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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.

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.

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.

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.

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.