We’re Megan Rose and Robert Faturechi, reporters for ProPublica. We’ve spent a year investigating the US Navy and how it's putting its sailors in unnecessary danger.

Our latest story dives deep into how 10 U.S. sailors were captured by Iran and held on tiny Farsi Island in 2016. The incident was solved diplomatically — but the potential for a real conflict was definitely there.

Sound familiar? There are definite parallels to what happened with the Navy drone last week. President Trump has even been talking about the Farsi Island incident lately as tensions have escalated with Iran.

Send us questions on the Navy, Iran, or reporting on sensitive global topics like this in general. We'll answer whatever we can.

Also, if you ever want to get in touch with us, email [email protected].

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom based in New York. Sign up for our newsletter to get our latest investigations.

Proof: https://twitter.com/propublica/status/1143642517587615744

Comments: 613 • Responses: 22  • Date: 

LittleMetalHorse211 karma

how do you cope with the indifference of the general public?

propublica_190 karma

I think we try our best to write our investigations in ways that engage people and show how larger policy issues almost always involve a real human experience. And that's the story we tell -- what was it like on the ground and what were the real world consequences of what leaders do. We hope then readers are moved in a way that gets them paying attention.

Paracelsus8211 karma

What are the Iranian government's aims, in relation to the US - do they actually want these increased tensions?

propublica_302 karma

Parsing exactly what the Iranian government is up to at any given time is difficult. A former senior Navy official I spoke to today described it this way: the Iranians may be crazy but they're not stupid. What they may be up to here is an attempt to pressure the US and American allies to rein back the tough economic sanctions the Trump administration has placed on them. Iran messing with oil shipments from the region hurts European and Asian countries too, and they have leverage points with the U.S. that Iran may lack.

papafrog119 karma

Where do you think that drone was when it got hit? And am I correct in my assumption that Iran's "you're lucky we didn't down your plane" remark was a retaliatory escalation of Trump's drone statement?

Also, what's your take on the limpet mines on the shipping vessels? Iran? If so, why?

propublica_235 karma

That's a great question. The US government has been adamant that the drone was not in international territory. But there appears to be some possibility that the Navy again mistakenly entered Iran’s territory, as it did in the Farsi Island incident in 2016. The Iranians say that the drone was in their airspace and have tried to bolster that claim by saying local fisherman found pieces of the drone in Iranian waters. And last week, the New York Times quoted an unnamed U.S. official as saying Trump had pulled back on a retaliatory strike in part because of emerging evidence that the drone or a second, manned U.S. spy plane may have actually breached Iranian territory. So there's at least some amount of doubt on the American side about whether the drone breached Iranian airspace at some point.

byvikas49 karma

Can you please respond to the second part of the question from the original poster - Also, what's your take on the limpet mines on the shipping vessels? Iran? If so, why?

propublica_85 karma

Whether Iran was responsible for that incident is not something we've been reporting on, or talking to folks inside the Navy about, so wouldn't want to speculate.

MorsOmniaAequat61 karma

Iran states that there was another plane in the area of the drone that had 35 occupants. You mentioned that in another comment. Can you elaborate on that plane and its role in the drone shoot down?

Was that plane there to goad the Iranians in to shooting down a plane or was it there to record the shoot down?

Thank you for your work. ProPublica is one of the best out there right now.

propublica_55 karma

Very good questions. Ones we don't have answers to yet. We can tell you that the P-8A Poseidon is a Boeing 737 that the Navy has configured into a surveillance plane. There's one that is stationed in that part of the world fairly regularly. What it was doing that day? Those are details we're trying to track down.

DepartmentofNothing25 karma

  • Do you have any insight into the Iranian government regarding their response to the 2016 incident? Do you see parallels with the ongoing one?

  • You've written several pieces about military readiness and equipment. Does the 'hollow force' label ring true to you? Are these systemic problems within the Navy or DoD as a whole?

  • Do any of you have military experience? Why choose this particular topic?

  • Did you encounter any pushback either from officialdom or potential sources as you worked the story?

  • This is not a popular AMA. Are you disappointed at the turnout? What do you think about Reddit and other social media and the future of investigative reporting, given the relative lack of interest?

propublica_66 karma

Let me see if we can answer all these. Given the questions about whether the drone or the spy plane did actually enter Iranian airspace, there seems to be parallels with the 2016 incident. Though back then the US happened to be speaking to the Iranian government almost daily because of the impending nuclear deal and certainly those diplomatic channels aren't the same today. But sources we spoke to differed on how much that actually matters with a country like Iran where the elected leaders don't hold much power anyway.

Sailors up and down the chain told us that the "hollow force" label was all too true. We've heard from those currently serving on surface ships that not much has changed since in the last few years despite promised reforms. Part of that is what you identified: The problems are deeply systemic. Readiness 10 years from now depends greatly on how the leaders of today act. So if the Navy doesn't ask for more money to fix it ships and more money to expand its force to man those ships, they won't have the resources to fix their problems even if the desire is there. One Congressional source I spoke with last week expressed dismay that the Navy has not fought more for the budget it truly needs. There's also a matter of how the Navy distributes its money too that makes surface readiness difficult. Much goes to its nuclear program.

None of us served in the military. Megan comes from a big military family, and both her and T spent time embedded in war zones. We choose the topic of Navy readiness because of the shock that not one but two ships had deadly crashes in such a short time frame. And then once we started asking questions, it turned out there was much to investigate.

We found that Navy officials in Washington pushed back pretty hard on all of our stories, but many out in the fleet were eager to talk. There seems to be a sense of mounting frustration within the Navy that problems are being ignored.

As far as it not being a popular AMA, that's how it goes sometimes! ProPublica has had many productive projects involving social media -- see our maternal mortality series -- so I think the future is bright there.

setyourblasterstopun24 karma

As a Surface Warfare Officer, I have to say your article on the Fitzgerald collision was tremendous reporting. I wish the rest of the American media was as good on the military beat, but sadly they don't seem interested in knowing anything about the subject.

propublica_7 karma

Thanks so much for reading.

reg_ss6 karma

Thanks for doing this, and keep investigating please.

propublica_3 karma

Thank YOU. And we are. Please stay tuned.

Ayatollah_Bahloni2 karma

Perhaps not popular, but very informative. The answers to questions posed here have been most enlightening, and would be for anyone who cares to visit this thread in future. Thanks for doing this.

propublica_2 karma

Thank you!

jamditis23 karma

You say in the article that the crew was "on a spying mission." Were they spying on Iran?

propublica_50 karma

The two boats were on their way down to Bahrain. From there, they were going to rendezvous with the NSA on a spying mission. That's something we learned through sources and documents. But we never learned who was going to be spied on.

Cornato22 karma

I was on the Cruiser that picked them up, USS Anzio. And from what I understand, they were somewhere they should not have been and got caught. Iran held our sailors just like any country would if they found a foreign governments military scooting around. The “prisoners” were treated fairly and returned quickly.

I literally watched the media blow everything out of proportion and make Iran look like it kidnapped people. We fucked up. They acted admirably. Am I wrong?

propublica_12 karma

The RCBs had gone into Iranian waters for sure, and it was well within their rights to investigate. The U.S. military concluded that the Iranians violated international maritime laws in several ways: obstructing the right of innocent passage, failing to help a vessel in distress and violating sovereign immunity. The RCBs were dead in the water at the time because of a mechanical failure. Once that was fixed, they tried to move along but were stopped by the Iranians. The Navy also concluded that boarding, seizing and searching the boats violated sovereign immunity. But as one retired Navy captain asked me yesterday: What would we do if an Iranian boat strayed into our waters?

Happy_cactus15 karma

Are you aware of the “Fat Leonard” scandal a couple years ago? Has the relieving of several high ranking Naval officers affected readiness in Fifth Fleet or was the widespread corruption mostly relegated to Seventh Fleet (also where all the collisions took place)? Also why did “Fat Leonard” make hardly any headline two years ago when several Admirals were being relieved and possibly facing jail time?

propublica_15 karma

Whether the Fat Leonard scandal has affected readiness in the 5th Fleet is a great question, and one we are asking as we continue to investigate. Many Navy officers expressed concerns to us about whether there was a leadership void created when so many officers were booted. There were two competing thoughts that we heard the most. One was that there wouldn't be enough operationally qualified officers to promote to the high ranks and lead the service. The other was that bad officers were eliminated, making room for better ones to step up.

The Washington Post has done great reporting on Fat Leonard. Here's one example, a pretty cool graphic that shows how wide spread the scandal was. https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/investigations/seducing-the-seventh-fleet/

Hobbesenero5 karma

Do you think Iran will ever be in a position again to negotiate a deal with the U.S. after Trump pulled out of the Iran Deal? I feel like their attitude would be very "why do another deal with this president when another president could just pull out and put us in jeopardy"

Bonus question: How likely do you think it is that Iran starts to develop nuclear weapons as a result of Trump pulling out of the deal?

propublica_11 karma

State Department officials on both side of the aisle groan whenever this happens because diplomacy is harder, they say, when the sides don't trust each other to follow through. That said, it's not unprecedented for presidents to undo the policy of their predecessors. Hard to say what Iran will do. Regional security experts I spoke to recently said that the biggest driver of accepting the nuclear deal in Iran was the eliminations of sanctions, so that could bring them to the table again.

BakoMan4 karma


propublica_2 karma

I'm not sure what exactly you're referring to. Mind elaborating?

BakoMan3 karma


propublica_4 karma

Our reporting, and our conclusions, are based on interviews with dozens of current and former Navy officials (up and down the chain of command), Pentagon officials, congressional sources and others - and thousands of pages of documents. Many in the Navy do believe that sailors are being put in unnecessary danger, and have warned their superiors of this in real time. We have seen the documents, and done interviews, that support this.

papafrog3 karma

Here's another question for you: There are larger issues, like the LCS debacle, that you haven't touched on, and I'm sure that with all our Navy problems, there must be similar problems in the USMC, USAF, and/or the USA. Any topics in our sister services that you guys are exploring? I'm sure you can't say what they are (if they exist), but just knowing that you're looking into some would put a small smile on my face.

propublica_7 karma

Yep, we are continuing to report on the Navy. We have multiple leads we're following, and expect to run more stories in the coming weeks and months. If you're interested in getting them as soon as they come out, scroll down on this page, and sign up for our Navy email list. https://features.propublica.org/navy-accidents/us-navy-crashes-japan-cause-mccain/

ThreeMysticApes2 karma

Why are you able to speak about the documents if they are Confidential?

propublica_2 karma

Reporters routinely report on documents that are confidential, or even classified. We have to make a judgement about their newsworthiness. We also typically tell the subjects of our reporting what we plan to report before publishing stories. In this case, the Navy had an opportunity to raise any concerns about our story undermining national security. They raised no such concerns. If they had, we would have taken those concerns seriously.

grolff2 karma

"We’ve spent a year investigating the US Navy and how it's putting its sailors in unnecessary danger. "

You say your journalists yet you clearly show a bias here. Explain? I doubt the Navy considers it uneccassry danger. Your clearly drawing your own conclusions.

propublica_5 karma

Our reporting, and our conclusions, are based on interviews with dozens of current and former Navy officials (up and down the chain of command), Pentagon officials, congressional sources and others - and thousands of pages of documents. Many in the Navy do believe that sailors are being put in unnecessary danger, and have warned their superiors of this in real time. We have seen the documents, and done interviews, that support this.

MiguelMellinger1 karma


propublica_13 karma

Let's hope not!

zebra-in-box-5 karma

How is the preparedness level of the US Navy in that area? Does an unpredictable and seemingly unprepared commander in chief filter down to the units on the ground? Was the US prepared for the shoot down of its drone or was it caught off guard?

propublica_8 karma

Problems with Navy readiness are unfortunately a bipartisan issue. If you have time, please check out some of our stories about manning, training and equipment deficiencies in the Navy from earlier this year: https://www.propublica.org/series/navy-accidents-pacific-7th-fleet We show that many of these challenges began during the George W. Bush administration, continued under the Obama administration, and have yet to be fixed during the Trump administration. And the shortcomings extend to multiple parts of the Navy: from massive destroyers like the USS Fitzgerald and USS McCain, to the tiny riverine boats in the Persian Gulf, and even into the Navy's aviation units. To answer your question about President Trump, to be frank, most of the folks we've talked to within the Navy shy away from partisan statements. The most we've seen is maybe the faintest eye roll, but overall they generally really abide by the notion that the military is not supposed to be partisan, they salute and take orders from the commander-in-chief, no matter who is in power. I did see a slight departure from that a few weeks ago though, amid the scandal about the White House asking the Navy to obscure the USS Fitzgerald during Trump's visit to Japan. 7th Fleet folks I talked to we're genuinely dismayed by that incident. They saw it as disrespectful towards the crew of that ship, who just 2 years ago lost 10 of their shipmates.

weius-6 karma

Is all the conspiration real? Are there real american interests in attacking countries like Iran just because there's not a Central Bank there?

propublica_1 karma

Not sure we understand the question. Please feel free to elaborate.