Sunday, January 13, 2008

Who Spun The Hormuz Incident? (Update - The Full Video)

By Cernig

By now, anyone following the changing story of the almost-clash between three US Navy capital ships and five Iranian speedboats in the Gulf has read the Navy Times report that says the mysterious threatening voice on the Pentagon's audio tape may be the locally famous heckler known as the "Filipino Monkey":

In recent years, American ships operating in the Middle East have had to contend with a mysterious but profane voice known by the ethnically insulting handle of "Filipino Monkey," likely more than one person, who listens in on ship-to-ship radio traffic and then jumps on the net shouting insults and jabbering vile epithets.
That is, of course, assuming that the voice was ever heard at the actual incident to begin with. On the balance of the evidence it probably was. (But see the update!)

Even so we have to assume that someone took what everyone on the spot probably figured was this "monkey" and blew it up into a threat from the Iranian boats by judicious editing of the audio. That was unlikely to have happened anywhere near Fifth Fleet or on purely military orders.

Then there was the threat represented by those mysterious white boxes in the water. It turns out that the Navy didn't think they were a threat at the time either.
The small, boxlike objects dropped in the water by Iranian boats as they approached U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf on Sunday posed no threat to the American vessels, U.S. officials said yesterday, even as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff charged that the incident reflects Iran's new tactics of asymmetric warfare.

After passing the white objects, commanders on the USS Port Royal and its accompanying destroyer and frigate decided there was so little danger from the objects that they did not bother to radio other ships to warn them, the officials said.

"The concern was that there was a boat in front of them putting these objects in the path of our ships. When they passed, the ships saw that they were floating and light, that they were not heavy or something that would have caused damage," such as a mine, said Cmdr. Lydia Robertson, a spokeswoman for the Navy's Fifth Fleet in the Gulf.
Indeed, the three US vessels, according to the admiral in charge of Fifth Fleet, didn't even take evasive action. (See the update - they didn't have to.)

Again we have to conclude that someone took a mention of these boxes in reports and blew it up into an unspecified threat. Again, that was unlikely to happen purely on military orders.

Then came top level statements, from the likes of SecDef Gates and CJCS Mullen, that the Iranian boat's manouvering itself provided the threat, being more provocative than any other such incidents recently. And that wasn't quite true either. Utterly unreported until the aftermath of this fracas, one US Navy ship actually fired warning shots back in December. As blogger Springbored concisely noted:
Obviously Admiral Mullen hadn't seen the gun film from the USS Whidbey Island. Or if he actually did see the film, and it wasn't as "provocative and dramatic," then why is the Whidbey Island CO...um...still CO? Why isn't that guy beached for over-responding to a non-threat.
Don't expect the mainstream media to ask such potentially narrative-shaking questions, though.

Yet again, we're left with the conclusion that Gates, Mullen et al have been handed political talking points by political spinmeisters desperate not to make Bush look a warmongering fool. Their statements are all about spin and ignoring actual facts to support Bush's contention that this incident was almost, but not quite, a casus belli - but that the next time will be. It was no coincidence that Bush was heading to the Middle East at the time, in part to try to drum up some support againt Iran from dubious Arab states. The incident occurred - fortuitously, from their point of view - and some political hacks decided to hype it into service as part of his push. Larisa Alexandrovna writing at the HuffPo notes: "The propaganda failed, which is why no one in the US government is making any sense when speaking about this incident."

So now we'll see this one quietly dropped from the administration's pronouncements for a while, until it can be injected as a "what everyone should know" sidenote into another bit of spin. By then, everyone will be too interested in the main topic to challenge the side issue in detail and the administration's version of this "provocative" incident will indeed become what everyone knows. It's mass psychology 101.

Meanwhile, it's back to the EFP hype - just as it was after the NIE on Iran's nuke program. Those EFP allegations are themselves deeply problemmatic if looked at in detail - but no-one in the mainstream media ever looks at the detail any more because the narrative has been rinsed and spun so many times in the usual manner that, by now, most everyone just blindly accepts the White House version uncritically.

Update The full Pentagon video of the incident finally hit YouTube. It's been broken into five parts for upload. I've set them up as a playlist for you.


First observation - the first part of the radio exchange accords with the Iranian version released Friday and which the Pentagon had said was of an earlier incident.

The US vessels sound their warning horns several times, beginning at about 4.30 in. There's a 'copter in the air over the speedboats - possible from the US ships - something not seen in the US' original edited video release.

There's at least one other ship - it looks like a tanker - in the area.

At fifteen minutes in, the Iranian boats appear stationary and have dropped back so far as to be invisible, then in part three (19 mins+) a single Iranian boat comes in again and voices can be heard ordering "all ahead flank" on the US ship. That's about 38 knots for ships of these classes. At that point, there's an oil rig in the background of the shot. The Iranian boat keeps a long distance - several hundred yards at least - away from the US vessels. A US voice says "Are there any other contacts out there...just the one?" and shortly thereafter a second Iranian boat joins the first - still keeping way back. By 27 mins we're back to one boat just keeping pace at a goodly distance (at least half a mile, maybe more).

Part Four: the first few minutes are a repeat of some of part three - oops. At 7 mins in (37 mins total) there's a 'copter overhead (Iranian?). Still just one boat, though, and still keeping its distance. 8.43 of this chunk and there's an oil platform again.

Part 5 - 25 secs in, a dark object in the water, could be anything. Then some footage of what could be fishing boats (flocks of seagulls follow them) but aren't speedboats. An oil platform again. A flash of a 'copter. No speedboats in sight. US ships no longer in line astern. The end.

No multiple white boxes in the water.

No mysterious voice threatening explosions.

Update Jan 14. The mainstream media have now had this video for three days, yet they're still going on about the Filipino Monkey as if it has any relevance. There's no such voice on the tape of the incident so all talk of the Monkey is just spin. They should be asking when the infamous voice was heard, if it ever was. Was it before or after? Who decided to connect the two separate incidents in the original statement? Ditto with the "multiple white boxes". If they actually existed, when and where and under what circumstance because they aren't on this tape. Again, who decided to connect the two events?

Yesterday, USS Port Royal captain David Adler gave a press conference at Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain, at which USS Hopper Commander Jeffery James was also present but remained silent. He told reporters.
"One of the transmissions was 'I am coming to you and shortly after that you will explode in a few minutes'".

"Whether it was coincidental or not, it occurred at the exact same time that these boats were around us and were placing objects in the water and the threat appeared to be building."

...Captain Adler also strongly denied reports from Iran that the US navy video of the confrontation was a fake.

"It was shot on commander James' bridge, he was there and we know it was valid," he said.
If the full tape is valid - which it seems to be - then Captain Adler's claims are at the least highly suspect - and the mainstream media knows it. Are they really so keen to have a "threat of war" scenario to report on that they will look the other way while the White House pulls everyone's strings?

Last Update Think Progress:
Last Friday, Admiral Mike Mullen, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, spoke to reporters at the Pentagon about the recent incident in the Strait of Hormuz where five Iranian speedboats were alleged to have harassed three major U.S. warships.

An immediate White House statement urged the Iranians to “refrain from such provocative actions that could lead to a dangerous incident.” Mullen uttered the same talking points in his press conference, claiming he had never seen something as “provocative and dramatic.” But just five minutes later, Mullen conceded he hadn’t actually seen the full tape of the encounter
I mean, wtf? Shill much?

More on who might have spun what and why here.