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Psycho USS Liberty Conspiratorial Slanders

Most conspiracies hang together by a belabored psycho-social paranoid analysis. The conspiracy theory that Israel's attack on the USS Liberty in 1967 was "intentional" is a slanderous fabrication.

There are always those who will believe these conspiracy theories because they want to, because they have prejudices which make them vulnerable to these false allegations and no amount of logic or denial will ever convince them otherwise. This essay is not for them.

This lie about Israel being intentionaly culpable for the death of Americans is nothing less than a continued slander of a whole people.

The U.S. Liberty was on an intelligence gathering mission and James Ennis, who wrote the book that damned Israel for the attack was also a crypto officer on the U.S.S. Liberty. That doesn't however, place him in a better position to know what was _intended_ by the Israelis. That kind of intelligence was not available electronicly, but only through reconstructing the events that preceeded the attack. And, members of the crew who were quoted in Ennis' book had their perceptions reinforced by their position as players in this tragic drama. Their positions were emotional and reactionary.

The attack on the USS Liberty was tragic, but the Liberty was mistakenly identified as an Egyptian supply vessel. The Liberty and the El-Quesir resembled each other. They had a similar deck line. the bridge structure was in mid-ship for both of them. A single smokestack was in mid-ship. The Liberty's antennae on the aft and fore decks resembled El-Quseir's masts. The antennae on the Liberty's fore deck also resembled a gun.

There are three parts here with sufficient details to refute any false claims that the attack on the USS Liberty was malicious. The attack was the unintended result of the heat of battle and a tragic mistake.

There is first of all here, a description of the event as published in "The Boats of Cherbourg" (pg 68-69) 1988, by Abraham Rabinovich, a senior feature writer for the Jerusalem Post, and a foreign correspondent. There are then several other quotes which follow this one. Then there is my evaluation and following that are several addendums, which include other analysis and some recent disclosures.

"Unknown to the Israelis, the vessel had sailed into the war zone on June 8, the fourth day of the war, to monitor battlefield communications. On that day, naval headquarters in Haifa ordered three torpedo boats to sail from Ashdod harbor to check reports that El Arish, captured by the army three days before was being shelled from the sea. The explosions and smoke in El Arish had in fact been caused by an Egyptian ammunition dump that detonated. However, as the torpedo boats approached the area, their radar picked up a target to the west, moving away from El Arish. Presuming it to be an Egyptian warship, naval headquarters called for an air strike to slow up the seemingly fleeing vessel."

"Two Mirages were directed to the area, and the lead pilot reported 'seeing no flag'. The ship had two guns on the forecastle and was clearly not Israeli. Liberty crewmen would firmly maintain afterward that the American flag was being flown, but the Mirage pilot's report was taken at navy headquarters as confirmation that the ship was an Egyptian vessel trying to reach Port Said. Ordered to attack, the planes set the vessel afire with strafing runs. The smoke thickened when another plane dispatched to the scene dropped a napalm bomb on the Liberty's deck."

From an article in The Jerusalem Report (November 1991), by Hirsh Goodman, "Yes, there was doubt as to the identify of the ship. One of the pilots identified it as a Russian vessel during the course of the attack, bringing the cabinet into emergency session. This fear was quickly dispelled. And yes, there still remains controversy about whether or not there was an American flag visible at the time of the attack. But while some mystery remains, the truth is now basically known: The incident was a tragic mistake marked by serious errors of judgement on both sides, complicated by the fog and urgency of war and compounded by an almost childish rivalry between the air force and the navy as to who would grab the prize: sinking what was genuinely thought to be an Egyptian ship shelling Israeli forces at El Arish from the sea."

Goodman goes on to write: "Mistakes are not uncommon in war. The day before the Liberty was attacked, Israeli warplanes bombed and strafed an Israeli armored column near Jenin in the West Bank. During the Lebanese war, in June 1982, over 20 Israeli servicemen were killed when a Phantom jet pilot mistakenly identified Israeli tanks as Syrian. In May 1987, in the Gulf, the USS Stark was accidentally hit by Iraqi warplanes, killing 37 servicemen. An Iranian civilian airliner was shot down by an over-anxious American battleship crew in May 1988, killing all 290 passengers on board. So it was with the Liberty, an American spy ship, that should not have been where it was, when it was."

Goodman says, "there are many open questions: Why a message from the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS message 072230Z) directing the ship to remain at least 20 miles off the Egyptian coast was delayed for 14 hours and why, when it was finally transmitted, it was sent in error to the Naval Communication Center in the Philippines. Why a second crucial message from the Joint Chiefs drafted at 2.00 a.m. on the morning of June 8, exactly 12 hours before the ship was attacked, ordering the Liberty to steam at least 100 miles from the coast was lost as well." He says had the message (080917) "been received, there would have been no Liberty incident."

James M. Ennes, Jr, was the crypto specialist and Deck Officer of the USS Liberty wrote an article for Electronics Defense Magazine in 1981. The title of his article was: " Israeli Attack on U.S. Ship Reveals Failure of C3" in which he says: The United States made several serious, almost frantic attempts to move the ship. As the Liberty approached Gaza, the Joint Chiefs of Staff first sent a priority message ordering the ship to move 20 miles from the coast; the message was swamped by higher precedence traffic and was not processed until long after the crisis had ended. Hours later, a JCS. duty officer phoned naval headquarters in London to relay an urgent JCS order to move the ship 100 miles from the coast; the telephone call was ignored, and Liberty's copy of the confirming message was misrouted to the Philipines before being returned to the Pentagon, where it was again misrouted, this time to Fort Meade in Maryland, where it was lost." By the way, I have also been a crypto specialist at JCS (early 60s) and I'm familiar with their procedures and on the job difficulties - which occasionally result in errors and mistakes.

In that article he goes on to say, "Eventually, at least six critical messages were lost, delayed, or otherwise mishandled. Any one of those messages might have saved Liberty. None reached the ship."

Rabinovich writes: "The son of Admiral Erell, Udi was an ensign aboard one of the torpedo boats. He could see the smoke from a long distance as the boats raced at top speed toward the scene. As the vessel came into view, Erell's skipper scanned an identification book containing pictures of the ships in the Arab fleets and consulted with the commanders on the other boats. The squadron commander concluded that the ship was the Egyptian supply vessel el Quseir. Ensign Erell, looking over his skipper's shoulder at the picture and glancing up at the burning vessel, fully agreed, even though he would later recall that the mast in the picture was not positioned identically with the mast of the target vessel...."

"Nevertheless, the squadron commander sought to confirm the vessel's identity before attacking. When the Israeli signalman flashed the message "What ship?" Udi Erell saw the response flickering through the smoke four miles away---"AAA", the signal meaning "Identify yourself first." The same signal had been flashed, the Israelis were aware, by the Egyuptian destroyer challenged off Haifa during the Sinai Campaign in 1956.

Americans on the bridge of the Liberty would later state that the signals flashed were the ship's name and its international call sign, not what the Israelis believed they saw. Even with binoculars, Erell could make out *no flag*. The sqaudron commander ordered his boats to commence torpedo attacks. The vessels peeled off to make their runs and fired five torpedos. Only one hit home. The boats raked the burning ship, now dead in the water, with their guns."

"Fire was halted when one of the officers reported seeing the identification markings CTR-5 on the ship's hull, markings that were not those of an Arab vessel. Notified of this, Haifa ordered the sqaudron commander to pick up survivors and definitely establish the ship's identity......Drawing closer to the burning vessel, they were able to make out a flag. It was not opened by a breeze and could not immediately be identified, but it was clearly not Egyptian...."

"Udi saw a splash of red on the flag and heard a report being sent back to Haifa that the vessel might be Russian. The report caused shock and consternation when passed on to General Staff headquarters. The shock was not abated when the torpedo-spadron commander reported half an hour later that he had identified the vessel as American."

Mitchell G. Bard and Joel Himelbarb in "Myths and Facts: A Concise Record of the Arab-Israeli Conflict" write: "None of Israel's accusers has been able to explain adequately why Israel would have deliberately attacked an American ship. Confusion in a long line of communications, which occurred in a tense atmosphere on both the American and Israeli sides (a message from the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the ship to remain at least 20 miles off the Egyptian coast never arrived) is a more probable explanation." [Unless you wish to accept one of the conspiracy theories that suggests that Israel attacked the Liberty because the U.S. was passing strategic intelligence information to the Arabs. Some actually believe that, but conspiracists will grab at anything to make their argument seem more credible.]

They write: "Accidents caused by "friendly fire" are not uncommon in wartime. In 1988, the U.S. Navy mistakenly downed an Iranian passenger plane, killing 290 civilians. During the Gulf War, 35 of the 148 Americans who died in battle were killed by "friendly fire." In fact, only the day before the Liberty was attacked, Israeli pilots accidentally bombed one of their own armored columns south of Jenin on the West Bank." As a former high-ranking Israeli naval officer, Shlomo Erell, told the Associated Press (June 5, 1977): "No one would ever have dreamt that an American ship would be there. Even the United States didn't know where its ship was. We were advised by the proper authorities that there was no American ship within 100 miles."

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara told Congress on July 26, 1967: "It was the conclusion of the investigatory body, headed by an admiral of the navy in whom we have great confidence, that the attack was not intentional."

USS Liberty Slanders (2)

Israel did of course apologize for the tragedy
and paid millions of dollars in reparations
to the United States and to the families of the victims.

Several claims have been made after Rowland Evans and Robert Novak wrote that there was a key witness in Dwight Porter, the U.S. ambassador to Beirut in June of "67", who according to Evans and Novak saw a transcript of a conversation, intercepted by his embassy, in which an Israeli pilot told his controller that the Liberty was an American vessel and received orders to attack. This is a fabrication. The National Security Agency tapes just released (in 2003) also confirm that the pilot did not identify the ship.

Evans and Novak wrote that Porter admitted that he destroyed the intercept immediately after he read it. The truth is it could hardly have been a transcript of a radio conversation intercepted by the embassy in Beirut, because the pilots used short range [UHF] ultra-high frequencies. These signals are only good for short distances and could NOT have been intercepted in the Lebanese capital, which was 205 miles away but intercepts would be possible at closer range or from spy planes - and NSA did have intercepts which were recorded by U.S. spy planes. The recording clearly shows that the pilots were confused and did not identify the ship as American. In any case Porter's recollection which was different from the actual tape and the technical impossibility of interception over 200 miles away completely discredited the so-called Evans and Novak witness.

The new evidence released under the "Freedom of Information Act" were from taped intercepts by NSA of conversations held from two Israeli Air Force helicopter pilots who were hovering over the Liberty as it was sinking, which confirms Israel's claim that the sinking of the ship, which killed 34 American servicemen and wounded 171, was a tragic error. "An American spy plane, which had been sent to the area as soon as the NSA learned of the attack, recorded their conversations..." (Nathan Guttman, Haaretz Correspondent)

Evans and Novak also claimed a second witness. Ennes has also eluded to that witness in some correspondance he has had with me. The witness is a "Major" Seth Mintz, the so-called "mystery man," the inside witness in the Israeli War Room. It turns out that the major wasn't a major at all, but a sargeant, who was a truck driver in the Israeli army, who was unlikely to have ever been in the War Room at all. He simply didn't have a "need-to-know" or occupational speciality which would require it his presense. When queried by Evans and Novak, Mintz told them that General Danny Matt brought him into the War Room. This is another invention for the purpose of framing the Israelis. Danny Matt wasn't a General at all. Matt was a colonel who wasn't even there. He who commanded paratroopers in the Rafah sector at the time of the attack so that story doesn't hold up either. And Mintz was an American-born Israeli who moved to Maine. He kept changing his story. When proven wrong, his story changed and he said it was now his "friend and mentor" General Benni Matti, who was with him at the time of the incident in the War Room. However, there never has been anyone by that name in the Israeli army.

After the so-called scoop by Evans and Novak (who always finds every excuse to try to nail the Israelis - which he has never done successfully), Mintz told reporters that what he said was "distorted into a lie" but it turns out that Mintz was less than credible with other stories. Rex Bloomstein, a British award-winning film maker spent months researching the Liberty and discarded his interview with Mintz because of all the discrepancies and said the man "was less than convincing." It appears that Mintz was nothing less than a glory hound who was looking for some kind of recognition. Whatever motivates someone like this is not within the purview of this article to make that kind of analysis.

"Errors and No Facts"

It is sufficient to say that Evans and Novak made many other material mistakes in their "scoop". They claimed missiles were used, and that this was the worst disaster in military history. Hardly, but it is not for nothing that Evans and Novak have often been referred to as "Errors and No Facts" by other investigative journalists.

None of those claiming Israel's complicity in a conspiracy to murder Americans has been meticulous in their observance of truth and accuracy. It must be emphasized also that if the intent of the Israeli military was to destroy the Liberty, then the aircraft would have been appropriately armed with anti-ship ordnance. It wasn't. If it had been, there would not have been anything left of the USS Liberty.

A major problem with Ennes and all the other excuses and attempts at shifting blame for the attack on the Liberty from the US Navy to the the IDF is a lack of accountability for the U.S "spy" ship being there in the first place.

Deniability Without Accountability

Ennes wants to continue to play the victim and anyone who suggests the Liberty may have been at fault for being in the wrong place at the wrong time is in his eyes analogous to being a rapist and a person who victimizes the victims. The circumstances were such that the Liberty was in the middle of a war and running contrary to orders, which they claim they never received. They were victims because they got caught up in something they should have been trained for and they continued to provoke hostilities when they fired on Israeli torpedo boats.

And how many years did it take
for the U.S. to finally release the NSA tapes
exonerating the Israelis?

The Liberty fiasco wasn't the first nor the last U.S. military screw-up. There been ample examples of deniability without accountability. The Liberty and the Navy needed their scapegoat and it was logical for them to blame the Israelis, rather than accept blame themselves for the appearance of being a hostile ship in a war zone...and faulting those who put them there.. or, those responsible for the communication's problems. Seems ironic that a communications vessel should have problems with their communications?

The military's failure to fix blame for Air Force F-15 pilots shooting down Army Black Hawk helicopters, plunging 26 people to fiery deaths in Iraq, is an example of military "deniability."

The case made for SOG forces in Laos killing defectors may be another instance of U.S. _coverup_ and military "deniability?." In the past quarter-century alone, there have been at least four _monstrous_ foul-ups, all of which cost lives. Yet no one in our military has been blamed for any of them. Tut-tut letters in someone's service record doesn't fix blame.

There are too many "friendly fire" incidents and military mistakes to list all of them here. We know they're way too numerous. We know when it happens to Israel and there are American victims it becomes a mission to blame the Israelis.

Recall that a sailor was shot to death and the nation was disgraced in 1968, when North Korea captured the spy ship USS Pueblo and its 83-man Navy crew. Recall that 241 Marines and sailors were killed in 1983 when a lone terrorist drove through their lines at the Beirut International Airport and detonated his load of explosives. Recall that the USS Vincennes mistakeningly shot down an Iranian civilian airliner in 1988, killing 290 civilians and inspiring the sabotage of Pan American Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing another 270 people. Recall when two F-15 fighter planes shot down in broad daylight two Army Black Hawks in the mistaken belief they were Soviet Hind helicopters, which would have posed no great threat to the highly maneuverable F-15s. What happened? Who was blamed? Where was the accountability? The Air Force ended up putting only one officer in the dock, Air Force Capt. James Wang, and he was acquitted.

The families of those victims are suffering a lack of 'accountability' by the Air Force, just as the families of the victims of the Liberty are suffering the lack of accountability by the U.S. Navy.

The difficulty in fixing blame is that everyone is to some extent responsible; therefore no one person could fairly be held responsible. So everybody gets off. But, there appeared to be a need for a patsy and with the Liberty, it is Israel who became the scapegoat.

James Ennes accuses Rabin of being a "liar." If Rabin was a liar, so is everyone else who has ever written about Rabin's breakdown. But, he says it is all Israeli propaganda...and we should listen to his "propaganda" and whatever "white paper" was issued by a congressional committee doing an investigation for an incident for which they had to come up with "deniability."

The revisionists blame the U.S.S. Liberty and the war on Israeli propaganda that. It doesn't matter to the anti-Zionists that Israel was threatened with annihilation. Never the mind that for Israel and the Jews, the wars against the Jewish state has always been a matter of life and death. Never mind the threat was to bring about an annulment of Israel's existence and there have been repeated threats and actions against Israel from across and within all of its borders.

"We swear to God that we shall not rest until we restore the Arab nation to Palestine and Palestine to the Arab nation. There is no room for imperialism and there is no room for Israel within the Arab nation."
[Nasser/1964]

"We shall not enter Palestine with its soild covered in sand, we shall enter it with its soil saturated in blood"
[Nasser/1965]

On June 7th [my birthday, so I remember it well], it was the third day of the war and the Israeli naval command was under-equipped to defend Israel's shores and dependent on the air force and human observation for long range early warning. It would be an understatement to say, the Navy was fearful and frustrated. because of the tension after the loss of an elite frogman commando unit, which was captured by the Egyptians, and the sightings of three Egyptian submarines close to the Israeli shore. There was also a report of several Soviet vessels in the area.

An Israeli Nord aircraft took off from an airfield early on the morning of the 8th with an Israeli navy spotter on board to patrol the shore and insure that enemy vessels did not penetrate Israeli waters during the night before. Israel had to have a human spotter for early warning because Israel in 1967 had very limited radar capability.

Almost two hours after the aircraft started its patrol, it notified the duty officer in the navy war room that a ship had been spotted West of Gaza. It appeared to be a destroyer from the air. The officer ordered a red marker placed on the battle control table. Red was the color used to indicate an "unidentified" ship.

Almost 20 minutes later the Nord sent another report in which the spotter identified the ship as an "American naval-supply vessel. The ship was identified by the spotter and would have then been considered neutral, but the marker was not changed from red to green, to designate a neutral vessel. The Israelis admitted this. They did not deny it. he reason given by the duty officer at a board of inquiry was the "identification had been vague and uncertain."

And, then from 6 to 9 a.m. the navy's attention in the war room was diverted to an emergency, with the penetration of an enemy submarine west of the town of Atlit, where a huge oil slick had been sighted. At 8:50 the navy dispatched the destroyer MV Haifa to the area. The Haifa detonated five depth charges at 9:02 without success. While the hunt for the enemy sub was ongoing, Admiral Erell entered the underground war room to take personal command and he questioned the duty officer about the red marker west of the Sinai coast. Told that the marker designated what was thought to be an American supply ship, he ordered the marker changed to green and he concentrated on the submarine.

More depth charges were detonated and air bubbles and oil was rising to the surface. At the same time, the war room received a cable from an Israel pilot reporting that he was being shot at by an "unidentified" ship off the Sinai coast. After he landed and in debriefing he said that he was not fired at, but he had seen a ship and it appeared to be "gray" and "wider than usual, and with a bridge in the middle." The information was filed and forgotten.

Then, after 10 a.m. the Nord aircraft returned and in debriefing the navy spotter reported that he had clearly seen a GTR-5 on the side of the vessel. Major Pinchasi at the naval operations room at Naval Headquarters consulted Jane's Fighting Ships and identified the ship as an American intelligence vessel named the "Liberty."

At 11 a.m. the duty commanders in the navy war room changed shifts and a Lt. Col took over temporary command. He ordered the green marker removed from the battle control table so it would not be cluttered. Standard naval operating procedure dictated that battle control table should be kept as simple as possible, but in retrospect, it was a fatal decision for the Liberty because from 11:05 on the Liberty was no longer a known quantity for those who were operationally responsible for conducting a fast-moving, three-front, war, who were feeling the heat of battle decision making. At 11:24 the air force reported to the naval chief of operation, Col Issy Rehav, that the Sinai coast city of El Arish, captured by Israeli forces the day before was being shelled from the sea. And, at 11:27 a.m., a second, independent report ame in, and this time from Southern Command Hqts, that El Arish was indeed being bombarded from the sea.

In his book, Ennis also reported explosions in El Arish. The smoke and explosions were clearly visible to the crew of the Liberty, which is how close they were to what was presumed to be an enemy attack on the coastal city. Later it was determined that an Egyptian ammo depot had exploded in El Arish. The Israeli general command assumed that the city was under attack from the sea and the Liberty just happened to be there, which made it look an awful lot like the Liberty had been doing the shelling.

Col Rehav at 12:05 p.m. ordered three torpedo boats from the 914 Squadron to leave Ashdod and proceed towards El Arish and at 12:15 captain of the flagship torpedo boat, Lt. Col Moshe Oren was ordered to sail to 20 miles north of El Arish and patrol that area. At 1:07 p.m. he was instructed to call for an air strike upon spotting the target.

At 1:41, 2nd Lt Aharon Yfrach, the radar operator about the flagship, T-204, picked up a target on his scope. The ship was spotted at 20 nautical miles northwest of El Arish, 14 miles off the Bardawil shore, and moving west at a speed of about thirty knots. Standard operating procedure for the Israeli navy in 1967 was that any ship moving faster than 20 knots in a battle arena was to be presumed hostile. A second radar check indicated the target's speed at 28 knots. The Israelis later said the reading was inaccurate, which can be attributed to what is known as "radar jump" or simply an erroneous reading by the radar operator? The radar on torpedo boats were often inaccurate. The conclusions at the time however was, it was moving at faster than 20 knots and the target in question was probably a warship. It also 'appeared to be sailing an evasive course' in the direction of Port Said, at the mouth of the Suez Canal, which would also indicate it was hostile.

At 1:45 p.m. it was decided by Rehav to order an attack on the ship. It would take awhile for the torpedo boats to get there so an air strike was called. Senior air force battle controller, Lt Col Shmuel Kislev, ordered two Mirage III C fighters on their way back to Israel from an air patrol over the Suez Canal to divert to the target. The Mirages reached the target at about 2 p.m. The lead plane dropped to an altitude of 3,000 feet and circled the target twice. The second aircraft circled the target only once. It was reported that the ship was NOT Israeli, it was painted battle-gray and had two cannons in the forecastle, a mast in the front and one funnel.

In a Battle Arena

Major General Mordechai Hod, the commander of the Israeli air force, asked the pilot by radio if any flag was visible. The pilot reported back "I see no flag or other signs of identification." Members of the crew find this a major point of contention, but regardless of that fact, there must be accountability for being in a battle arena, and assessments are made by the air force command, based on the pilot's observation, the course of the ship, the reported speed and the evasive running of the ship, location, etc., and the impression was that it was a hostile ship.

At 2:06, the pilots began their straffing runs and straffed the U.S.S. Liberty four times. Fire had broken out on the left side of the ship. Two more aircraft were diverted, this time Super Mystere jets en route to a bombing mission over the Mitla Pass in the Central Sinai. The were carrying napalm bombs, which are not suitable for attacking targets at sea but it was decided to use the aircraft anyway. The Mysteres made two bombing runs, but only one bomb hit the ship.

As there was no return fire from the Liberty, the lack of a response was puzzling and the lead pilot flew low enough to notice a P-30 painted on the hull. He then dropped to only ninety feet above the water line and this time noticed CTR-5 on the hull. He said he saw no flag. He was told to report on damages and leave the target area. At 2:15 the air force controller in central operation dispatched two helicopters to the area to pick up survivors. Meanwhile the torpedo boats had arrived at the scene. The flagship flahed the message, "What ship?" But, the U.S.S. Liberty replied "AA" meaning "Identify yourselves first." That was really dumb. Here they are listing, enveloped in smoke, heavily damaged and their captain is telling the torpedo boats to identify themselves first?

Eleven years before, during the Sinai campaign, exactly the same exchange had taken place between an Israeli destroyer, the MV Yaffo, and an Egyptian ship, the Ibrahim-el-Awwal. Oren, who was a young offer on the Yaffo's bridge at the time, remembered the incident well. If he had any doubts that the burning vessel ahead of him was Egyptian, they were now dispelled.

While he was deciding whether to attack, a burst of machine gun fire erupted from the ship's forecastle. It seems that a seaman apprentice on board did not hear the Captain's "hold-your- fire order" and fired several volleys at the torpedo boats.

Oren still hestitated until he consulted the Israeli navy's book identifying the ships of the Arab navies and concluded that the ship in question was the Egyptian suppply vessel EL QUSEIR. One of the other captains of another torpedo boat came up with the same identification.

And, at 2:37 Lt Col Oren gave the order to attack the ship. This was after being fired upon from the Liberty. At 2:43 advancing with rapid cannon fire, the topedo boats fired torpedos. At least one torpedo hit the ship. When the T-204 crossed the ship's bow, one of the officers aboard noticed the letters GTR on the hull of the ship and Oren immediately issued the hold-fire order. It was 2:47.

No Cooperation
No Help Wanted

At 2:51, Oren radioed back to command headquarters that the ship could be Russian. Rabin called an emergency meeting of his adviser to discuss the possiblity of large sacale Soviet intervention but at 3:20 Oren notified headquarters that the ship was not Russian, it was American. At 3:30 the news was conveyed to Commander Castle, naval atache in Tel Aviv. Israel offered to help with the wounded. The offer was rejected. One must remember when Marines were wounded in Lebanon Israel offered then also to treat the wounded and that offer was then also rejected - causing additional loss of life. There must be "accountability" for that blunder also.

The attack on the U.S.S. Liberty was not done with malice, but was a genuine understandable mistake, like many which are often made in battle, and which could have been avoided if the Liberty had stayed out of harm's way [as we learned later was the intention of the State Department and the Chiefs of Staff].

The problem is a lack of accountability. Take the case of the old cargo ship off North Korea sent to spy. Who sent the Peoblo? It was the skipper who the Court of Inquiry wanted to blame it on. It wasn't the skipper's fault.

And, who recommended the sending in of Marines into the middle of the Lebanese civil war with no clearer mission than to establish a "presence?" It wasn't the Marine Corp, it was President Reagan, and his advisers. And, to his credit, Reagan did take responsibility for the airport bombing.

Adm. William J. Crewe, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff told the world it was all Iran's fault that the Vincennes shot down the airliner, but failed to mention the ship was in Iranian waters at the time. Deniability, yes; but, what about U.S. Naval "accountability?"

USS Liberty Slanders (3)

Myths and Facts

Mitchell Bard and Joel Himelbarb

The Israeli attack on the USS Liberty was a tragic mistake. But it must be recalled that the incident occurred in the midst of a full- scale war.

On June 8, 1967, the third day of the conflict, the Israeli military command believed an Egyptian vessel had fired on Israeli positions in El Arish. It turned out to be the USS Liberty, an American intelligence ship assigned to monitor the fighting, which was 14 miles off the Sinai coast. Israeli war planes attacked, killing 34 members of the Liberty's crew and wounding 171.

The Liberty was first reported-incorrectly, as it turned out-to be cruising at 22 knots, a rate usually maintained only by warships. The Liberty's flag, according to testimony of crew members, may not have been discernible because there was little wind, and the flag was knocked down after the first assault. Also, after the first attack, the Liberty's commander refused an Israeli request that the ship identify itself. And, according to testimony of its own crew, the Liberty bore at least a surface resemblance to the El Quseir, an Egyptian ship.

The argument that the attack was a horrible error is further reinforced by a biography of Yitzhak Rabin (Dan Kurzman, Soldier of Peace: The Life of Yitzhak Rabin. NY: HarperCollins, 1998), who was Israel's Chief of Staff during the war, which says the Israelis initially were terrified that they had attacked a Soviet ship and might have provoked the Soviets to join the fighting. When they learned it was in fact a U.S. vessel, Rabin was still worried that the mistake might jeopardize American support for Israel.

The misidentification of the Liberty as an enemy vessel was understandable. Three days earlier, Israel had asked that American ships be removed from its coast and that it be notified of the precise location of U.S. vessels. The Sixth Fleet was moved, but the Liberty did not get the message.

In 1991, columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak trumpeted their discovery of an American who said he had been in the Israeli war room when the decision was made to knowingly attack the American ship.(3) In fact, that individual, Seth Mintz, was not in the war room at the time and the man who he said had been with him, a Gen. Benni Matti, did not exist. Also, contrary to their claim that an Israeli pilot identified the ship as American, the transcript of the radio traffic between the attack fighters and air force headquarters contains no such statement.

None of Israel's accusers has been able to explain adequately why Israel would have deliberately attacked an American ship. Confusion in a long line of communications, which occurred in a tense atmosphere on both the American and Israeli sides (a message from the Joint Chiefs of Staff for the ship to remain at least 20 miles off the Egyptian coast never arrived) is a more probable explanation.

Accidents caused by "friendly fire" are common in wartime. In 1988, the U.S. Navy mistakenly downed an Iranian passenger plane, killing 290 civilians. During the Gulf War, 35 of the 148 Americans who died in battle were killed by "friendly fire." In fact, only the day before the Liberty was attacked, Israeli pilots accidentally bombed one of their own armored columns south of Jenin on the West Bank.

As a former highranking Israeli naval officer, Shlomo Erell, told the Associated Press (June 5, 1977): "No one would ever have dreamt that an American ship would be there. Even the United States didn't know where its ship was. We were advised by the proper authorities that THERE WAS NO AMERICAN SHIP WITHIN 100 MILES." [EMPHASIS MINE]

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara told Congress on July 26, 1967: "It was the conclusion of the investigatory body, headed by an admiral of the Navy in whom we have great confidence, that the attack was not intentional."

In 1987, McNamara repeated his belief that the attack was an accident, telling a caller on the "Larry King Show" that he had seen nothing in the 20 years since to change his mind that there had been no "cover- up."

Israel apologized for the tragedy and paid nearly $13 million in reparations to the United States and to the families of the victims. The last payment was received in December 1989, when the U.S. officially closed the books on the matter.

Notes

Yitzhak Rabin, The Rabin Memoirs, CA: University of California Press, 1996, pp. 108-109. Rabin, p. 110.
Washington Post, (November 6, 1991). Hirsh Goodman, "Messrs. Errors and No Facts," Jerusalem Report (November 21, 1991).
Hirsh Goodman and Ze'ev Schiff, "The Attack on the Liberty," Atlantic Monthly, (September 1984).
"The Larry King Show" (radio), (February 5, 1987).


Addendum #1
(From Associated Press - provided here in compliance with the Fair Use Doctrine for education purposes)

"NEW DETAILS ON 1967 ATTACK Newly declassified transcripts back up Israel's claim that its attack on an American spy ship during the 1967 Middle East war was an accident, a Florida judge who has been investigating the case for 16 years said. Israel has always maintained that it thought the ship, the Liberty, was an Egyptian military supply ship when it ordered its forces to attack on June 8, 1967, killing 34 Americans and wounding 171. But critics say Israel knew the ship was American and fired at it to keep the United States from learning that Israel was planning to attack Syria. Judge A. Jay Cristol received transcripts of transmissions from two Israeli helicopter pilots, sent to check for survivors after the attack. The pilots referred to the ship as Egyptian and were surprised to discover it was flying an American flag. The recordings were made by an American spy plane hovering over the site." (AP)

Addendum #2
Some of the survivors and some senior U.S. officials have said they believe the attack was deliberate, intentional and the objective was to stop American surveillance of Israel during the war. The tapes reveal that indeed the attack was unintentional and happened during the "fog of war." US Florida Judge Jay Cristol successfully petitioned the NSA to release the tapes under the "Freedom of Information Act".

From David Ensor
CNN Washington Bureau

The recordings were made by a nearby American surveillance aircraft in the immediate aftermath of the attack.

"For your info, it is apparently an Arab ship," says ground control.

"Roger," says the pilot.

"It is an Egyptian supply ship," says ground control.

"Roger," comes the response.

The NSA released the tapes and transcripts under the Freedom of Information Act in response to a request from Miami Judge Jay Cristol.

An author of a book on the attack, Cristol said the tapes show it was a tragic accident in a time of war -- that the Israelis mistook the ship for an Egyptian one.

"I don't think there's any question that anyone who reads these tapes would be absolutely convinced there was the fog of war out there," Cristol said.

Later on the tape, the Israelis sound confused and concerned. Ground control orders the helicopter pilots to look for survivors and to check their nationality.

"If they speak Arabic -- Egyptians -- you're taking them to Al-Arish. If they speak English -- non-Egyptians -- you're taking them to Lod. Is that clear?" says ground control.

"Roger," says the pilot.

[...]

Israeli Embassy spokesman Mark Regev said the tapes are "further evidence that the Liberty incident was a terrible and tragic case of mistaken identity."

Find this CNN article: Here!


Addendum #3
This essay appeared in The New Republic on 7/02/2001 and was titled:

"Why did Israeli troops fire on the USS Liberty?
Unfriendly Fire


by Michael Oren
Partially quoted here in compliance with the Fair Use Doctrine

(Quote)
In 1967, at the height of the Six Day War, Israeli jets strafed and firebombed a seemingly hostile ship near the Sinai coast. Israeli torpedo boats quickly converged to finish the job, then abruptly ceased fire and offered assistance to the battered crew. Israel had attacked the USS Liberty. In all, 34 Americans died, and 171 were injured. Israeli leaders apologized promptly and profusely, explaining that they had mistaken the Liberty for an enemy vessel--an explanation that subsequent investigations in both the United States and Israel upheld. Israel compensated the injured sailors and the families of those killed. And that's where the story should have ended. After all, accidental attacks, though tragic, are common in war. In 1967 alone, "friendly fire" killed 5,373 Americans fighting in Vietnam.

But the controversy over the Liberty attack has endured, generating conspiracy theories, ethnic defamation, and charges of mass homicide. And, although a series of recently declassified documents seem to exonerate the Israelis once and for all, a new book, Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency, has resurrected the canard by setting forth what is arguably the most audacious theory of all: that the Israelis deliberately attacked the Liberty to cover up a massacre of Egyptian prisoners of war. Written by James Bamford, a former ABC News producer, and published by Doubleday, the book has enjoyed a largely respectful, and frequently credulous, reception in the American press. Yet Body of Secrets has no more basis in fact than its predecessors. Indeed, it may be the shoddiest screed of all.

[....]

".......Israeli soldiers in the Sinai coastal town of El Arish heard a violent explosion. The cause was probably a detonation in an ammunition dump, but when the Israelis saw a ship off the coast, they assumed it was bombarding them, prompting the Israeli navy to dispatch three torpedo boats. The boats' commanders had standing orders to fire on any vessel going faster than 20 knots--a speed then attainable only by warships--and, miscalculating their target's speed as 30 knots, they prepared to attack.

At that point, the Liberty turned toward Egypt. Worried they would lose their prey, Israeli naval commanders called in the air force. Two Mirages quickly swooped in. Returning from a bombing run, they were armed only with 30millimeter cannons and air-to-air missiles--hardly ideal for attacking a boat. But, failing to see either flags or markings on the ship, they strafed it. Minutes later came a second group of planes, equally ill-suited for a naval engagement: They carried napalm, a weapon used against land targets. But they dropped their canisters anyway, and one set fire to the deck, enshrouding the ship in smoke.

It was at this junction that one Israeli pilot finally recognized Latin, not Arabic, letters on the hull, prompting Israeli air controllers to call off the action immediately. But, thanks to a breakdown in communications--again, a common occurrence in the heat of battle--the order never reached the navy. Israeli torpedo boats caught up with the Liberty just as one of the American sailors on board, heedless of McGonagle's order not to fire on the approaching craft, opened up with a deck gun. The Israeli captain consulted his intelligence manual, concluded that the ship shooting at him was the Egyptian naval freighter El Quseir, and fired back torpedoes. Just one hit, but it killed 25 men. The torpedo boats then closed in and circled the ship, strafing it with machine-gun fire, until the captain of one boat saw "GTR-5" on the hull. He immediately halted fire, extended help to the Liberty, and called for rescue helicopters.

"For many years following the attack, these details remained unknown--hidden in classified U.S. documents. And, in their absence, conspiracy theories flourished. The most damning made its debut in 1979, when Jim Ennes Jr., a former officer from the Liberty, published a book, Assault on the Liberty, arguing that the Israelis knew precisely who and what they were attacking. The Liberty's hull was distinctly marked, Ennes wrote, and a large American flag flew from its mast; yet Israeli ships and planes fired anyway. The motive? Israel, Ennes said, wanted to hide its impending conquest of Syria's Golan Heights, an invasion Washington opposed. The fact that the Israelis offered to assist the ship when they could easily have sunk it, or were unlikely to risk conflict with their most important ally, did not daunt Ennes. Ennes's theory found its way into Donald Neff's Warriors for Jerusalem (a pseudo-history of the Six Day War) and Stephen Green's sensationalist Taking Sides: America's Secret Relations with a Militant Israel. Rowland Evans and Robert Novak took up the charge in their syndicated political column, as did a 1987 special on ABC's "20/20." Joining the cavalcade was Bamford, whose 1982 book The Puzzle Palace denounced Israel for masking its Golan aggression with "a violent act of terrorism" against the Liberty. Former American officials, such as Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Thomas Moorer and U.N. Ambassador George Ball, have endorsed Ennes's theory. By 1995 an article in The International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence could claim that "all serious scholarship on the subject accepts Israel's assault as having been perpetrated quite deliberately." (Ironically, only Arab authors believed the attack was accidental, insisting that the Liberty had actually been spying for Israel.)

Then, in 1997, American and Israeli archives, observing the 30-year declassification rule, began releasing top-secret documents relevant to the case. On the U.S. side, these included the minutes of the Naval Board of Inquiry; communications between the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House, and the Sixth Fleet; and internal CIA and National Security Agency (NSA) memoranda. Jerusalem made available the findings of three military investigations and a wealth of relevant diplomatic correspondence. Together, the new sources enabled researchers to reconstruct the precise sequence of events as described above. They also provided one other crucial piece of evidence: Diplomatic cables showed that Israel had informed Washington of its intention to attack Syria and that Washington had not objected--which eliminated Israel's supposed motive for the crime.
[end quote]
So as Michael writes, "why are we still talking about the Liberty?" Why indeed. Because as long as there are Israelis there will be those who will invent these slanders. The Jewish people are the world's favorite scapegoat.
Existential reality of the Jews.
Go to The New Republic for this article and others which will challenge commonly held and often wrong perceptions. The New Republic is an excellent resource for information about the Middle East.

MICHAEL OREN is a senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. His book on the 1967 Six Day War was published by Oxford University Press in 2002.

Jay Cristol's book, "The Liberty Incident: The 1967 Attack on a U.S. Navy Spy Ship" is also worthwhile reading. Thanks to Judge Cristol the new tape evidence was released under the Freedom of Information Act and sheds new light on the incident and further proves Israel's attack on the USS Liberty was not intentional. However, like Judge Cristol says: "Those who hate Israel, who hate Jews, and those who believe in conspiracy will not be convinced by anything."


USS Liberty Slanders (4)

This slander has a life given to it by anti-Israel conspiracy theorists who like the JFK assassination will never accept the facts in this case. Each new revelation from the State Department or NSA is denied by conspiracists. In that respect it isn't much different than the blood libels or ZOG conspiracies. In point of fact it is just another variation on the "Jews killed Christ" theme. When haven't the Jews been the world's favorite scapegoat? If they can't get these things, they'll invent something else. And you can read about it on the interNUT, in both left and right wing mailing lists and newsgroups.

No Coverup

Here is a rambling post from a public mailing list:

Copying it here is in compliance with every interpretation of the Fair Use Doctrine since the list is available to anyone subscribed to it and also publicly archived in various search engines on the net. Posted under the subject: "Marxism] USS Liberty inquiry--the cover-up continues" - by Jim Craven to a mailing list called "the Activists and Scholars in Marxist Tradition (marxism@lists.econ.utah.edu). It begins with excerpts from the Financial Times.

(Quote)

Tempers flare over US spy-ship inquiry

By Guy Dinmore in Washington
Financial Times
January 13 2004

Survivors of one of the most hotly disputed incidents in American military history - the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty spy-ship in 1967 - on Monday accused the US authorities, past and present, of a cover-up in backing Israeli claims that it was a tragic mistake.

Emotions boiled over in the basement of the State Department as the Office of the Historian opened a public conference on the six-day Arab-Israeli war with heated debate over newly released intercepts from the archives of the secretive National Security Agency.

Most of the basic facts are undisputed. On June 8 1967, Israeli aircraft and later torpedo boats struck the Liberty just off the Mediterranean coast, killing 34 crew and wounding 172. The ship, one of the world's most sophisticated listening vessels but only lightly armed, limped into port.

From there the controversy begins. An immediate US Navy court of Inquiry backed the Israeli claim that it had been mistaken for an Egyptian warship. The US accepted $12m (?9.4m, �6.5m) in compensation.

While some historians have accepted this, survivors and a varied group of academics and former military officials insist the attack was deliberate.

"You're trying to whitewash it," one survivor shouted from the audience as Marc Susser, the State Department's historian, acted as moderator and sought to keep order, refusing to allow speeches from the floor. Even debate on the panel of invited historians descended into acrimony with one contributor accused of being an Israeli agent.

Two recent developments added fuel to the controversy.

Last week Ward Boston, a naval captain who acted as senior legal counsel for the Navy's court of inquiry in 1967, signed an affidavit declaring that the late Admiral Isaac Kidd, president of the court, had told him that President Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara, defence secretary, had ordered a cover-up.

And on Monday, David Hatch, the National Security Agency's own historian, elaborated on the recently declassified NSA material, the first time the eavesdropping agency had released real voice intercepts.

Mr Hatch confessed that the information "doesn't settle much". But his analysis of the conversations between an Israeli air controller and two helicopter pilots "suggested strongly" that the Israelis did not know at first they were attacking a US vessel, although there was mention of a US flag flying.

He also regretted that the new NSA material did not clarify why the Liberty had not received orders sent to it to leave a war zone.

Joseph Lentini, a survivor who has spent the past 36 years researching the tragedy, told reporters he remained convinced that the attack was deliberate.

He admits it is hard to understand why the Israelis would want to sink a ship of its closest ally at a time of war. Conspiracy theories abound.

(End Quote)

Response from Jim C:

The why of the attack was documented thoroughly in James Bamford's book "Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Sercurity Agency", Doubleday, NY, 2001. and it is not some kind of "conspiracy theory." I should note that Bamford's first book on the NSA called "The Puzzle Palace" brought the wrath of NSA down on him. Later, when Bamford's scholarship could not be impeached, NSA started giving him direct access to NSA and even intercepts which he used in this book and now he even lectures to NSA personnel inside the NSA, in NSA facilities, on the history of the NSA. (If you can't threaten them, then co-opt them) What is also interesting is why NSA would release to Bamford the intercepts that he used to write and document what is below:
From Bamford:
"Although no one on the ship knew it at the time, the Liberty had suddenly trespassed into a private horror. At that very moment, near the minaret at El Arish, Israeli forces were engaged in a criminal slaughter...(pp.200-201)

As the Liberty sat within eyeshot of El Arish, eavesdropping on surrounding communications, Israeli soldiers turned the town into a slaughterhouse, systematically butchering their prisoners. In the shadow of the El Arish mosque, they lined up about sixty unarmed Egyptian prisoners, hands tied behind their backs, and then opened fire with machine guns until the pale desert turned red. 'I saw a line of prisoners, civilians and military', said Abdelsalam Moussa, one of those who dug the graves, 'and they opened fire at them all at once. When they were dead, they told us to bury them.'. Nearby, a group of Israelis gunned down thirty more prisoners and then ordered some Bedouins to cover them with sand.

In still another incident at El Arish, the Israeli journalist Gabi Bron saw about 150 Egyptian POWs sitting on the ground, crowded together with their hands held at the back of their necks. 'The Egyptian prisoners of war were ordered to dig pits and then army police shot them to death', Broin said. ' I witnessed the executions with my own eyes on the morning of June 8th, in the airport area of El Arish.'

The Israeli military historian Aryeh Yitzhaki, who worked in the army's history department after the war, said he and other officers collected testimony from dozens of soldiers who admitted killing POWs. According to Yitzhaki, Israeli troops killed, in cold blood, as many as 1,000 Egyptian prisoners in the Sinai including some 400 in the sand dunes of El Arish.

Ironically, Ariel Sharon, who was capturing territory south of El Arish at the time of the slaughter, had been close to massacres during other conflicts. One of his men during the Suez crisis in 1956, Arye Biro, now a retired brigadier general, recently admitted the unprovoked killing of 49 prisoners of war in the Sinai in 1956. 'I had my Karl Gustav [weapon] I had taken from the Egyptian. My officer had an Uzi. Th Egyptian prisoners were sitting there with their faces turned to us. We turned to them with our loaded guns and shot them. Magazine after magazine. They didn't get a chance to react.' At another point, Biro said, he found Egyptian soldiers prostrate with thirst. He said that after taunting them by pouring water from his canteen into the sand, he killed them. 'If I were to be put on trial for what I did,' he said, 'then it would be necessary to put on trial at least one-half the Israeli army, which, in similar circumstances, did what I did.' Sharon who says he learned of the 1956 prisoner shootings only after they happened, refused to say whether he took any disciplinary action against those involved, or even objected to the killings...(pp.201-203)

Into this sea of lies, deception and slaughter said the USS Liberty, an enormous American spy factory loaded with $10.2 million worth of the latest eavesdropping gear. At 10:39 A.M. the minaret at El Arish was logged at seventeen miles away, at bearing 189 degrees. Sailing at five knots, the Liberty was practically treading water.

By 10:55 AM, senior Israeli officials knew for certain that they had an American electronic spy in their midst. Not only was the ship clearly visible to the forces at El Arish, it had been positively identified by Israeli naval headquarters... The report said that the ship cruising slowly off El Arish was 'an electromagnetic audio-surveillance ship of the U.S. Navy named Liberty, whose marking was GTR-5.'

Not only did the ship have a 'GTR-5' painted broadly on both sides of its bow and stern, it also had its name painted in large, bold, black letters: 'U.S.S. Liberty.' (pp. 203-204)
Note: What the Israeli's didn't know is that in addition to the Liberty recording Israeli radio chatter revealing the ongoing massacres of POWs at El Arish, there was also an EC-121 aircraft doing the same thing. They went after the Liberty to stop the surveillance and destroy what had been recorded thinking that the Liberty was the only witness. They didn't know that the EC-121 also had gathered the evidence including evidence from radio intercepts that the Israelis knew exactly who they were going after and why they were doing it.
Jim C.

The accusations are simply not credible but like all canards about Israel they are repeated ad nauseum and the myth sowers intentionally ignore the facts as they have done before and will continue to do in the future. Logic and reason have nothing to do with it. When confronted with the truth, Bamford and Craven's myths self-destruct. One can only guess at their motives. I have a clear idea what they are and I believe most of you will also. What follows is Michael Oren's refutation of the Bamford conspiracy which was published in The New Republic and is reproduced here in compliance with the Fair Use Doctrine.

Why did Israeli troops
attack the USS Liberty?...

07/23/2001
The New Republic
Michael Oren

Unfriendly Fire

Michael Oren is a senior fellow at the Shalem Center in Jerusalem. His excellent book on the 1967 Six Day War was published by Oxford University Press in 2002.

In 1967, at the height of the Six Day War, Israeli jets strafed and firebombed a seemingly hostile ship near the Sinai coast. Israeli torpedo boats quickly converged to finish the job, then abruptly ceased fire and offered assistance to the battered crew. Israel had attacked the USS Liberty. In all, 34 Americans died, and 171 were injured. Israeli leaders apologized promptly and profusely, explaining that they had mistaken the Liberty for an enemy vessel--an explanation that subsequent investigations in both the United States and Israel upheld. Israel compensated the injured sailors and the families of those killed. And that's where the story should have ended. After all, accidental attacks, though tragic, are common in war. In 1967 alone, "friendly fire" killed 5,373 Americans fighting in Vietnam.

But the controversy over the Liberty attack has endured, generating conspiracy theories, ethnic defamation, and charges of mass homicide. And, although a series of recently declassified documents seem to exonerate the Israelis once and for all, a new book, Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency, has resurrected the canard by setting forth what is arguably the most audacious theory of all: that the Israelis deliberately attacked the Liberty to cover up a massacre of Egyptian prisoners of war. Written by James Bamford, a former ABC News producer, and published by Doubleday, the book has enjoyed a largely respectful, and frequently credulous, reception in the American press. Yet Body of Secrets has no more basis in fact than its predecessors. Indeed, it may be the shoddiest screed of all.

The Liberty's fateful voyage began on June 2, 1967, when it set sail from Spain for the Middle East. Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser had just ousted U.N. peacekeepers from the Sinai, blockaded Israeli shipping through the Tiran Straits, and prepared the Arab world for a war of Israel's destruction. A wary White House instructed the Sixth Fleet to stay "outside an arc whose radius is 240 miles from [the Egyptian city of] Port Said." But, according to communications recently released by the National Archives, the Liberty's handlers in the National Security Agency ignored the order and directed the ship to a point just outside Egypt's territorial waters, a mere 12.5 miles, where it could eavesdrop on Egyptian officers and their Soviet advisers. Five subsequent cables from the Navy's European headquarters warned the Liberty to pull back to at least 100 miles, but the Navy's overly sophisticated radio system diverted them to the Philippines, and none reached the ship in time.

Approaching the battle area at dawn, the Liberty's skipper, Commander William L. McGonagle, requested a destroyer escort, only to be reminded by the commander of the Sixth Fleet that the "Liberty is a clearly marked United States ship in international waters ... and not a reasonable subject for attack by any nation." Israel, meanwhile, requested that the United States provide a naval liaison to facilitate its communication with the Navy. Israeli Ambassador Avraham Harman had warned the White House that "if war breaks out, we would have no telephone number to call, no code for plane recognition, and no way to get in touch with the U.S. Sixth Fleet." The United States never approved the liaison, nor did it inform Israel of the Liberty's arrival in the area.

Although it arrived too late to fulfill its original mission--most of Sinai had already fallen to Israel, so there were no Egyptian troops there to spy on--the Liberty nevertheless began patrolling between Port Said and Gaza, in a lane rarely used by commercial freighters and declared by Egypt as off-limits to neutral shipping. On June 8, just before six o'clock in the morning, an Israeli pilot reported finding a naval craft ("gray, bulky, with its bridge amidships") 70 miles west of Gaza. Though he did not report seeing a flag, he made out the hull marking "GTR-5," which was enough for Israeli commanders to identify the ship as the USS Liberty and to mark it as a neutral vessel on their control board. But at eleven o'clock in the morning, the watch at Israeli naval headquarters changed. The new officers, following procedures for removing old information and assuming the Liberty had sailed away, cleaned the board. For Israeli forces, the Liberty had ceased to exist.

It would prove a key error. Less than a half-hour later, Israeli soldiers in the Sinai coastal town of El Arish heard a violent explosion. The cause was probably a detonation in an ammunition dump, but when the Israelis saw a ship off the coast, they assumed it was bombarding them, prompting the Israeli navy to dispatch three torpedo boats. The boats' commanders had standing orders to fire on any vessel going faster than 20 knots--a speed then attainable only by warships--and, miscalculating their target's speed as 30 knots, they prepared to attack.

At that point, the Liberty turned toward Egypt. Worried they would lose their prey, Israeli naval commanders called in the air force. Two Mirages quickly swooped in. Returning from a bombing run, they were armed only with 30millimeter cannons and air-to-air missiles--hardly ideal for attacking a boat. But, failing to see either flags or markings on the ship, they strafed it. Minutes later came a second group of planes, equally ill-suited for a naval engagement: They carried napalm, a weapon used against land targets. But they dropped their canisters anyway, and one set fire to the deck, enshrouding the ship in smoke.

It was at this junction that one Israeli pilot finally recognized Latin, not Arabic, letters on the hull, prompting Israeli air controllers to call off the action immediately. But, thanks to a breakdown in communications--again, a common occurrence in the heat of battle--the order never reached the navy. Israeli torpedo boats caught up with the Liberty just as one of the American sailors on board, heedless of McGonagle's order not to fire on the approaching craft, opened up with a deck gun. The Israeli captain consulted his intelligence manual, concluded that the ship shooting at him was the Egyptian naval freighter El Quseir, and fired back torpedoes. Just one hit, but it killed 25 men. The torpedo boats then closed in and circled the ship, strafing it with machine-gun fire, until the captain of one boat saw "GTR-5" on the hull. He immediately halted fire, extended help to the Liberty, and called for rescue helicopters.

For many years following the attack, these details remained unknown--hidden in classified U.S. documents. And, in their absence, conspiracy theories flourished. The most damning made its debut in 1979, when Jim Ennes Jr., a former officer from the Liberty, published a book, Assault on the Liberty, arguing that the Israelis knew precisely who and what they were attacking. The Liberty's hull was distinctly marked, Ennes wrote, and a large American flag flew from its mast; yet Israeli ships and planes fired anyway. The motive? Israel, Ennes said, wanted to hide its impending conquest of Syria's Golan Heights, an invasion Washington opposed. The fact that the Israelis offered to assist the ship when they could easily have sunk it, or were unlikely to risk conflict with their most important ally, did not daunt Ennes.

Ennes's theory found its way into Donald Neff's Warriors for Jerusalem (a pseudo-history of the Six Day War) and Stephen Green's sensationalist Taking Sides: America's Secret Relations with a Militant Israel. Rowland Evans and Robert Novak took up the charge in their syndicated political column, as did a 1987 special on ABC's "20/20." Joining the cavalcade was Bamford, whose 1982 book The Puzzle Palace denounced Israel for masking its Golan aggression with "a violent act of terrorism" against the Liberty. Former American officials, such as Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Thomas Moorer and U.N. Ambassador George Ball, have endorsed Ennes's theory. By 1995 an article in The International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence could claim that "all serious scholarship on the subject accepts Israel's assault as having been perpetrated quite deliberately." (Ironically, only Arab authors believed the attack was accidental, insisting that the Liberty had actually been spying for Israel.)

Then, in 1997, American and Israeli archives, observing the 30-year declassification rule, began releasing top-secret documents relevant to the case. On the U.S. side, these included the minutes of the Naval Board of Inquiry; communications between the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the White House, and the Sixth Fleet; and internal CIA and National Security Agency (NSA) memoranda. Jerusalem made available the findings of three military investigations and a wealth of relevant diplomatic correspondence. Together, the new sources enabled researchers to reconstruct the precise sequence of events as described above. They also provided one other crucial piece of evidence: Diplomatic cables showed that Israel had informed Washington of its intention to attack Syria and that Washington had not objected--which eliminated Israel's supposed motive for the crime.

So why are we still talking about the Liberty? Because Bamford, in his book, has discovered a new motive for Israel's alleged conspiracy. The day of the attack, he says, Israeli soldiers slaughtered 1,000 Egyptian civilians and prisoners of war near El Arish because they had become "nuisances" to their captors. The Liberty, Bamford goes on to explain, intercepted messages about the murders--and the Israelis feared word of their deeds might leak out. And so, Bamford concludes, they dispatched their armed forces with orders to kill. "[T]he Israelis had massacred civilians and prisoners in the desert," he writes, "and now they were prepared to ensure that no American survived the sinking of the Liberty."

There are a lot of reasons to question Bamford's credibility, starting with his rather curious reading of Middle Eastern history. For example, Bamford says Israel initiated hostilities against Syria and Jordan, when it happened the other way around. There's also the fact that he cites not one shred of evidence to prove that the Liberty ever intercepted a message about the alleged massacre. And then there's the question of whether such a massacre occurred at all. Israel captured more than 10,000 Egyptians in the Six Day War, but there are no known records--Israeli, American, Egyptian, or U.N.--of the Israelis mistreating them, let alone shooting them. Egypt has ruled the Sinai for over 20 years, yet it has never uncovered any mass grave. While there were certainly isolated incidents of Israeli abuses, there's simply no reason to believe the massacre of 1,000 Egyptians ever took place. Indeed, Bamford's evidence on this point, which consists of a few testimonials, falls apart under even light scrutiny.

Consider, first, the statement of Gabi Bron, who today covers the Knesset for Yediot Aharonot, Israel's largest daily. In the book, Bamford says Bron witnessed a massacre of 150 Egyptian prisoners at El Arish, citing a press clipping in which Bron is quoted as follows: "The Egyptian prisoners of war were ordered to dig pits and then army police shot them to death." But the Bron statement refers not to a mass killing of Egyptians but to an isolated incident: the execution of five Palestinian guerrillas who had posed as Egyptian soldiers after killing Israelis. Bamford would have learned this if, instead of relying on a clip, he had actually spoken to Bron, who is easily reachable. "The one hundred and fifty POWs were not shot, and there were no mass murders," Bron told me when I called. "In fact, we helped prisoners, gave them water, and in most cases just sent them in the direction of the [Suez] Canal."

As further corroborating evidence, Bamford cites a statement by Aryeh Yitzhaki, a former historian of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF). In the statement--which Bamford also clipped from the press--Yitzhaki talks of compiling a report, which the army later suppressed, on mass killings. "Defense Minister Moshe Dayan and Chief of Staff [Yitzhak] Rabin and the generals knew about these things," Yitzhaki is quoted as saying. "No one bothered to denounce them." But, once again, the source himself contradicts Bamford's interpretation. "In no case did Israel initiate massacres," Yitzhaki wrote me. "On the contrary, it did everything it could to prevent them." Yitzhaki admits that hundreds of Palestinian commandos were killed around El Arish. But that was in combat, he says, after they ambushed the IDF supply columns. Moreover, that battle took place on the night of June 9, more than a day after the attack on the Liberty.

Bamford does cite an anonymous Egyptian who confirms the massacre. But, being anonymous, the source is impossible to verify. In addition, Bamford tries to prove guilt by association--or, at least, proximity--by noting that Israeli troops near El Arish were commanded by Ariel Sharon, the man "indirectly responsible" for the 1982 massacres in Lebanon. But Sharon's divisions were in Nakhle, more than 40 miles from El Arish; the coastal area was under the command of Israel Tal, a man not known for right-wing views.

Finally, Bamford relies on the recollections of Marvin E. Nowicki. Today, Nowicki is a retired political scientist from Southern Illinois University. In 1967 he was a chief petty officer aboard an NSA aircraft spying on Israel. Fluent in Hebrew and Russian, Nowicki was listening to Israeli transmissions on the afternoon of June 8 when another translator mentioned hearing something about an "American flag." The voice emanated from a surface vessel, which Nowicki later deduced was one of the torpedo boats.

Bamford seizes on that as grounds for indictment: "If the Israelis did see a flag, then the attack was cold-blooded murder--like the hundreds of earlier murders committed that day at El Arish." Cunningly, he inserts Nowicki's recollections immediately before his description of the torpedo attack, creating the impression that the Israelis first saw the flag, then fired. Further spliced into Nowicki's account are bloodthirsty quotes from Israeli pilots, as if Bamford were in possession of the spy plane's tapes. But the quotes were snipped, out of context, from a transcript of IDF communications made available to a 1987 Thames Television special on the Liberty. That very same transcript proved that the pilots went to great lengths to identify the ship and took considerable risks to rescue its survivors, whom they assumed were Egyptian.

Nowicki had given Bamford his written testimony in the misguided belief that the author planned to extol the NSA's legacy. That document, provided to me by Judge A. Jay Cristol, a former naval aviator and author of a forthcoming book on the Liberty, unequivocally states: "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."

Having laid out his theory of the attack, Bamford moves on to the alleged cover-up. Following the assault on the Liberty, he writes, American Jewish organizations conspired with the Johnson administration to quash any investigation of Israel. "With an election coming up, no one in the weak-kneed House and Senate wanted to offend powerful pro-Israel groups and lose their fat campaign contributions." No evidence whatsoever is presented to support this slur, which belies Bamford's contention that "critics [of Israel] are regularly silenced by outrageous charges of anti-Semitism."

One would hardly expect such shoddy work to garner serious attention. But it has. Writing in The New York Times on April 23 ("book says israel intended 1967 attack on u.s. ship"), James Risen relayed Bamford's claims intact, without any attempt to solicit a countervailing view. In The Wall Street Journal, Timothy Naftali lauded Body of Secrets as an "authoritative and engaging book." National Public Radio invited Bamford on the syndicated talk show "Fresh Air," where he accused Israel of committing "massive war crimes" against Egyptian soldiers and civilians. The interviewer, Neal Conan, never challenged him. Indeed, only one critique to date--Joseph Finder's in The New York Times Book Review--dared to question Bamford's sources or the logic of Israel "perpetrating one massacre in order to cover up another."

In his book, Bamford accuses Israel of fomenting "lies about who started the [1967] war, lies to the American President, lies to the U.N. Security Council, lies to the press, lies to the public." But Bamford is the one peddling untruths. And it's time the American press called him on it.

(Also see A. Jay Cristol's response to Bamford's allegations on the History Network Website.)

As someone who worked for the Joint Chiefs of Staff in the Pentagon War Room (and alternate JCS), as a cryptologist, and crypt/analyst, I am in a unique position to provide an informed perspective.

I was like Ennis, a cryptologist but also had other duties, which included voice security, physical security and other communication functions, which gave me special access to "eyes only" materials which was at times seen only the Chiefs of Staff and sometimes only the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff.

Hank Roth
Past Commander (Post 780) Jewish War Veterans

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