Sea story: Scooping the satellites (1972)

clg4 bwGaeta, Italy. Most mornings when the US Sixth Fleet flagship was in home port, I would coast down the steep hill from our apartment building on the very top of the Monte Elena. Stopping my bicycle at the kiosk in the town square, I would buy the daily papers from Naples, Milan, Paris and Rome, then ride to the ship.

The first thing I would do in my office was to read the papers and type up a short précis about what the press in Italy and France had to say today. I would send copies to the Chief of Staff and to the Intelligence Officer (N-2). It was just a little thing I did, since I was reading the papers anyway, and the Admiral and his staff found the summaries interesting.

1973 Protocol Officer at work

my office

One afternoon, the N-2 stopped by my office with a wry smile on his face. I looked up from my work; it would have been awkward to try to stand up for him in my cramped space.

“Can I help you, Captain?” I asked.

“London called on the secure phone this morning,” he said. “London” meant CINCUSNAVEUR, the Commander, US Naval Forces Europe. “Washington wants to know why we keep reporting so much activity in Libya when we don’t have any people on the ground.” It had been a while since Col. Qaddafi had evicted all Americans from the country. Obviously, N-2 was forwarding my little reports up the chain of command.

“Is it something in my daily summaries?” I asked, worried that I had crossed some unwritten boundary in the shady world of intelligence collection.

“I explained what you do. They were just surprised that we had such high-quality information before the regular intelligence agencies. It all gets confirmed or at least corroborated by satellite, and I think it’s driving JCS and NSA nuts.”

working a rig in Libya

working a rig in Libya

“But Libya is local news in Naples,” I said. “There are thousands of Italian engineers working there, not to mention the Italian reporters who follow what is happening with them. Their families mostly live in Naples, and they read Il Mattino.

The N-2 smiled and put a hand on my shoulder. “Just keep the translations coming, Jonathan.”

IMG_20160407_100849I hope that you are enjoying my stories. There are more coming.

Next week, the Freewheeling Freelancer will continue on the Camino de Santiago, and I’ll be back here with another sea story the week after that. Enjoy!

Smooth roads and tailwinds,


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