Stop the presses: no naval armada has sailed to blockade Iran!

Summary:  For a week rumors about a US armada sailing to the Gulf circulated around the Internet and in Middle Eastern media, despite having almost no supporting evidence.  One of the two major sources for the “US fleet sailing to blockade Iran” story now has admitted his error.  No word yet from the other (and more high-profile) source, Debkafile (does Debkafile post retractions?) or the blogs which promoted the rumors.

Along with Debkafile, Timothy Alexander ignited the Internet firestorm on 7 August (GOOGLE to see the resulting posts and news stories) with “Massive US Naval Armada Heads For Iran“ posted at his blog Europe.  On 18 August he posted a long article “Wars and Rumors of War“, containing the following retraction (bold emphasis added):

We have a Bush Administration, who with the Brits and French and others, just completed a massive naval war game named “Operation Brimstone” that was announced as a training mission for the blockade of Iran. While two resolutions are pending before Congress (one in the House; the other in the Senate) “demanding” a blockade on Iran. And then the high level leaks that the battle groups were headed to Iran (yes, I know, I was taken in like UPI, DEBKA, and several major and minor news organizations). This was not really the case, but it laid the ground work in preparing the public for the next step. In the meantime the European Union has authorized a blockade in everything but name

So we can close this folder and file it under “The Internet can make us dumber.”  This is evidence of almost total lack of sourcing by blogs, too many of which print rumors without any semblance of research.  While these rumors were ignored by the mainstream media, they were passed on by high-profile geopolitical blogs.  For example, by M. Simon at Classical Values, to which the Instapundit linked.  No retractions yet at those sites (so far as I see). 

The Internet can be a powerful tool, making us smarter and faster.  But only if writers and readers take more care with its contents.  Otherwise it can make us dumber.

Update

M. Simon posts his current view of these rumors.  He recaps my comments, then says…

He {me} goes on about the misinformation that the inet is promoting at Fabius Maximus. Which is more or less a reproduction of the e-mail.

Now what do I think? The Theodore Roosevelt was in port at the time I wrote my report according to sources I have found of late: i.e. comments at blogs. However, that does not in my opinion invalidate the general idea of an Iranian blockade in the works. I’d like to wait a week or three and see what happens. He may be right about no blockade. However, it seems if Iran and Syria are getting nuclear capable missiles that could lead to pre-emptive attacks by Israel and precipitate a blockade of Iran by the USA.

It is really hard to see where this is all going. I thought it was 1936 (re: Germany France and the Rhineland) it may be much later than that – 1939 (re: Germany and Russia dismembering Poland). If so we may have a very big war on our hands. All this could have been prevented if the USA was supplying more oil to the world markets limiting the profits of our enemies Russia and Iran, not to mention our “best friend” Saudi Arabia.

Pretty ominous.  As I have explained in my posts about “War with Iran“, there seems little basis for this kind of speculation.  While possible, I doubt any of these things will happen (for the reasons stated at some length in the 27 posts to date on this topic).

Update

Alexander has since deleted his post which ignited these rumors. You can see the Google cache of the article here.  Hat tip to Information Dissemination; he also confirms that the USS Theordore Roosevelt is docked at Norfolk — not sailing to the Gulf.

My other posts about this rumor

  1. More rumors of war: our naval armada has sailed to Iran!, 9 August 2008 — Tracing the origin of these rumors.
  2. Update on the rumored armada sailing to Iran, 13 August 2008 — With updates from Stratfor and Debkafile.
  3. A US naval armada is en route to blockade Iran and start WWIII (the story gets better every day), 14 August 2008 — More details from one of the bloggers who shot this story into cyberspace, and an official US denial.
  4. UPI reports on the multi-national armada sailing to Iran, 15 August 2008

Other posts about the Internet: does it make us smarter or dumber?

  1. Cable Cut Fever grips the conspiracy-hungry fringes of the web, 7 February 2008
  2. Resolution of the Great Submarine Cable Crisis — and some lessons learned, 8 February 2008
  3. What do blogs do for America?, 26 February 2008
  4. The oddity of reports about the Iraq War, 13 March 2008
  5. Euphoria about the Bakken Formation, 10 April 2008
  6. The Internet makes us dumber: the Bakken euphoria, a case study, 15 April 2008
  7. Does reading Debkafile make us smarter, or dumber? , 15 June 2008
  8. A Congressman ignites a netstorm about Twitter, 9 July 2008

10 thoughts on “Stop the presses: no naval armada has sailed to blockade Iran!

  1. It is funny — in recent months one can find an excess of reasons not to read any of the generalist blogs for insight into local conflicts. It is the same reason most generalist pundits have little more to offer than empty sloganeering. I’ve made a personal decision to actually use the Internet for what it’s intended for: local views, local analysis. If something is happening somewhere and I want to know about it, I will find a local blog or news source, and forget the silly blatherings of the chattering class Stateside. It’s just more accurate that way.
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    Faibus Maximus replies: Two notes in reply.

    “It is the same reason most generalist pundits have little more to offer than empty sloganeering.”

    This is a generalist blog, the subject being geopolitics. I hope this is better than “empty sloganeering.”

    “use the Internet for what it’s intended for: local views, local analysis”

    I believe this is too narrow a view, and ignores the larger process of the Observation-Orientation-Decision-Action (OODA) loop. Expert sources, of which area experts are a subset, are important. Along with local reporting (usually not by area experts), they form the foundation.

    But the other steps are also important, IMO; non-experts can usefully contribute. Orientation — putting local events in a larger context (global trends, US strategy and needs). Decision — what should we do. And, of course, Action — where citizens can both act to influence policy and manage their own affairs in the light of the first 3 stages.

  2. Most such news should be primarily as an alert — NOW start looking for more news about X. In this case, blockade against Iran (news not coming). In the prior post, news about the narco-insurgency in Mexico. Lots of news available, to those who look.

    What are the predictions about the near future? What theories are these predictions based on? What facts would falsify the theory/predictions? It is the falsification question that is most important. If there are no facts which could falsify your own pet theory, than it doesn’t much.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Great comment. Falsification is critical, as shown by the philosopher Karl Popper. Consider the victory narrative writings about Iraq. Many of these take forms that are difficult (not impossible) to falsify.

  3. Update: M. Simon posts his current view of these rumors.

    He recaps my comments, then says…

    “He {me} goes on about the misinformation that the inet is promoting at Fabius Maximus. Which is more or less a reproduction of the e-mail.

    Now what do I think? The Theodore Roosevelt was in port at the time I wrote my report according to sources I have found of late: i.e. comments at blogs. However, that does not in my opinion invalidate the general idea of an Iranian blockade in the works. I’d like to wait a week or three and see what happens. He may be right about no blockade. However, it seems if Iran and Syria are getting nuclear capable missiles that could lead to pre-emptive attacks by Israel and precipitate a blockade of Iran by the USA.

    It is really hard to see where this is all going. I thought it was 1936 (re: Germany France and the Rhineland) it may be much later than that – 1939 (re: Germany and Russia dismembering Poland). If so we may have a very big war on our hands. All this could have been prevented if the USA was supplying more oil to the world markets limiting the profits of our enemies Russia and Iran, not to mention our “best friend” Saudi Arabia.

    Pretty ominous. As I have explained in my posts about “War with Iran“, there seems little basis for this kind of speculation. While possible, I doubt any of these things will happen (for the reasons stated at some length in the 27 posts to date on this topic).

  4. Update: Debkafile sticks by their story.

    Arab world fears an Iran war may be impending“, Debkafile, 18gust 2008 — Excerpt:

    “The scare was fed by the impending arrival of the USS Theodore Roosevelt, the USS Ronald Reagan, and the USS Iwo Jima in the Persian Gulf to reinforce the US strike forces in the region, as first revealed by DEBKAfile on August 11.

    “They are to join the USS Abraham Lincoln, which is patrolling the Arabian Sea opposite Iran, and the USS Peleliu, on beat in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden. This deployment would be the largest naval task force the US and its allies had massed in the region since the 1991 Gulf War.

    “A US Pentagon spokesman last week denied that these forces were gathering to impose a partial naval blockade on Iran, but declined to disclose their mission. The denial apparently failed to convince the rulers of Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Kuwait.”

  5. It seems that these Armadas are heading for the Gulf. If you didn’t notice, the USS Ronald Reagan is already in the Indian Ocean about 2 days away from the Gulf. And the Navy announced that the USS Iwo-Jima Strike group and the USS Roosevelt leave tomorrow for the Gulf. They will be there in less than two weeks. That means over half of the US Navy will be in the Gulf Region by the first week of September. And given the current carrier groups in the Gulf are not due to be rotated for some time, it seems something might be up. So maybe Debka does know something.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: First, I believe you are confusing the super-carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (by last recports, still at Norfolk) with the USS Roosevelt (DDG 80, a destroyer in the Peleliu Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG’s). That alone guts your theory, as carrier movements are the things to watch. The movements of Marines in the ESG’s are far less relevant — despite their frequently and misleading being described as “carrier groups.” ESG’s might take one or more Gulf islands, to help keep the Gulf open.

    The first place to look for information about US naval ops is Information Dissemination — “Professional Navy Centric Blog.”

    Global Naval Operations: Order of Battle“, 22 August 2008 — Excerpt:

    “In the Pacific the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike group has departed Malaysia. If we were guessing we would say the Ronald Reagan CSG is on its way to the 5th Fleet to relieve the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group that has been operating there for the last four months. That is a guess, but the Lincoln CSG deployed in March and is rapidly approaching the end of its deployment, and will be heading back soon. With no US carrier currently deployed in the Atlantic the Reagan makes the most likely replacement in the 5th Fleet to support operations in both theaters of war.

    “… The Peleliu Expeditionary Strike Group is still in the 5th Fleet, but may soon be getting relieved by the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group. The Peleliu ESG deployed in early May, so they are only about half way through their deployment, but news today is that the Iwo Jima ESG will deploy next week. Given the time overlap, the Iwo Jima ESG may operate either in the Med or around Africa before relieving the Peleliu ESG, although that is purely speculation.”

    None of this is unusual. Our ships move around, and over the past two years we have had many false alarms as folks interpret routine ops as preparations for attacking Iran.

  6. Fabius, yes it seems I did confuse USS Roosevelt destroyer with the Carrier. However, all the same, we now know at least two of the three rumoured armadas going to the Gulf are in fact heading there. Futhermore they are deploying at a time that seems extremely early if they are relieving the Carrier groups in the Gulf Region. Finally, if the USS Reagan is relieving the Lincoln why is the Reagan going to be playing War games with India off their West coast in the middle of October? Sounds like a BS excuse to be in the Gulf region. Come on, War games with India? Their one and only Carrier isn’t even service. So the Reagan, one of the largest warships in the world, is going to playing around with some Indian rubber duckies in the Arabian Sea. Sounds pretty dubious to me.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: First, the US Navy frequently conduct exercises with other nations. Since nobody else has anything remotely like our force, all these exercises are to some extent with “rubber duckies.” I see no historical basis for you to consider excercises with the Indian Navy as “dubious.”

    Second, conflating an Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) and a Carrier Strike Group is absurd, as an ESG is hardly an “armada” as is a CSG. Compare their flagships. The USS Iwo Jima displaces aprox 40,000 tons, the USS Theodore Roosevelt aprox 101,000 tons.

    Destroying Iraq’s atomic infrastructure requires the airpower of the USAF and our CSG’s. ESG’s might have an important secondary role in the operation, of course.

    Third, the primary point of my posts was that this information is an extraordinarily weak basis on which to forecast an imminent attack on Iran. They might lead up to an attack, but represent commonplace movements and hence are of little significance — until we have additional and more significant data.

  7. I have been following this series of unofficial intelligence information with great interest. If something is to be done about Iran it would seem that the period between now and the end of this year would be the logical time to do it, in view of a possible major change of USA foreign policy that could evolve after the election.

    However, none of you have yet commented about the Debkafile report that on August 23rd the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov together with its task force including the Russian Navy’e largest missile cruiser and four nuclear subs reportedly docked at the Syrian port of Tartus. I believe that task force would have had to leave for Tartus before the signing of the missile defense pact with Poland. So, it might be related to that event but not necessarily. What significance do you place on this move? Might the Russians be anticipating a possible September-December blockade of Iran or an Isreali air attack against Iran during that period? Or, is this a separate entirely unrelated issue?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Ships move. Attributing big significance to every move only creates sequential errors. As for this story, the first place to look for coverage about any significant naval issue is Information Dissemination:

    * Fleet Movements in the Med – Updated“, 20 August 2008 — Analysis of the Kuznetsov’s movements.

    *Debka Makes Us Dumber Again“, 22 August 2008 — Analysis of the story you mention.

  8. Update about the movement of the Admiral Kuznetsov

    “Russia: Reshaping Perceptions in the Mediterranean”, Stratfor, 20 August 2008 — Excerpt:

    “Russia’s sole aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov could soon return to the Mediterranean Sea, according to an Aug. 20 report by Newsru.com, a subsidiary of Russia’s NTV news group. Such a deployment would be its second to the region this year. The Kuznetsov would reportedly marry up again with elements of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet, including fleet flagship the Moskva, and be accompanied by at least one submarine.

    “… But Moscow is not deploying its largest naval asset to the Mediterranean for a shooting war. It is there to establish a presence in what the United States and NATO like to consider their backyard. Washington certainly is not used to a potentially hostile battle group trolling that close to the vital Suez Canal. And bringing a small squadron of very capable Flankers to bear far from Russian shores is a small but significant bit of power projection that will make both Israel and Syria sit up and take notice.”

  9. Update to dumbguy’s comments

    Observing the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group“, Galrahn at Information Dissemination (a professional navy centric blog), 26 August 2008 — Opening:

    “The US Navy is deploying the Iwo Jima Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) this week, the last ESG expected to deploy this year. In a return to the old days, we are going to take a little liberty and speculate (theory) regarding the enabling capabilities of the Iwo Jima ESG as it forward deploys from the Atlantic towards the Mediterranean Sea and Middle East.”

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