In the latest installment, Megan Rose, Robert Faturechi, and T. Christian Miller report on how failures up and down the Navy’s chain of command, coupled with a toxic “can’t say no” leadership culture, contributed to 10 US sailors getting captured by Iran in January, 2016, after navigational and mechanical glitches put their ill-suited vessel into Iran’s territorial waters.
In the wake of the Farsi Island incident, the outlines of the Navy’s fumbles were widely reported. But ProPublica reconstructed the failed mission, and the Navy’s response to it, using hundreds of pages of previously unreported confidential Navy documents, including the accounts of sailors and officers up and down the chain of command. Those documents reveal that the 10 captured sailors were forced out on dangerous missions they were not prepared for. Their commanders repeatedly dismissed worries about deficiencies in manpower and expertise.
Foley spotted a blue flag atop one of the boats. He pulled out a Navy reference manual. The flag belonged to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Foley shouted that the men were Iranians.
Nartker was holding up a wrench and pointing at his engine to indicate to the Iranians that his boat was in need of repair.
Inside the engine room, Escobedo made quick work of the repairs on the water pump and then started up the engines. With each movement, the more maneuverable Iranian boats blocked him and the men aboard them racked their weapons. He could see them squeezing their triggers.
“Stop boat!” they yelled. “Stop boat!”
Nartker decided to ignore the shouting men.
“Go!” he yelled at Escobedo.
Escobedo believed that if he followed the order, the Iranians would begin firing. He thought the rounds would cut clean through their boat. Someone was going to get killed. Rather than gunning the boat, Escobedo simply looked at Nartker: “Sir.”
Nartker later told Navy investigators that he had considered grabbing his M4 assault rifle and trying to shoot his way out. But he thought that if he began shooting he could start a war. He had never received a briefing on the region from the Navy, but he had been reading The Economist magazine. He knew about the looming nuclear accord.
Nartker’s superior officers had ignored protests. They had assigned him a mission beyond the capabilities of the gunboats. And they ordered him to proceed, even knowing about the shoddy equipment and the late start.
It was wrong to punish him, when so many others shared responsibility. Nartker, Fuselier wrote, “was set up for failure.”
After her sought-after, five-letter Instagram handle was stolen by an Iranian hacker, professor Negar Mottahedeh opened up the door to her former homeland, striking up an unlikely friendship with the thief to learn more about a man struggling to earn a living in an economy compromised by 35 years of U.S.-led sanctions. Read the story at Backchannel.
How good of a hacker was he, really? Who were his friends? What sorts of things did he enjoy? What were he and Negar like when they were together? Not knowing him unsettled me. So I was determined to find out.
Mohamad was curious about me, too. It was odd, considering that I was much older than him. It felt like he wanted a trusted friend—someone he could use as a sounding board. He chose me.
He needed money, but more than that, he wanted to find a way out of Iran. He asked me about student visas, tourist visas, work visas; he’d send me links or screenshots with sections circled in red ink, asking me to read through them for him. He discussed his marriage options. Could he find an American girl to marry so he could stay in the US after he got there? Or could I maybe adopt him?
But by robbing me of my online identity, my hacker had unshuttered a window to life in the country of my birth. While I had been barred from my home as a young child, my new setting was chock-full of luck. With my Instagram hacker in my life, my fortuitous situation stared me in the face. Looking at myself through his eyes, my life was abundant. I felt fortunate. I wasn’t about to give up the friendship I had forged with my hacker for anything.
Porochista Khakpour reflects on her desire to write — at first about anything other than Iranian-America. Deeply conflicted about speaking from her perspective as an Iranian-American, she says, “Remind yourself that when the performance is honest two things happen: The essay will feel like it’s killing you and the ending will not be what you thought it might be. Learn to respect more than resent those parallel planes of living and the rendering of living.”
In Iran, dizi is more than a dish. It is a ritual, one with its own history and rites. There are photos of early twentieth century Iranian teahouses with men sitting around dizi pots, stuffing themselves. A sense of camaraderie and openness is associated with dizi, unparalleled in Iranian cuisine. It is the food of laborers and commoners, and it is valued for being a dish to share and enjoy in the company of others. This imagery is reflected in the artwork that adorns dizi houses. Larger than life warriors like Rostam from the Book of Kings, or dervishes—those who submit to a life of truth-seeking and worship—are portrayed in colorful scenes.
Today, dizi is a common restaurant food, most famously served at Iranshahr Dizi House, a restaurant in downtown Tehran. But in the past, it was most often served at teahouses and corner stores, where it fed tired men finishing a hard day’s work.
A historic Iran nuclear accord has been reached, promising to lift sanctions in exchange for the country reducing its nuclear ability. The agreement is expected to be published in the next few days and include the crucial mechanics related to nuclear inspectors’ access to sites. Scott Ritter, a former intelligence officer with the United States Marine Corps and Chief Inspector for the United Nations in Iraq from 1991 to 1998, argued against “no notice” inspections in Iran in his recent London Review of Books essay:
My first experience as a weapons inspector was in implementing the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the US and the former Soviet Union, and I’m a firm believer that on-site inspections should be part of any arms control agreement. As a United Nations weapons inspector in Iraq, I worked closely with the IAEA to investigate Iraq’s past nuclear weapons programme, and I have confidence in the IAEA’s ability to implement the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The provisions of the NPT are at the heart of the framework agreement with Iran, and the measures contained in it – which include sophisticated remote monitoring, and environmental sampling at undeclared facilities – should be more than adequate to establish whether or not it has diverted any nuclear material to a weapons programme. The framework agreement also calls for a range of verification measures beyond those required by the NPT. These cover centrifuge production and aspects of the uranium fuel cycle such as mining and processing, and are needed to verify that Iran isn’t engaged in covert uranium enrichment using a secret cache of centrifuges and unaccounted-for stocks of uranium ore. No notice inspections to investigate ‘possible military dimensions’, however, go far beyond anything required by the NPT. The question is whether such an intrusive measure is warranted or whether, as Iran argues, the inspections would infringe its legitimate security interests.
The facts appear to support Iran’s position. Countries subjected to intrusive no notice inspections have to be confident that the process isn’t actually an intelligence-led operation aimed at undermining their legitimate interests. The nuclear framework agreement with Iran doesn’t require the IAEA to accept anything Iran declares at face value, but none of its protocols justifies no notice inspections of military sites. Iran signed the Joint Plan of Action in 2013, and has abided by the verification conditions it required without incident. This track record should count in its favour, especially when you consider the dubious results of no notice inspections since they were first carried out in 1991.
The history of no notice inspections in Iraq does not bode well for their use in Iran. Such inspections are intelligence-based exercises. The bulk of the intelligence underpinning the US concerns over ‘possible military dimensions’ comes from the ‘alleged studies’ documents – a series of files the IAEA obtained in 2008 which appear to show that Iran had conducted some nuclear weapons development in 2002 and 2003. Their credibility has often been called into question and the Iranians declare they are fake. There’s good cause, too, to believe that much of the remaining intelligence buttressing the CIA’s case against Iran is flawed. The strange tale of the Iranian physicist Shahram Amiri, whose defection the CIA facilitated in the spring of 2009, serves as a case in point. Amiri was for several years before his defection an American agent-in-place whose reporting was used by the CIA in formulating its assessments on Iran. But his re-defection to Iran in 2010 suggests that he may have been a double agent, calling into question all his reporting to the CIA, before and after his defection. Operation Merlin, in which the CIA attempted to pass on to Iran flawed designs for a nuclear weapon, further undermines the CIA’s credibility as a source of information about an alleged Iranian nuclear weapons programme.
In 1953 the United States was still new to Iran. Many Iranians thought of Americans as friends, supporters of the fragile democracy they had spent half a century trying to build. It was Britain, not the United States, that they demonized as the colonialist oppressor that exploited them.
Since the early years of the twentieth century a British company, owned mainly by the British government, had enjoyed a fantastically lucrative monopoly on the production and sale of Iranian oil. The wealth that flowed from beneath Iran’s soil played a decisive role in maintaining Britain at the pinnacle of world power while most Iranians lived in poverty. Iranians chafed bitterly under this injustice. Finally, in 1951, they turned to Mossadegh, who more than any other political leader personified their anger at the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC). He pledged to throw the company out of Iran, reclaim the country’s vast petroleum reserves, and free Iran from subjection to foreign power.
Prime Minister Mossadegh carried out his pledges with single-minded zeal. To the ecstatic cheers of his people, he nationalized Anglo-Iranian, the most profitable British business in the world. Soon afterward, Iranians took control of the company’s giant refinery at Abadan on the Persian Gulf.
British agents began conspiring to overthrow Mossadegh soon after he nationalized the oil company. They were too eager and aggressive for their own good. Mossadegh learned of their plotting, and in October 1952 he ordered the British embassy shut. All British diplomats in Iran, including clandestine agents working under diplomatic cover, had to leave the country. No one was left to stage the coup.
Immediately, the British asked President Truman for help. Truman, however, sympathized viscerally with nationalist movements like the one Mossadegh led. He had nothing but contempt for old-style imperialists like those who ran Anglo-Iranian. Besides, the CIA had never overthrown a government, and Truman did not wish to set the precedent.
—From journalist and author Stephen Kinzer’s All the Shah’s Men, the history of the CIA’s 1953 coup in Iran, which deposed the only democratic government the country ever had. Earlier this month, negotiators announced an accord to restrict Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief. The deadline for a final deal is June 30.