NSA releases USS Liberty intel
July 17, 2003 12:59 PM   Subscribe

On June 8, 1967, Israel attacked the USS Liberty, killing 34 American citizens. Was it a tragic error or was it coldblooded attack on an ally?

The National Security Agency has recently released redacted transcripts and recordings of intercepted Israeli communications just after the attack. Fascinating reading, but will it clear up the controversy?
posted by ptermit (12 comments total)
That's some redacting. And PDFs of hardcopies? Interesting.

"They request that you make another pass and check once again whether it is really an American flag."
posted by pzarquon at 1:11 PM on July 17, 2003

Michael Oren's book Six Days Of War has a good chapter on the incident. His conclusion is that the conspiracy theories don't add up.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 1:31 PM on July 17, 2003

We must attack Iraq Iran Israel.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:21 PM on July 17, 2003

This information seems to suggest that confusion was the order of the day, with some information about the nationality of the Liberty, and other information going on at the same time. It seems to contradict some of the official Israeli story (such as the lack of US flag visible), but it actually re-inforces that it was an accident.

My guess is that both the Israelis and the Americans tried to add further cover to what was a mistake-- it is this deception that has aroused the conspiracy theorists and kept this issue alive. If the US and Israel had been more upfront about what happened from the beginning, this story would probably be dead by now.
posted by cell divide at 2:34 PM on July 17, 2003

Last time I read about this, a website run by victims and families clamoring for a Congressional investigation--I mean, conspiracy theorists--pointed out that the USS Liberty is a type of ship that no Egyptian (i.e. enemy) ships resembled. For example, the suspected Egyptian ship has two masts, while the Liberty has three and a more prominent bow. (I hope that's the bow.)

When the US pilots killed Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, there was a trial. The US pilots got off, but there was still an inquiry performed and the victims were allowed to watch the trial. Why has the USS Liberty incident been treated so differently?
posted by win_k at 4:16 PM on July 17, 2003


Oren's book is excellent. but the Liberty pages are not its strongest part.
there's still plenty to explain, and he can't possibly blame the whole tragedy on the fog of war like he does, more or less
posted by matteo at 4:25 PM on July 17, 2003

it appears to me that they make it as hard as possible to read...the pdf version is absolutly horrible as far as the quality of scanning/editing job goes, and .wav audio files take way longer to download than mp3 files....
posted by bureaustyle at 5:14 PM on July 17, 2003

Who says the Liberty attack was deliberate?

Admiral Isaac C. Kidd, President of the Navy Court of Inquiry: According to Kidd's legal counsel, Captain Ward Boston, USN, Kidd discussed with him his belief that the attackers were aware they were attacking an American ship. The Court ruled otherwise because they were so directed by Washington. (Navy Times, 6/26/2002)

Captain Ward Boston, legal counsel to the Navy Court of Inquiry. I feel the Israelis knew what they were doing. They knew they were shooting at a U.S. Navy ship. (Navy Times, 6/26/2002)

George Christian, Press Secretary to President Lyndon Johnson. No one in the White House believed that the attack was an accident. Letter to James Ennes, 1978.

Dean Rusk, US Secretary of State. Accidents don't occur through repeated attacks by surface vessels and aircraft. It obviously was a decision made pretty high up on the Israeli side, because it involved combined forces. The ship was flying an American flag. My judgment was that somewhere along the line some fairly senior official gave the go ahead. I personally did not accept the Israeli explanation. (Recorded interview, www.ussliberty.org)

Rear Admiral (then captain) Merlin Staring, Staff Legal Office for Commander in Chief US Naval Forces Europe and later Chief Judge Advocate General of the Navy. After reviewing the Court of Inquiry, he concluded that the evidence did not support the findings that the attack was an accident and declined to recommend that his Commander sign and forward it to Washington. (Statement to Navy Times, 3 June 2002 and elsewhere)

Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, former Chief of Naval Operations and former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff. I have never believed that the attack on the USS Liberty was a case of mistaken identity. That is ridiculous. Israel knew perfectly well that the ship was America. (Americans for Middle East Understanding, June 8, 1997)

Richard Helms, former director, Central Intelligence Agency. It was no accident. (Navy Times, 6/26/2002) Asked to say more, Helms remarked that he did not want to spend the rest of his life testifying in court about the attack. (A Look Over My Shoulder by Richard Helms)

Rufus Taylor, Admiral, Deputy CIA director, told Helms, To me, the picture thus far presents the distinct possibility that the Israelis knew that Liberty might be their target and attacked anyway. (A Look Over My Shoulder by Richard Helms)

John Morrison, Major General, US Air Force, Deputy Chief NSA Operations during the attack and later Chief of NSA Operations. ....did not buy the Israeli ‘mistake' explanations either. Nobody believes that explanation. When informed by author Bamford of gruesome war crime (killing of large numbers of POWs) at nearby El Arish, Morrison saw the connection. That would be enough, he said. They wouldn't want us in on that. You've got the motive. What a hell of a thing to do. (Body of Secrets by James Bamford, p233).

Oliver Kirby, former deputy director of operations/production, National Security Agency. I can tell you for an absolute certainty that they knew they were attacking an American ship. Kirby participated in NSA's investigation of the attack and reviewed translations of intercepted communications between pilots and their headquarters which he reports show conclusively that they knew their target was an American ship. Kirby is considered the Godfather of the USS Liberty and USS Pueblo intercept programs. (Telephone interviews with James Ennes and David Walsh for Friendless Fire, Proceedings, June 2003)

William Odom, former director, National Security Agency, reported that on the strength of intercept transcripts of pilots conversation during the attack, the question of the attack's deliberateness just wasn't a disputed issue within the agency. (Interview with David Walsh on March 3, 2003, reported in Naval Institute Proceedings, June, 2003)

Bobby Ray Inman, Admiral, USN, Director National Security Agency 1977-1981. Inman said he flatly rejected the Cristol thesis that the attack was an accident. It is just exceedingly difficult to believe that [USS Liberty] was not correctly identified based on his talks with NSA seniors at the time having direct knowledge of intercepted communications. No NSA official could be found who dissented from the "deliberate" conclusion. (Proceedings, June, 2003)

Captain William L. McGonagle, Commanding Officer, USS Liberty. USS Liberty is the only US Navy ship attacked by a foreign nation, involving large loss of life...that has never been accorded a full Congressional hearing.

George Ball, former under secretary of state. The Liberty's presence and function were well known to Israel's leaders. ...Israel's leaders concluded that nothing they might do would offend the Americans to the point of reprisal. If American leaders did not have the courage to punish Israel for the blatant murder of American citizens, it seemed clear that their American friends would let them get away with almost anything. (The Passionate Attachment: America's Involvement with Israel, pages 57-58.

Clark Clifford, Secretary of Defense under Lyndon Johnson. Inconceivable that it was an accident -- 3 strafing passes, 3 torpedo boats. Set forth facts. Punish Israelis responsible. (Minutes of NSC Special Committee Meeting, 9 June 1967)

Dr. Louis Tordella, former deputy director, National Security Agency. Believed that the attack was deliberate and that the Israeli government attempted to cover it up. Tordella expressed that view to authors James Ennes and James Bamford and to Congressman George Mahon (D-Texas), and in an internal memorandum for the record. He noted a nice whitewash in the margin of the official Israeli excuse for the attack. (A nice whitewash remark was noted in NSA Gerhard report 1982)

Norman Finkelstein, PhD, author, professor of political science, DePaul University. (In a review of Six Days of War by Michael Oren.) Oren...frequently descends to vulgar propaganda. Deeming the Israeli combined air and naval assault on the USS Liberty ...an accident,' Oren rehashes official Israeli tales and embellishes them with his own whoppers. (Journal of Palestine Studies, Spring, 2003, p85)

Marshal Carter, former director, National Security Agency, in a telephone interview with James Ennes, described the attack as clearly deliberate. Lucius Battle, former presidential advisor, as keynote speaker for 1982 USS Liberty reunion described attack as clearly deliberate.

FBI Officials. FBI officials counter that ‘friendly' spying can be as damaging as spying for enemies, they note, as in 1967 when Israeli jets deliberately attacked the electronic intelligence- gathering ship USS Liberty.... (Washington Times, November 26, 1998)

James Akins, former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia. How much better if Congress would....call to account those who were involved in spreading lies about the tragedy. (Special Report, The Israeli Attack on the USS Liberty, June 8, 1967, The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December, 1999)

Victor Ostrovsky, author and former Mossad officer. The attack was deliberate and not an accident. (Telephone conversation with Memo to File, former Congressman Pete McCloskey, October 10, 1991, and several conversations with James Ennes.)

Dwight Porter, former US Ambassador to Lebanon, who saw transcripts of Israeli communications during the attack. It's an American ship! the pilot of an Israeli Mirage fighter-bomber radioed Tel Aviv as he sighted the USS Liberty on June 8, 1967. Israeli headquarters ordered the pilot to carry out his mission, he reports. (Syndicated column Remembering the Liberty by Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, November 6, 1991.)

Sergeev Oleg Korneevitch, retired Colonel, Soviet GRU. The historical event which took place in June 1967 can hardly be called enigmatic and mysterious. ...It is difficult to understand that the Israelis could not identity the USS Liberty, since the ship had a unique antenna and equipment and especially since the Israelis had identified the ship with long term observation. (Translated from a taped interview.)

Walter L. Jacobsen, Lieutenant Commander, US Navy. The government of Israel intentionally attacked the ship. ...The attack was not legally justified. ...(there were) two further violations of international law...the use of unmarked military aircraft (and)...the wanton destruction of life rafts. (Naval Law Review, Vol 36, Winter 1986)

Stephen Green, author. He indicates that the attack was not an accident. (Antelope Valley Press, April 5, 1984)

Paul Findley, author and former Member of Congress 1961-1983. Certain facts are clear. The attack was no accident. The Liberty was assaulted in broad daylight by Israeli forces who knew the ship's identity. ...The public, however, was kept in the dark. Even before the American public learned of the attack, U.S. government officials began to promote an account satisfactory to Israel. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee worked through Congressmen to keep the story under control. The President of the United States, Lyndon B. Johnson, ordered and led a cover-up so thorough that years after he left office the episode is still largely unknown.... (They Dare to Speak Out, by Paul Findley, 1985, page 166)

William F. Buckley, journalist and publisher. Is the Liberty episode being erased from history. So it would seem...What has happened to our prying journalistic corps and our editors, normally so indignant of attempted suppression of the news?...We believe that a joint select committee of Congress should investigate the strange case of the USS Liberty... (National Review, June 27, 1967)

Lloyd M. "Pete" Bucher, US Navy, Commanding Officer USS Pueblo when captured by North Korea in January 1968. The attack on the USS Liberty was planned and there is and was a cover-up. If the very valuable lessons of the Liberty were known, the capture of the USS Pueblo could not have happened . (Telephone conversations with James Ennes and Sepember 6, 2002, with Richard Schmucker)

Donald Neff, author. Nearly everyone who is not affiliated with Israel...and who has seriously looked into the attack believes that it was deliberate. ...The bare facts of the attack rule out any other conclusion. (Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August, 2002, p29)

Adlai E. Stevenson, former United States Senator. In 1980, Senator Stevenson announced his interest in holding Congressional hearings on the attack. He pointed out that the survivors have been consistent in their accounts of what happened and that the attack was, in his word, premeditated. (William J. Small, United Press International, September 28, 1980)

Ralph Hoppe, Colonel, US Army, retired. Hoppe reports that dozens of intelligence reports soon after the attack described the attack as deliberate including a consensus report which summarized the collective view of the US intelligence community. Soon orders came from Washington to collect and destroy all such reports. Nothing more in official channels described the attack as deliberate. (Aerotech News and Review, March 2, 2001, by John Borne, PhD, and conversations with James Ennes)

Andrew and Leslie Cockburn, authors. It is clear that the Israelis knew that they were attacking a vessel of the US Navy, especially as it was flying a large Stars and Stripes at the time. The fact that they spent six hours reconnoitering and executing the attack, which included machine-gunning the lifeboats, attest to the deadly intent of the operation. (Dangerous Liaison, the Inside Story of the US-Israeli Covert Relationship, by Andrew and Leslie Cockburn, p152.)

Professor Hayden Peake, author, former CIA officer and member, Association of Former Intelligence Officers. ...A. Jay Cristol's virtual minority of one assessment is not supported by the detailed non-technical common sense evidence to the contrary in Body of Secrets" (by James Bamford). There is nothing surprising in Bamford's conclusion that the attack was deliberate. Liberty survivors have made that case convincingly for years. (The Intelligencer, Vol. 12, No.1, Summer 2001)

Ahron Bregman, PhD, author. Book reviews transcripts of communications during the attack which establish that the attack was deliberate. (Israel's Wars, 1947-1993, by Ahron Bregman)

USS Liberty Survivors. Survivors of the attack are unanimous in their conviction that the attack was deliberate. Among other things, their belief is based upon the intense pre-attack reconnaissance, the fact that the firing continued from close range long after the attackers examined the ship and its markings from a few feet away, and because the Israeli version of events as reported to the United States is grossly untrue.

Carl Salans, State Department Legal Advisor and author of highly critical detailed analysis of the Israeli excuse. In telephone interview from his home in France, Mr. Salans described the attack as deliberate.

Walter Deeley, NSA department head. Conducted still-classified investigation of the attack. Remarked later in telephone interview that he regards the attack as deliberate.

Charles Tiffany, Richard Block and Ron Gotcher are among several Air Force intelligence analysts who have come forward to report that they saw real-time transcripts of communications from the attacking forces which show clearly that they were aware they were attacking an American ship. Others who saw these transcripts include Dwight Porter and Oliver Kirby, mentioned above, and several top offiicials of the American intelligence community.

John Borne, PhD, adjunct professor of history, NY University. Published doctoral thesis establishing that the attack was deliberate.

John Stenbit, Assistant Secretary of Defense for C3I. The Israeli's told us 24 hours before that ...if we didn't move it, they would sink it. Unfortunately, the ship was not moved, and by the time the message arrived the ship was taking on water. (AFEI/NDAI Conference for Net Centric Operations, Wednesday, April 16, 2003)

posted by y2karl at 7:47 PM on July 17, 2003

Yeesh, y2karl. Normally I wholeheartedly support your long posts because they are intelligent and informative, and I guess I do again in this case... but, damn that was long.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:17 PM on July 17, 2003

win_k: There have been a number of investigations into the USS Liberty. 10 from the US and 3 from the Israelis - Investigations of the Liberty

y2karl:USS Liberty Survivors. Survivors of the attack are unanimous in their conviction that the attack was deliberate...

No they're not. A number of USS Liberty crewmen are not members of the Veterans of the USS Liberty Association (which is one of the main groups cliaming the attack was deliberate). More specifically, Marvin Nowicki a translator aboard the ship (who was listening to the Israeli radio transmissions and would know if they knew it was American before hand) has publicly stated many times the attack was accidental.
"Our intercepts showed the attack to be an accident on the part of the Israelis." Nowicki explains that the torpedo boats reported sighting the flag after the action had begun and stopped firing immediately. He later reiterated this conviction in a letter to The Wall Street Journal, affirming that "the aircraft and MTBs [Motor Torpedo Boats] prosecuted the Liberty until their operators had an opportunity to get close-in and see the flag, hence the references to the flag." - Published in The New Republic July 18, 2001

As for the rest of the quotes they're all trading dangerously close to appeals to authority. Most of the quotes claiming that "communications from the attacking forces which show clearly that they were aware they were attacking an American ship" and such like is pretty much contradictory to the evidence now released.

After the Liberty was bombed by both the Israel Air Force and the Israel Navy, two helicopter pilots were summoned from their base to assess the damage and evaluate the possibility of rescuing the surviving crew members. An American spy plane, which had been sent to the area as soon as the NSA learned of the attack, recorded their conversations, which took place between 2:30 and 3:37 P.M. on June 8, the third day of the war.

The spy plane also recorded the orders radioed to the pilots by their supervisor at Hatzor Base, which instructed them to search for Egyptian survivors from the "Egyptian warship" that had just been bombed - thus supporting Israel's claim that it had believed the ship was Egyptian when it ordered it attacked. "Pay attention. The ship is now identified as Egyptian," the pilots were told.

Nine minutes later, Hatzor informed the pilots that it was not an Egyptian warship, but an Egyptian cargo ship. Only at 3:07 were the pilots first informed that the ship might not have been Egyptian at all: Hatzor told them that if they found Arabic-speaking survivors, they should be taken to El-Arish, but if they found English-speaking survivors, they should be taken to Lod. "Clarify by the first man that you bring up, what nationality he is, and report to me immediately," the supervisor instructed, according to the transcript. "It's important to know."

Then, at 3:12, one of the pilots informed Hatzor that he saw an American flag flying over the wounded ship. He was asked to investigate and determine whether it was really an American ship.
- Ha'Aretz Article on the new information.

Also look at Recordings Back Israel Claim on Spy Ship.
posted by PenDevil at 1:45 AM on July 18, 2003

Correction: Marvin Nowicki was not aboard the ship he was in a NSA/Navy plane listening to the transmissions at the time of the attack.
posted by PenDevil at 1:54 AM on July 18, 2003

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