Amateur Spy

I did a lot of things during my years in the military. One of them was collecting Intelligence.

The US Navy Office of Naval Intelligence had a standardized program for having ships submit items that might have some intelligence value. During one tour of duty with the US Sixth Fleet in the Mediterranean I ran across several items that seemed to meet the criteria and I actually did submit them. Each ships had a packet of submission numbers for making such reports. Among other things, each ship was allocated a block of 5 report numbers for making submissions. I was serving as Operations officer aboard a fleet replenishment oil tanker at the time. For most ships of that type, 5 report numbers were about 5 more than they would ever use during the entire year.

In my case, I had relatively new 35mm camera, and I found it useful for making intelligence reports. This was during the early 1970s. The Russians were very afraid of American aircraft carriers having the potential to launch nuclear attacks. They assigned their own intelligence gathering ships to tag along behind American forces when the latter were in the Eastern Mediterranean. I used my camera to take pictures of a couple of these Russian ships. One was an escort frigate of the type that NATO called the RIGA class. What I found unusual about this ship was her obvious unkempt appearance. The paint on her hull was badly worn away and there were large patches where rust was leaking through. This was in marked contrast to the spic and span sharpness of most of the Russian ships that trailed American naval vessels in the Eastern Mediterranean. I snapped a bunch of photos of this particular ships and sent in an intelligence report.

When we visited the NATO fuel depot at Soudha Bay, Crete, I saw several Greek Navy harbor craft. This included tug boats, harbor oilers, and harbor fresh water tankers. When I looked them up in my current edition of data about friendly forces I did not find them. Out came the camera, and I snapped another series of photos for another report. a few weeks later we were in Spain where we berthed alongside the breakwater at the harbor entrance. I noticed that when the pilot brought us in to our mooring location the depth of water indicated on our chart was dangerously close to the draft of my ship. I mentioned this to the pilot, and he told me there was no problem. The area had been dredged to a safer depth. I commandeered one of the ships boats and took a series of soundings along the breakwater, carefully noting the exact position and time of day for each measurement. Yes, you must have guessed. This, too, became an intelligence report.

On our next trip East past the heel of the Italian boot, we passed a ship with a deck cargo of what was obviously military aircraft in protective cocoons. The ship was operating under a Panamanian flag, headed east, and her name did not appear in my listings of civilian ships. I assumed that she was carrying a load of American Skyhawk bombers destined for Israel and that her name and registration had been altered as a protective camouflage measure. But assumptions aren’t facts. Once again I put my camera to work and made another intelligence report.

In the end, I had to request an additional block of reporting numbers. As far as I know, no other replenishment ship in the Sixth Fleet made even one report during their normal 6-8 month cruise in the “Med” that year. But I was not called in and given a double zero identification number with a license to kill. That sort of thing remains in the domain of the James Bond fictional adventures.

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