More from Jennifer Dyer, a retired Commander, U.S. Naval Intelligence, on the small boat incident in the Persian Gulf:
Recent reports, like this one from Navy Times, cite the Navy’s long-time Gulf hands as suggesting that the voice heard to make threatening statements in bridge-to-bridge communications during the Iranian small boat incident of 6 January was that of the “Filipino Monkey” — a known, but unidentified, voice communications intruder.
While the “Monkey” is indeed well known to Gulf sailors, the explanation implied by news organizations like the Washington Post, that he was the source of the voice threats made during this incident, strains logic to the breaking point.
The “Filipino Monkey” does not have a history of intruding on bridge-to-bridge (BTB) with pertinent comments. His interjections are profane and taunting, but not operationally relevant in the manner clearly evident in this incident. To make the statements recorded by the Navy (“I am coming to you. You will explode after … minutes”), the BTB speaker of these threats would have had to know the operational facts of the encounter from something other than what he heard on BTB — if he was acting both simultaneously and independently. This is especially so because observers not within visual range of the ships would not have been aware that the Iranians were dumping boxes into the water. Suggesting that the Monkey merely giggled to himself, unaware of the facts on-scene, and for no particular reason chose that moment in time to issue voice threats, which coincidentally amplified the impression of threat created by both the dumped boxes and a speedboat swarm, is relying far too heavily on chance.
As noted by some reports, the recorded threats lack background noise of the kind we would expect in BTB communications from a speedboat at sea. Additional speculation that the speaker’s accent is not that of a native Farsi speaker is unimportant: Iran is well able to put speakers who don’t sound Iranian to microphones. But the character of the threat recordings is worth considering. They can be heard most clearly in this excerpt aired on Hannity & Colmes by Fox News.
Additional queries from an accented speaker can be heard in the first minutes of the full incident video released by the Pentagon yesterday, the speaker twice asking the “Coalition warship” for its course and speed.
The voice excerpts may or may not be from the same speaker, but to my ear they all sound like recordings being broadcast over BTB, more than a live speaker. The voice is oddly measured, to an extent that may not even be natural; I would recommend sophisticated audio analysis. Far from implicating the Filipino Monkey in a coincidental prank, these excerpts suggest deliberation and forethought by someone. If we are to believe that that someone is not the Islamic Republic of Iran Revolutionary Guards Navy (IRGCN), there needs to be much more substantial proof of that, given the presence and provocative actions of IRGCN speedboats.
The full 45-minute video released by the Pentagon confirms the nature and extent of the provocation. It begins with audio of the accented speaker asking the “Coalition warship” for its course and speed (all experienced sailors know the US Navy does not give out that information, but it is common for navies like Iran’s to ask). We also hear parts of the standard warnings being issued by the Hopper‘s crew to the Iranian boats. Almost immediately we see footage of multiple speedboats zipping dangerously around USS Hopper and USS Port Royal (we see a few shots of USS Ingraham throughout the 45 minutes as well). We hear multiple short warning blasts from the ship’s whistle (close and loud enough that it is undoubtedly Hopper‘s). The speedboats continue to maneuver for more than ten minutes, until at about 16 minutes Hopper’s bridge crew discusses an order to go to flank speed, and we hear the order “all ahead flank” given. The ships, which appear by their wakes to have been traveling at about 15 knots (around 18 mph), increase speed to flank, about 28 knots (around 33 mph), and maintain it for about the next 25 minutes. Through this period at least one Iranian speedboat stays with the formation, appearing to maintain station a little over 2000 yards off Hopper‘s starboard bow. At 25 minutes we see a second Iranian speedboat join the one on station, and at 27 minutes we get the first videocamera focus on something that may have been dropped in the water (there is no audible narration to confirm this). After we lose sight of the second speedboat, another one comes up to join its dogged partner at 34 minutes. They remain together for several minutes, and in the 40th minute we see a much clearer shot of an item dumped in the water ahead of Hopper. At this point the last speedboat breaks off, and the camera focuses on two dhows in Hopper’s vicinity for the rest of the video. The dhows do not appear to be involved; they are laden with cargo and look to be in transit on typical dhow business. Of note, at least one of the task group’s SH-60 helicopters is seen to be aloft throughout this incident.
The full video release does not place the threat warning (“I am coming to you. You will explode after … minutes”) at its exact time — the warning is not heard in this video — but previously released Navy video puts it in the first 16 minutes, while the speedboats are maneuvering among the Navy ships.
Comments on the provenance of the threat warning are sheer speculation at this point, given only what has been released so far. Its similarity in some aspects to the course and speed query, repeated twice at the outset of the full-length Navy video, suggest a single agent making recordings, if not necessarily a single speaker. It is even possible that the recordings are, in fact, of the voice of the Filipino Monkey, although they do not sound much like the little I have heard of his BTB “oeuvre.” However the words were assembled, and whether they were live or recorded, it does seem probable that they were broadcast from an enclosed site, somewhere other than on an open speedboat. Iran’s Abu Musa and Tunb islands in the southern Gulf would be ideal transmission spots, over the Gulf international bridge-to-bridge frequency (a little under 160mHz). U.S. warships entering the Gulf routinely pass by Abu Musa while in the transit lanes, and are always close enough to see it with the naked eye. The maps used to report the incident show the task group well situated to be both observed from Abu Musa, and to receive VHF transmissions from the island.
It is easily possible for the voice issuing the threats to be that of the Filipino Monkey (although I consider that unlikely), while the threats themselves were neither random nor coincidental — and in fact were issued under the direction of the IRGCN. This explanation is far more credible than the suggestion that the Filipino Monkey (or any other independent provocateur) intensified a brinkmanship incident, with precisely the most alarming and pertinent words, purely by coincidence. The character of the voice recordings does not fit the presumption of a transmission from one of the speedboats, but neither does it fit the “Filipino Monkey” explanation, if that explanation only allows the Monkey to be acting on his own accord.
If anything, the trouble Iran would have gone to, to create this multifaceted incident, underscores the likelihood that it was commissioned at a high political level. My assessment is that in this case, the monkey on a keyboard did not produce Shakespeare’s sonnets.