealing that one US vessel actually fired warning shots in a similiar incident in December. So why didn't we hear about it then? Was it because Bush wasn't in the Middle East then?