Two other men were aboard their 40-foot vessel, Jamie McCormick and Daniel Meeks, both in supporting roles. Stanek, a retired Navy ordnance disposal diver, was highly experienced but had only recently attained his license to be a ship captain, according to those who knew him.
The crew had spent the last several days sailing up the coast of the Philippines after departing Malaysia in what was to be the maiden voyage of their ship, which was secretly owned by the CIA’s Maritime Branch.
Their cover story for the 2008 mission was that a client in Japan had bought the vessel, and the crew had been hired to transport it there from Malaysia. They had paperwork and documentation to back up the story if questioned.
Their actual target was a small piece of land to the north of Luzon, the Philippines’ largest island. The CIA believed the Chinese military was occupying this small island in an area that has been hotly disputed. The U. S. in recent years has closely watched China’s military moves in the South China Sea, particularly as Beijing has built up artificial islands on reefs and atolls that were once barely visible at low tide in order to extend its territorial claims. Stanek and Perich planned to dive on the island using commercial scuba gear that would be deniable in the event they were captured, whether by the Chinese or anyone else. There were to be no U. S. government fingerprints on any of their activities. Deployed from the small ship, the two divers would emplace a “pod” disguised as a rock and stuffed with classified technology just beneath the surface of the waves. It would then passively monitor electronic signals of Chinese naval ships.