A request came in for the CI article so it is being re-posted again. -jd
International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence:
The Attack on the Liberty: an “Accident”?
by Reverdy S. Fishel, International Journal of Intelligence and Counterintelligence
Although David Rodman’s review of The Secret War Against the Jews: How Western Espionage Betrayed the Jewish People, by John Loftus and Mark Aarons, notes some of the serious flaws in that work, his critique contains its own serious flaw that should gall anyone who knows a few basic, uncomplicated facts about Israel’s 8 June 1967 attack on the electronic intelligence ship USS Liberty.
All serious scholarship on the subject accepts Israel’s assault as having been perpetrated quite deliberately, but Rodman says that the “most credible” explanation of the attack is that it was an “accident.” To see so flagrant a misstatement in IJIC, considering its standards of factuality, is startling. Assault on the Liberty (1980), by James Ennes, a lieutenant who was on the bridge during the attack, was a very big seller; so the facts of the case need not be out of anyone’s reach. In fact, Israel’s attack on the Liberty was as accidental as Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor.
SCANNING THE SKIES
The U.S. Government had posted the Liberty off the coast of Gaza, in international waters, to monitor developments in the region during the Six-day War. (The Liberty’s mission will be discussed in detail below.) At dawn 8 June, Israeli aircraft began reconnoitering the ship, some flying so close that the pilots could clearly be seen, and as low as masthead height, obviously photographing it. This extensive observation lasted seven hours and involved eight separate observations, at about 0600, 0900, 1000, 1030, 1100, and 1130, 1200 and 1215 p.m. U.S. intercept stations twice overheard Israeli pilots reporting that the ship was American. The visibility conditions were perfect; the ship’s American flag was flying free and clear in a good breeze.
At 1400 a well coordinated attack by jet aircraft and torpedo boats began. Jets hammered the virtually unarmed ship with cannon and rockets, and napalmed it. Its forward machineguns were wiped out in the first firing pass, and whatever transmitting antennas survived that pass were disabled by the second. Nine minutes into the attack, crewmen jury-rigged a transmitter to an antenna. But the radiomen discovered that four out of five of the ship’s radio frequencies, including the international distress frequency, were being jammed. Ironically, the only time Liberty could transmit was while the jets were firing their missiles. A frantic cry for help was sent to the Sixth Fleet, only 400 miles away and off Crete; despite the Israeli jamming, the Liberty’s plea for assistance was received. The patchwork transmitting arrangement ceased functioning soon afterward.
Torpedo boats soon arrived and continued the attack, firing five torpedoes, with one hitting and killing 25 men. They then leisurely circled the defenseless ship for 40 minutes, pumping hundreds of 40-mm, 20-mm, and 50-cal. rounds at wounded men on deck, stretcher bearers and fire fighters. Thinking the ship was about to sink, the crew threw life rafts over the side; the attackers machine gunned those too. With increased radio activity from the U.S. Sixth Fleet indicating an impending U.S. response (many of the Fleet’s messages bore “Flash” precedence), the Israelis suddenly contacted the U.S. embassy and informed it of this “accident.” It was probably the longest “accidental” attack in the history of naval warfare — an hour and 15 minutes.
Two separate flights of jets from the carriers America and Saratoga were recalled by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, the first flight probably because Washington was not absolutely certain of the attackers’ identity and was leery of starting a war with the Russians if they were the guilty party. The second flight was recalled after receipt of the Israeli explanation.
MORE EVIDENCE OF GUILT
In addition to the above-mentioned circumstances which show that Israel’s attack was deliberate — the lengthy and careful surveillance, the radio jamming, etc. — numerous other details belie Israel’s professed innocence. They include:
* The Israelis initially claimed they had “mistaken” the Liberty for the Egyptian ship El Quseir. But the El Quseir was only 40 percent the size of Liberty (4000 vs. 10,400 tons). The El Quseir was an old, rusted-out horse transport that bore about as much resemblance to the Liberty as a rusty VW does to a new Cadillac. The Liberty was arrayed with numerous specialized antennas, and an ultra-modern (for 1967) 16-foot microwave dish, a device possessed by no other ship in the world except her sister ship Belmont. She bore standard U.S. Navy markings, which included a freshly painted 10-foot-high hull number, and Liberty on the stern.
* “The radio jamming is by itself damning evidence that the assailants knew exactly whom they were attacking. Such jamming requires intimate advance knowledge of the target being jammed, obtained by extended monitoring of its signals. And this was selective jamming; it struck Liberty’s frequencies and no others. Afterward, in one of their ever changing explanations, the Israelis claimed to have learned the ship’s identity when they heard its distress signals. But the attack continued for sixty- six minutes after the first distress signal, which the Israelis had jammed, was sent. Had this particular Israeli claim been true, they would have recalled the torpedo boats before they even reached the ship.”
* The Israelis claimed that the ship’s U.S. flag hung limp because there was no wind. Later, when presented with the fact that the flag had been perfectly visible, they claimed that they thought that the ship was an enemy vessel flying false colors. The extended radio monitoring, exposing considerable advance investigation of Liberty’s communication facilities, refutes this claim.
* The Israelis claimed that the torpedo boats, after first sighting the ship, had called in the aircraft to attack after the ship refused to identify itself. This is an obvious lie, because the attack was clearly a pre-planned and well coordinated one-two punch employing different branches of the Israeli Defense Forces. The jets were already intent on attacking the ship before the Liberty came into the torpedo boats’ radar range. Directly contradicting themselves, the Israelis later claimed that their aircraft had called in the torpedo boats.
* The Israelis eventually admitted that before the attack, their commanders had compared reconnaissance photos of the Liberty with Jane’s Fighting Ships. But they claimed that before the attack they twice telephoned the U.S. naval attache in Tel Aviv inquiring whether the Liberty was a U.S. ship and were told that there were no U.S. Navy ships in the area. They claimed that having received a negative reply, they decided that the ship had to be the El Quseir. However, the U.S. embassy in Tel Aviv, and later the naval attache, emphatically stated that no such inquiries were made. The Israelis not only knew the ship’s nationality and that she was an “ELINT” ship; they also knew she was the Liberty herself.
* Immediately preceding the attack, an Israeli pilot recognized Liberty as a U.S. ship and radioed this information to IDF headquarters. He was instructed to attack anyway. This dialogue was intercepted at the U.S. embassy in Beirut. Former U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Dwight Porter revealed the existence of this intercept in 1991.
* Finally, there is evidence, circumstantial but clear, of a relationship between the attack on the Liberty and a postponement of Israel’s planned attack on the Golan Heights. The Golan attack was scheduled for 11:30 a.m. on 8 June; the Liberty was spotted by 6 a.m. or earlier; last-minute orders delayed the Golan attack; the Liberty was put out of commission; and the Golan attack occurred shortly thereafter. The vaunted IDF made very few mistakes in that war.
After the attack Secretary of State Dean Rusk recommended a strong response, and Presidential Counselor Clark Clifford advised President Johnson to treat Israel in the same manner as the U.S. would treat the Soviets or the Arabs if they had committed the atrocity. The U.S. would certainly not have taken this insult in silence had the offender been any country but Israel. But President Johnson stoically accepted Israel’s explanation. The Navy conducted a Court of Inquiry, which ignored and even suppressed testimony that the attack had been deliberate; it dealt only with the actions and performance of the Liberty crew. State Department legal advisor Carl Salans performed an assessment of Israel’s official explanation; with only the Navy’s highly incomplete and erroneous preliminary investigation to go on, he thoroughly discredited the Israeli Government’s claims of innocent error. The logical next step was to confront the Israelis with his findings, but that was not done. The U.S. Government’s inaction was completely out of keeping with the outrageousness of the attack.
What was Israel’s motive for this act? The scheduling of the Israeli assault on the Golan Heights for 8 June was a move to defeat an intense effort in the United Nations to halt the war, a cease-fire having been scheduled for 9 June. Such pressure was also being applied by the U.S. Government. The IDF leaders were under pressure to acquire the Golan before the cease-fire was imposed, preferably without being labeled the aggressor (as in 1956 when Israel had colluded with Britain and France to attack Egypt). But with all the pressure to attack Syria, and after all the hurried preparations to do so, the Golan attack was suddenly called off within hours of its scheduled commencement. Why? Obviously, someone in the IDF leadership feared the Liberty might intercept some of the many signals then filling the air that would expose Israel’s preparations for invasion. They might then be forced into a cease-fire before they conquered the coveted territory.
THE LOFTUS AND AARONS BOOK
Loftus and Aarons’s book, the subject of Rodman’s critique, is a collection of preposterous and demonstrably false theories and allegations. With regard to the Liberty attack, the only significant detail they get right is that it was deliberate, but they actually make the ludicrous statement that Israel’s attack was justified because “the Liberty was gathering electronic information on Israeli troop movements and sending it to British intelligence, which in turn relayed it to the Arabs.” Not only does this statement lack any genuine authentication, it also betrays a conspiracy-mindedness that makes all their other concoctions suspicious. Another claim born of this same free- ranging inventiveness is that “U.S. intelligence attempted to curry favor with the Arab oil producers by giving the precise details of Israel’s order of battle to the Arabs during the war.” Other ridiculous claims:
* “Civilian `spies’ of the National Security Agency (NSA)” had wrested control of — i.e. hijacked — the Liberty from the U.S. military and the Joint Chiefs of Staff; “Commander McGonagle [Liberty's skipper] did not know it at the time, but the real masters of his ship were the civilian spies of the NSA.” That U.S. ELINT ships’ collection assignments were drawn up at NSA is well known; it is not the big secret that the authors make it. They state that only an individual known as an NSA “Major” and two others “had access to the supersensitive communications areas” on the ship, where in reality well over 100 men worked. The individual they refer to was Allan Blue, a 23-year-old Arabic linguist, who was killed. Blue was a GS-7 — a relatively low- level civilian NSA employee, not a “major”; and NSA certainly does not confer military rank.
* “The Israelis tried to jam the ship’s frequencies, to no effect. The Liberty’s equipment was much too sophisticated to be stopped in that fashion.” Anyone who wants to believe this statement should ask the American radiomen who were desperately trying to find an open frequency with which to alert their potential rescuers, while their comrades were falling dead around them.
* Liberty “was there to spy on the Jews. That was its only mission.” Had this been the case, Hebrew linguists would have been aboard; there were none. There were at least four Russian and three Arabic linguists aboard, however; that indicates the ship’s intelligence targeting. Additionally, Ennes has recently disclosed that a special tasking of the ship, apart from gathering all the information on every party it could, was to determine if TU-95 “BEAR” Bombers of the Egyptian Air Force were controlled and flown by Soviets. Ennes also says that “at least two men recall that their orders were to concentrate on Soviet intercepts and to ignore any Israeli signals they happened to hear. The order was `Note the signal and, if it is Israeli, drop it.’”
Loftus and Aarons’s other falsities concerning the Liberty incident — let alone those included in the rest of their work — are far too numerous to mention here. They continually cite unidentified sources — “confidential interviews” of “former CIA officer[s]” and “former NSA employee[s],” etc; thus they are free to invent whatever suits them. Yet Rodman says this work “deserves to be taken seriously.” They allege “a massive espionage campaign against Jewry and Israel by western intelligence agencies,” and claim that these agencies “aided Arab armies during the many Arab-Israeli wars.” Rodman terms this work “an important subject that has thus far not received its due.”
A QUESTION OF MOTIVATION
Rodman’s treatment of the Liberty attack resembles the accounts put forth by the Israeli Government. He repeats Israel’s obviously false initial explanation of mistaken identity, stating that the Liberty was “roughly the same size and shape” as the El Quseir. He admits to some knowledge of the arguments regarding the deliberateness of the attack mentioned above; therefore he cannot claim innocence, but he states that those who maintain that the attack was deliberate “are unable to present incontrovertible evidence” of their claim. He would have us believe that “Until proved otherwise, the official explanation remains the most credible.” The only official explanations, apart from the ever changing ones presented by Israel, are the seriously incomplete Navy inquiry and the Salans report, which fails to address much of the evidence described above. These lack authority because of those flaws. But while the U.S. Government has never officially examined most of the above circumstances or admitted that Israel’s attack was deliberate, it also has never accepted the Israeli claim that the attack was in error. Liberty survivors have presented voluminous evidence of Israel’s guilt to the U.S. Congress and have requested an investigation, but without success.
As to the motivation for the attack, Rodman omits the oft-mentioned theory concerning the Golan invasion presented above, which is plausible, probable, and damning. However, he states that “many unofficial accounts of the incident assert that the attack was deliberate, part of a devious Israeli plot.” The many “unofficial” accounts that assert Israel’s guilt have been provided by persons of such stature and reputation as Dr. Louis Tordella, NSA’s Deputy Director in 1967, who termed one of Israel’s explanations “a nice whitewash”; a former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Thomas Moorer; former Secretary of State Dean Rusk; and Liberty survivors.
One of Rodman’s errors is of a different nature: he frequently misuses the term anti-semitic. Semites are descendants of Shem — Jews and Arabs. Rodman even applies the term anti-semite to Saudi King Ibn Saud, himself a semite. Liberty survivors, some of them Jewish, have been given this label simply for calling attention to Israel’s attack, as are many other people who criticize the Israeli Government.
Rodman states that the Liberty attack caused “some” loss of life. Thirty-four Americans killed, 171 wounded — 205 purple hearts out of a crew of 293. Some casualties indeed.
Note on sources: Ennes’s Assault on the Liberty, available through the author, James Ennes, POB 789, Woodinville, WA, 98072, for $30 with an updating addendum.
A more recent study, also definitive, is John Borne’s book, The USS Liberty: Dissenting History vs. Official History. Borne’s work is especially valuable for findings that have turned up in the years since Ennes’s book came out. It is available by sending $20 to Dr. John Borne, 41 Eastern Parkway Apt 1-e, Brooklyn, NY 11238.
Numerous survivors’accounts and official documents are in the author’s possession, such as the “Israeli Preliminary Inquiry 1/67,” otherwise known as the “Yerushalami Report”; the State Department’s “Salans Report;” the report of the U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry, and State Department telegrams.
The Liberty literature also includes numerous articles in such periodicals as the Naval Law Review and Middle East Policy.
Two other books are devoted to the attack: Conspiracy of Silence and Pearl Harbour II; both contain many serious factual errors and outlandish claims, the latter being the source of the “NSA Major” myth that is repeated by Loftus and Aarons. Warriors For Jerusalem by Donald Neff, provides a good account of the UN proceedings dealing with the Six-day War and of the Israeli- Syrian conflict during that period.