Monday, January 21, 2008

"Filipino Monkey" is No Monkey Business

PerryScope: By Perry Diaz

On January 6, 2008, the United States was just a few seconds away from triggering a war with Iran -- and possibly ignite World War III. Three American warships were cruising down the Strait of Hormuz when five Iranian speedboats menacingly approached them. According to news accounts of the encounter, a radio transmission from an unidentified person called out in English, "I am coming to you. You will explode in a few minutes." The incident happened the day before President George Bush traveled to the Middle East on a diplomatic mission.

I searched the Internet for a video of the incident and the following was what I found: "I am coming to you," the unidentified person said. An American crew member responded, "Inbound small craft, you are approaching a coalition warship operating in international waters. Your identity is not known, your intentions are unclear. You are straying into danger and may be subject to defensive measures. Request you establish communications now, or alter your course immediately to remain clear of me. Request you alter course immediately to remain clear…" Then the unidentified person said, "You will explode after a few minutes." As one of the speedboats was heading towards one of the American warships, the American captain was about the give the order to fire when suddenly the speedboat veered away and the other Iranian speedboats followed suit.

The Iranians disavowed any connection to the mysterious. transmission. They claimed that they were just trying to get a reading on the American warships' ID. Some observers thought that the Iranians were just playing "chicken." If the mysterious person did not call out in the radio, the incident would probably have been dismissed as just another harassing act by the Iranians.

Many believed -- including American military staff -- that the mysterious voice was the "Filipino Monkey," a prankster that many believed has been making harassing transmissions on the international ship-to-ship radio frequencies.

Who is this "Filipino Monkey"? I googled it and I got more than 100,000 hits. But the most interesting information I got was from -- or Hoaxipedia. It said, "The Filipino Monkey is the name of an infamous rogue radio operator who interjects lewd jokes, threats, obscenities, and animal noises into ship-to-ship radio communications conducted on VHF marine channel 16 in the Persian Gulf." VHF Channel 16 is the maritime International Emergency Distress Frequency which requires all vessels to monitor for SOS calls and other emergencies.

Hoaxipedia further said, "The Filipino Monkey was first heard in the Persian Gulf around 1984, during the Iran-Iraq War. Despite the fact that VHF Channel 16 is supposed to be used only during emergencies, he would play music over it and taunt other seamen in a sing-song voice. He usually spoke in English. He had particular disdain for Filipino sailors -- as the name he gave himself would indicate. However, he was also extremely hostile to Iranians."

Hoaxipedia cited several incidents, one of which happened in 1987 when an Iranian warship locked its weapon radar onto a U.S. warship. The U.S. warship warned the Iranian vessel to stand down. The "Filipino Monkey" interjected, "Iranian warship, Iranian warship. You gonna get it now."

In another incident that same year, an Iranian gunboat confronted a cargo ship: "What is your cargo? What is your cargo?" The "Filipino Monkey" said, "Rockets, grenades, tanks, missile launchers, all bound for Iraq." The cargo ship frantically responded, "That was not me! That was not me!"

In the past 20 years, attempts to triangulate the location of the "Filipino Monkey" failed due to the large number of possible locations of the transmitter. The original "Filipino Monkey" is believed to be a group of Iranian pranksters who heckled American tankers and warships during the Iran-Iraq War. The "Filipino Monkey" today, however, could be any person who has access to VHF Channel 16. It is not uncommon for someone to call "Filipino Monkey… Filipino Monkey…" to provoke responses from everyone in the area.

By all indications, the original "Filipino Monkey" was not a Filipino. However, a large number of Filipinos work as merchant seamen. Today, there are approximately 250,000 Filipino seamen.

The recent incident in the Strait of Hormuz has made a lot of American military officers jittery at the prospect of an attack similar to the Al Qaeda suicide attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000. Some U.S. military experts might be thinking that the "Filipino Monkey" provocation may have been deliberately planned by the Iranians. The questions are: If it would happen again, would the commander of the U.S. warships think twice before issuing an order to fire? Or would he rely on his instinct and issue an order to fire as soon as he deemed it necessary?

Indeed, the specter of another suicide attack on an American warship in the Persian Gulf is real and American naval commanders probably have standing orders of what to do in the event a similar attack occurs. Should they shoot first and ask questions later?

The "Filipino Monkey" is no monkey business. It is serious business. Peace in the Middle East hangs in the balance as long as the "Filipino Monkey" continues playing this dangerous game.