Support our mission
Maritime Enforcement Specialist First Class John McNally shows how he trains sailors to check fuel tanks on boats for hidden compartments used for smuggling, at a training site April 14, 2022 at Naval Support Activity Bahrain in Manama, Bahrain.

Maritime Enforcement Specialist First Class John McNally shows how he trains sailors to check fuel tanks on boats for hidden compartments used for smuggling, at a training site April 14, 2022 at Naval Support Activity Bahrain in Manama, Bahrain. (J.P. Lawrence/Stars and Stripes)

The U.S. Navy will start offering up to $100,000 in cash for tips leading to the seizure of weapons, drugs and other smuggled goods in the waters of the Middle East. 

The expected announcement of the program on Tuesday comes about a week before President Joe Biden’s visit to the Middle East, where regional tensions persist over Iran’s possible ambitions for nuclear weapons and its arming of rebel groups. 

The 5th Fleet, based in Manama, Bahrain, is specifically looking for tips on people smuggling illegal weapons or illicit narcotics, as well as information on people planning attacks on U.S. forces, a spokesman for Naval Forces Central Command said. 

“By adding this incentive to voluntarily report tips, we think this can enhance our awareness and vigilance of what’s happening in the waters of the region,” Cmdr. Timothy Hawkins, NAVCENT and 5th Fleet spokesman, told Stars and Stripes. 

This is the first time that the 5th Fleet is opting into a military program used in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria to trade money for information, Hawkins said. 

The U.S. Navy says that militant attacks and weapons seizures have increased in recent years in the busy shipping lanes of the Middle East. 

Iran has been accused of transfers of rifles, rocket-propelled grenades and missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen, despite a United Nations Security Council arms embargo. 

The 5th Fleet intercepted 9,000 weapons last year, three times the number seized in 2020, U.S. 5th Fleet commander Vice Adm. Brad Cooper told Stars and Stripes in April. 

“In the region, the most serious threat is Iran,” Cooper said in an interview. 

Iran and the various armed groups that it backs have also been accused of seizing ships, laying mines, and launching rockets at a U.S. guided-missile destroyer in Yemen as well as oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. 

In an incident last month, a U.S. Navy warship shot warning flares at Iranian Revolutionary Guard speedboats that buzzed within 50 yards of it in the strategic Strait of Hormuz. 

The U.S. 5th Fleet will offer the rewards through the Department of Defense Rewards Program, which means that U.S. citizens are not eligible for the program, Hawkins said. 

Tipsters could receive their award from the Navy in cash or items such as boats or food, Hawkins said. 

The 5th Fleet will be responsible for vetting the tips, which can be sent either via a website or a phoneline operated by Arabic, English and Farsi speakers, Hawkins said. 

The U.S. military’s attempts at gaining information via cash rewards in Afghanistan and Iraq continually ran into serious issues, said Jonathan Schroden, a military operations analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses. 

These programs often had tipsters providing false information in an attempt to get the U.S. military to arrest their rivals, often did not have enough resources to keep up with the volume of tips, and sometimes did not lead to results, Schroden said.

“If you’re not able to mitigate these challenges, your tip line will become useless or at worst counterproductive,” Schroden said. 

author picture
J.P. Lawrence reports on the U.S. military in Afghanistan and the Middle East. He served in the U.S. Army from 2008 to 2017. He graduated from Columbia Journalism School and Bard College and is a first-generation immigrant from the Philippines.
twitter Email

Stripes in 7



around the web


Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up