America’s Spy Boss Gets Suckered By Fictional Lighthouse

Every now and then a friend sends me an email along the lines of “Have you heard this great true storty about the American aircraft carrier and the Canadian lighthouse? It’s from a real recording…”

It is true ships do occasionally run into lighthouses, and it was an American ship, the Dole-America, that ran into the Nab Tower in the Solent in 1999, so it’s sort of possible-ish, but there is no recording and the story doesn’t really hold together and Urban Legend sight Snopes has more to say about it.

What differentiates this version is that America’s head of intelligence assures us a) that it’s true and b) there are actual recordings. Here’s part of the Boston Sun report on a talk at at The Johns Hopkins University’s Foreign Affairs Symposium, emphasis mine:

DNI Mike McConnell: ‘America hates spies’

by Mark Silva

Mike McConnell, director of national intelligence and veteran of the eavesdropping business, opens with a joke from his days behind the cloak.

Now this is… true,” the DNI says. “I was in the signals intelligence business where you listen to the people talk and so on. This is true. It’s an actual recording.

“There’s a party talking to a ship at sea that says, “Ship at sea, please divert your course 15 degrees to the south to avoid a collision.”

“Now the response was, “Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the north to avoid a collision.”

“The first party says, “Sorry, sir, but you will have to divert your course 15 degrees to the south to avoid a collision.”

“The answering party says, “This is the captain of a United States naval ship. I say again, divert your course.”

“The first party says, “Pardon me sir, you must divert your course.”

“Now the American ship says, “This is an American aircraft carrier, the second largest ship in the United States fleet. We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers, numerous support vessels. I demand that you change your course 15 degrees north. I say again, that is 1-5 degrees north or counter-measures will be taken. Do you understand?”

“The response was, “Dear Captain, the next move is your call. This is a Canadian lighthouse.”

“The point of my story is, always know who you’re talking to,” McConnell said”

Or may there really is a recording of this exchange, being looked after by Elvis in the same place they’re keeping the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.


5 Responses to America’s Spy Boss Gets Suckered By Fictional Lighthouse

  1. Gary Wilson says:

    I think you’tre the one being suckered.

    Lighten up! The guy was telling a joke as an introduction to a speech! You’ve never heard a joke that began with the “This is a true story” line? The part about “This is second largest ship in the United States fleet”, gives it away as a pure joke as that is not part of any radio procedure.

  2. Bob Couttie says:

    Ah, so when the US Director Of National Intelligence assures us something is true, twice, and that he has specialised knowledge regarding it, he’s really only joking. Interesting concept.

    True, he used an amusing anecdote to make a point – the real point is to ensure the integrity of your navigational data, as important to a DNI as a seafarer, which is why it was posted.

    I see nothing to suggest that the speaker was any different from other thousands who have circulated the tale over the years believing in its truth.

    The lesson is: cross check your data with other sources and be prepared at all times to question your own assumptions.

    • Michael Hawkins says:

      I agree with your correspondent. McConnell was telling a joke and prefaced it with the sucker line “This is true”. Had you been there and heard it, unless one was a complete moron, would have been able to tell from his voice inflection, his facial expression and hand gestures that he was clearly telling a joke to make a point.

      I agree with the correspondent. You have been suckered. It would seem that the media who spread this canard about McConnell being serious allowed their political agenda to interfere with plain common sense or objectivity (the last sentence of Silva’s column being a clue). I think you made a very good point in the last sentence of your reply.

      • Bob Couttie says:

        Hmm, so when the CIA says “This is true” it actually means “This is just a joke”. As in “Iraq has weapons of mass destruction”. McConnell very clearly did believe the story was true, as many people do. It remains an example of checking source data.

  3. Michael Hawkins says:

    I was there. That’s a good source I would say. I had a chance to observe his demeanor as he made the statement and it was quite clear that he was introducing a joke.

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