[Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to include a Navy clarification of a misstatement .]
Trafficked women in Bahrain, some working as prostitutes, are seeking to collect sensitive intelligence from U.S. sailors that they can later sell, according to a Naval Criminal Investigative Service agent.
The claims arose in a human trafficking training recording for service members arriving in Bahrain on a tour with U.S. 5th Fleet, which is headquartered in Manama, the capital of the Middle Eastern island.
That recording was posted to the Pentagon’s public page for sharing military photos and video late last month.
“They’re collecting intel on you,” Special Agent Joe Minucci said in the recording. “They want to know about what your job is, what you do, what access you have, ship movements, the type of ship that comes in.”
Minucci, who previously served on a NCIS trafficking task force, called the situation “a very big issue” in Bahrain.
“Although they don’t really have a need for that information, they sell that information, and that’s how they make more money in order to get themselves out of the situation they’re in,” he said.
Minucci declined to comment Thursday.
Contacted this week by Navy Times, NCIS officials declined to provide further specific information regarding Minucci’s claims and suggested Navy Times file a Freedom of Information Act to learn more from the public agency.
“The broader intelligence community is aware that foreign adversaries often use prostitution as a conduit to solicit sensitive information from service members,” NCIS spokesman Jeff Houston said in an email.
The training recording was posted ]May 27, a few weeks before the publication of a Military Times investigation into the trafficking of Thai prostitutes by U.S. sailors in Bahrain.
Among other findings, that investigation revealed how prostitutes and U.S. sailors have long comingled on the island, and how the command overhauled its anti-trafficking training to get a grip on the problem.
NCIS officials have refused to explain the agency’s actions before several trafficking investigations involving sailors launched in 2017, including why agents had a so-called “mamasan” pimp on the informant dole for four years.
But Minucci’s comments offer further insight into what’s been going on in Bahrain, an essential U.S. ally that sits just across the Persian Gulf from Iran.
In the recording, the special agent said that 90 percent of the [foreign] women in Bahrain are trafficked there.
But the Navy on Friday said that statement was not accurate.
“To clarify, when the instructor referred to these women, he was referring only to the foreign national women engaging in prostitution/escort services, as opposed to all foreign women, which is inaccurate,” Lt. Tim Pietrack, a Navy spokesman, wrote in an email to Navy Times.
In the training video, Minucci says that the issue of human trafficking is “very pressing here in Bahrain.”
NCIS spokesman Jeff Houston told Navy Times that the agency “does not specifically track trafficking trends.”
U.S. personnel are targeted by the women because “they know you get a steady paycheck on the 1st and 15th of the month,” Minucci said.
“They also know you’re going to rotate out every 12 to 24 months,” he added. “Because of that, there’s going to be a new face, or somebody new to take your place, so business will always be there.”
Bahrain’s embassy in Washington, D.C., and the country’s public prosecution office, did not respond to Navy Times emails seeking comment this week.
These women know that service members face consequences if such illicit relationships come to light, Minucci said.
“They also know you’re afraid to get in trouble, so you won’t say anything to your command, you won’t say anything to law enforcement,” he said. “They know you won’t beat them and you won’t rob them, in comparison to other clients from other countries that are here.”
While Thai women working as prostitutes in Bahrain were at the center of a cascade of NCIS investigations into sailors starting in 2017, Minucci said women are also trafficked from Russia, Ukraine and Colombia.
“Some come over here willingly, the majority of them do not,” he said. “Sometimes they know what the job is they’re coming here for, sometimes they do not.”
Several women are victim to “debt bondage,” and must pay off a certain amount to their trafficker before they are set free, Minucci said.
Near the end of his address, Minucci conceded it is difficult to avoid coming across trafficked women working as prostitutes in Bahrain, but he asked those listening to “be smart about it.”
“Report other servicemembers that use these types of services or seek out these types of services,” he said. “This is somebody’s daughter, this is somebody’s mother, this is somebody’s’ granddaughter. Some of them really don’t want to be there, and you’re going to affect their life. Your face is going to be the one they remember forever.”
“Think about the person you’re impacting when you make poor choices in this area,” 5th Fleet Command Master Chief Franklin Call said at the end of the recording. “The persons you’re impacting, man, they got life pretty hard.”
Geoff is a senior staff reporter for Military Times, focusing on the Navy. He covered Iraq and Afghanistan extensively and was most recently a reporter at the Chicago Tribune. He welcomes any and all kinds of tips at firstname.lastname@example.org.