Captured British Marines ‘Gathered Intelligence’ on Iran
Sky News reports that the British marines taken hostage by Iran two weeks ago were “gathering intelligence” on Iranian activities.
The captain in charge of the 15 marines detained in Iran has said they were gathering intelligence on the Iranians. Sky News went on patrol with Captain Chris Air and his team in Iraqi waters close to the area where they were arrested – just five days before the crisis began. We withheld the interview until now so it would not jeopardise their safety. And today, former Iranian diplomat Dr Mehrdad Khonsari said if the Iranians had known about it, they would have used it to “justify taking the marines captive and put them on trial”.
Captain Air and his team were on an ‘Interaction Patrol’ where their patrol boats came alongside fishing dhows. The operation was mainly to investigate arms smuggling and terrorism but Captain Air said it was also to gain intelligence on Iranian activity.
He told Sky Correspondent Jonathan Samuels: “Basically we speak to the crew, find out if they have any problems, let them know we’re here to protect them, protect their fishing and stop any terrorism and piracy in the area,” he said. “Secondly, it’s to gather int (intelligence). If they do have any information, because they’re here for days at a time, they can share it with us. “Whether it’s about piracy or any sort of Iranian activity in the area. Obviously we’re right by the buffer zone with Iran.”
The UK Defence Secretary Des Browne told Sky News it was important to gather intelligence to “keep our people safe”. He said: “Modern military operations all have an element of gathering intelligence. “We need to understand as much as we can about the environment we operate in and intelligence gathering is an every day part of that.” He added: “The UN mandate would clearly empower the military taskforce to gather information about the environment in which they were working.”
Browne is right, of course: Gathering intel is part and parcel of most military ops. That’s especially true when you’re dealing with a coastal patrol mission during a shooting war, let alone one where a rogue state is smuggling weapons to your enemy.
What’s problematic here is the loose way in which language about intelligence operations is used. The admission by Captain Air [Is that he real name? -ed.] will be used by the Iranians to bolster their allegation that the marines were “spying” on Iran and many people will accept that given the admission. Uniformed military personnel operating in marked vessels in waters they have every right to be in using the naked eye to observe a hostile power are not, however, in any meaningful sense, “spies.”