The Hormuz Hoax

by , January 19, 2008

Following up on the alleged incident in the Strait of Hormuz with those five Iranian speedboats, remember that radioed threat supposedly coming from the Iranian side? Now they’re blaming it on – are you ready for this? – “the Filipino Monkey,” some crazy guy (or guys) whose obscene remarks have come crackling over ship radios in the area for years.

Notice how quickly the official story is changing. First the transmission was a threat coming from the Iranians: now they’re “unsure.” This is contrary to the President’s characterization of what occurred, and the Pentagon’s video presentation of a threat emanating from the speedboats: the allegedly “aggressive” actions of the Iranians are underscored by an audio overlay in which a voice interpolates “I am coming to you, you will explode in a few minutes.”

The Iranians are calling the US video a fabrication, and it sure does look like that. Yet the Navy Times has another explanation:

“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.

“Navy women – a helicopter pilot hailing a tanker, for example – who are overheard on the radio are said to suffer particularly degrading treatment. Several Navy ship drivers interviewed by Navy Times are raising the possibility that the Monkey, or an imitator, was indeed featured in that video.”

The Monkey, in this account, takes on the aura of a legend, alongside Scylla and Charybdis:

“Rick Hoffman, a retired captain who commanded the cruiser Hue City and spent many of his 17 years at sea in the Gulf was subject to the renegade radio talker repeatedly, often without pause during the so-called ‘Tanker Wars’ of the late 1980s. ‘For 25 years there’s been this mythical guy out there who, hour after hour, shouts obscenities and threats,’ he said. ‘He could be tied up pierside somewhere or he could be on the bridge of a merchant ship.’ And the Monkey has stamina. ‘He used to go all night long. The guy is crazy,’ he said. ‘But who knows how many Filipino Monkeys there are? Could it have been a spurious transmission? Absolutely.’”

Spurious is right. According to this guy, there is no Filipino Monkey:

“First of all any seaman, military or commercial, can tell you their is no heckler know as the “Filipino Monkey“. Rather it’s a phrase that’s been uttered by thousands of mariners for decades. This harassing radio call with racial origins is made over the radio when a sailor hears the distinct accent of a Filipino mariner on the VHF radio. Why is it said? Mostly out of boredom but also for the simple reason that it is sure to get a heated response.

“…Initially I was shocked that a Navy ship, or any ship, could not have known the taunt was a joke. This is seamanship 101. I clearly remember having the taunt whispered in my ear by an upperclassmen during my plebe year that the Naval Academy and by the time I received my officers license I had heard it hundreds of time. How could the officers of the cruiser Port Royal not know this was a common joke? I’m admitting still confused but after hearing the audio file I must say it doesn’t sound like the typical ‘Filipino Monkey’ taunt.”

Oh, and look over here, at this Los Angeles Times story from November 12, 1987:

“A cargo ship was sailing through the Strait of Hormuz recently when it was challenged by an Iranian warship demanding to know what it carried. Iranian gunboats in these waters frequently attack vessels they suspect of carrying war materials to Iraq, and for the crew of the cargo ship, it was a tense moment.

“‘What is your cargo? What is your cargo?’ the voice of an Iranian officer crackled over the radio.

“Before the ship’s captain could respond, a third voice came on the air: ‘I am carrying machine guns and hand grenades to Iraq . . . and the atom bomb.’

“The Filipino Monkey had struck again.”

And again – and again.

The Monkey, the Times tells us, hated Iranians, and told them what he thought of them “in graphic terms.”

The return of the Monkey is so very convenient – anything can be attributed to that mischievous imp of the perverse and the profane, including doing the voiceover for a staged Gulf of Tonkin-style “incident.” Now, I’m not saying that this is so, only that several factors raise the possibility. The Navy Times interviewed “a former skipper” who “noted how quiet and clean the radio ‘threat’ was, especially when radio calls from small boats in the chop are noisy and cluttered. ‘It’s a tough environment, you’re bouncing around, moving fast, lots of wind, noise. It’s not a serene environment,’ he said. ‘That sounded like somebody on the beach or a large ship going by.’”

A large ship – there are several such in the crowded waterways of the Strait, and surely the American warships are the largest. As for beach – there’s plenty to choose from. There are also plenty of US military bases for a country not quite as big as Kansas: Thumrait Naval Air Base, the Masirah Air Base, and the US Air Force stationed at Seeb International Airport, the sultanate’s main air transport hub. There is also a naval base at Al Khasab, on the Musandam peninsula – the Omani side of the “beach” where captain Hoffman thinks the transmission might have come from.

I don’t buy the Monkey narrative: it sounds too much like a cover story to be quite real. Time magazine, too, has its suspicions:

“There may be a serious problem here. Has the Bush administration’s demonization of Iran so pervaded the U.S. government that the judgement of vital decision-makers is becoming dangerously clouded? So when a possible practical joker issues a threat to a warship, you have a Strangelovian military chain of command from Bahrain to Washington racing to insist that the crazy, murderous mullahs in Tehran are at it again.”

The problem may be more serious than Time blogger Scott Macleod, reporting from Cairo, may think, but, in any case, he has lots of questions. He wants to know

“If there was any monkey business involved in how the Pentagon originally spun the sensational kamikaze angle to the press and the global public. How seriously did the officers on the three ships take the suicide-attack threat? Were they certain that it had been issued by the Iranians? Did they consider or believe that it could have come from a prankster? How carefully did the Pentagon analyze the verbal threat once it was relayed back to Washington? Were officials there completely convinced that the threat came from Iran? Or did they have doubts yet went ahead anyway and indicated to reporters that Iran did it? Were officers on the scene and Pentagon officials in Washington aware that pranksters are prevalent on the Gulf radio networks? Did they factor that into their risk assessment and into their decision to point a quick finger at Iran?”

This narrative depends on the authenticity of the Monkey – who may or may not be more than one person – but we have no proof of that , and every reason to disbelieve it. Whoever told the Americans that they were going to explode “in a few minutes” was certainly monitoring the scene at sea, perhaps in sight of the encounter: in any case, the voice did not sound Iranian, according to Farsi speakers interviewed by the Washington Post. “Some have even said the voice sounds more like Borat than a real Iranian,” quips Editor and Publisher.

Gee, I wonder if they hired an actor to do the voiceover.

No one is saying that the US government, or some subterranean branch of it – perhaps a “rogue” faction, as in Iran-Contra – is responsible for what happened in the Strait of Hormuz, where a “misunderstanding” almost sparked World War III. However, it’s just possible – given our government’s dismal record in this regard – that we’ll be talking about the Hormuz Hoax, years from now, when the history of this decade of deception is written.

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

I am humbled and grateful for the large number of condolence messages I received about my Mom’s recent death. Thanks to all for your words of comfort and support.

My answer to Jamie Kirchick’s recent piece on Ron Paul’s alleged hate crimes will appear very shortly in Taki’s Top Drawer, in my first – and hopefully last – commentary on the controversy. Check it out, it’s a humdinger.

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