This June 8, 2007, marks the 40-year anniversary of Israel's bloody attack
on the USS Liberty, a lightly armed U.S. Navy ship sailing off the coast of
Egypt at the time. Over the years, there have been numerous reports indicating that the
unprovoked assault caught the White House and the military by surprise.
New information, however, reveals that officials in various agencies in the
U.S. governmentplayed a key role in setting up the Liberty for the purpose
of drawing the Soviet Union into a fightin the Middle East and ultimately
igniting World War III. For those who follow the intrigues and explosive events surrounding the
relationship between America and Israel over the last four decades it is easy
get into a rut so to speak and blame every single catastrophic event solely
on the treachery of Israel. The tragedy though (and certainly the hardest
part to swallow by patriotic Americans who would sooner take their own lives
than betray their fellow countrymen) is that there have been and are players on
the American side of the equation whose hands are just as dirty as those of
their Israeli counterparts.
Whether it was the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, the assassination of
JFK, the bombing of the twin towers in 1993, the bombing of the Murrah Federal
Building in 1995 or the events taking place on 9-11, the only way these could
have taken place is if elements within the U.S. government cooperated with
the planning, execution and subsequent dissemination of propaganda in the
aftermath of these operations.
Now, a new and terrible tale has surfaced indicating yet again that elements
of the U.S. government were involved at the highest level in even more
criminal acts against the very same American people whom it is charged with
protecting. The case in question involves the June 8, 1967, attack on the USS
Liberty by the air and naval forces of the state of Israel during the height of
the Arab-Israeli war that led to the deaths of 34 American servicemen.
Long believed that players within the Johnson administration simply assisted
in the cover-up of the attack so as not to embarrass America's greatest
ally, Israel, it now it appears that American political, intelligence and
military persons played a key role in setting up the Liberty for the purpose of
igniting WW III in what was code-named Operation Cyanide.
It was a heady time, to be sure. The United States and the Soviet Union were
neck-deep in the Cold War, and by all appearances it seemed that a shooting
match between the two superpowers was inevitable. The incident in question took place only a few short years after the Cuban
Missile Crisis and at a time when America seemed unable to stop the spread of
communism in Asia and other parts of the world.
In the Middle East, states such as Egypt, with dynamic, fiery and
recalcitrant leaders such as President Gamal Abdel Nasser, were forming strong
with the Soviets for military and economic aid. Using the same rationale that
led to America inserting itself militarily into Korea and Vietnam, it was believed that, if not stopped, the Soviets would entrench themselves in the Middle East to the point that America's access to the oil of that region would
directly jeopardized and that, just as the communists had predicted decades
before, the West would be conquered without a shot being fired.
It has long been assumed that Israel's deliberate attack on the USS Liberty
was just another of Israel's made-to-order false flag operations done simply for the purpose of dragging an unwilling America into a Middle East war on
the side of the Jewish state. However, new information uncovered by former BBC investigative journalist Peter Hounam reveals that the U.S. government and
more specifically the administration of Lyndon Johnsonwas not as much the
unsuspecting victim in all of this that Israel has claimed these last 40 years.
Based on relatively new evidence, the attack on the Liberty was actually
part of a much larger plan. The Liberty incident was just one domino in a
that had as the ultimate goal a real live shooting war between the United
States and the Soviets. Had the Liberty been sunk with no witnesses as planned,
the world would be a much different place as a result and certainly not for
the better. The plan for that awful day in American history was to sink the defenseless,
unarmed American ship sailing in international waters off the coast of
Egypt. The Soviets and their Arab allies (in particular Egypt) would then be
blamed for the event.
As with the sinking of the USS Maine nearly 70 years earlier , the cry would
be Remember the USS Liberty and America's justifiable response to such
a horrendous act would be the launching of nuclear weapons against Egypt, an
ally of the Soviet Union. Working in tandem with the United States would be
allies such as Israel, Great Britain and, interestingly, Australia.
The end result would be a Middle East free of any Soviet presence, leaving
America and her ally Israel in possession of Arab oil for the foreseeable
future and in a better position to dictate terms to the communists. In the
of powerful men such as these men who sit in comfortable offices and
expensive chairs and who do not have to answer to anyone for their actions, the
rationale for such an act was simple: It is better for 300 U.S. sailors to die
the service of their country than have the free world fall into the
clutches of Soviet communism.
What prevented all of this from taking place was that simply by the grace
of God the Liberty did not sink, and the world was spared. Of course, there
is no official confirmation of Operation Cyanide. In fact there is no mention
of it at all. In various interviews that have been conducted over the years,
individuals from Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara to Dean Rusk to Richard
Helms to Mossad spy chief Rafael Eitan have demonstrated great intellectual
and verbal dexterity for men their age when discussing various items.
However, they clam up instantaneously when Operation Cyanide is mentioned as if
were witnesses to an organized crime hit and they feared for their lives.
However, the smaller players involved at the time have a different tale to
tell. Piecing together all the small parts that they individually bring to the
table fleshes out a picture that, although not crystal clear, is clear
enough to suggest that America was involved in the murder of 34 young men on
day in a much deeper fashion than previously thought.
For the sake of those men who died then, and for those who survived the
attack and who have endured the assault of lies that has been waged against
these last 40 years, the truth concerning what took place must be told. In the opinion of many, exposure of the Liberty incident may very well hold
the key to freeing America from the bondage it suffers under men such as
those who have murdered not only American citizens, but our traditional
system as well.
New revelations in attack on American spy ship
Veterans, documents suggest U.S., Israel didn't tell full story of deadly '67 incident
By John Crewdson <email@example.com>, Chicago Tribune senior correspondent
Bryce Lockwood, Marine staff sergeant, Russian-language expert,
the Silver Star for heroism, ordained Baptist minister, is shouting
phone. "I'm angry! I'm seething with anger! Forty years, and I'm seething with
Lockwood was aboard the USS Liberty, a super-secret spy ship on
the eastern Mediterranean, when four Israeli fighter jets flew out of
afternoon sun to strafe and bomb the virtually defenseless vessel on
1967, the fourth day of what would become known as the Six-Day War.
For Lockwood and many other survivors, the anger is mixed with
that Israel would attack an important ally, then attribute the attack
case of mistaken identity by Israeli pilots who had confused the U.S.
most distinctive ship with an Egyptian horse-cavalry transport that
its size and had a dissimilar profile. And they're also incredulous
years, their own government would reject their calls for a thorough
investigation. "They tried to lie their way out of it!" Lockwood shouts. "I don't
that for a minute! You just don't shoot at a ship at sea without
it, making sure of your target!"
Four decades later, many of the more than two dozen Liberty survivors
and interviewed by the Tribune cannot talk about the attack without
or weeping. Their anger has been stoked by the declassification of government
and the recollections of former military personnel, including some
this article for the first time, which strengthen doubts about the U.S.
National Security Agency's [NSA] position that it never intercepted the
communications of the attacking Israeli pilots -- communications,
to those who remember seeing them, that showed the Israelis knew they
attacking an American naval vessel.
The documents also suggest that the U.S. government, anxious to spare
Israel's reputation and preserve its alliance with the U.S., closed
with what even some of its participants now say was a hasty and
In declassifying the most recent and largest batch of materials last
the 40th anniversary of the attack, the NSA, this country's chief U.S.
electronic-intelligence-gatherer and code-breaker, acknowledged that the
attack had "become the center of considerable controversy and
debate." It was
not the agency's intention, it said, "to prove or disprove any one
conclusions, many of which can be drawn from a thorough review of this
material," available at ttp://www.nsa.gov/liberty . An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mark Regev, called the attack
Liberty "a tragic and terrible accident, a case of mistaken identity,
which Israel has officially apologized." Israel also paid reparations
million to the injured survivors and the families of those killed in the
attack, and another $6 million for the loss of the Liberty itself.
But for those who lost their sons and husbands, neither the Israelis'
nor the passing of time has lessened their grief. One is Pat Blue, who still remembers having her lunch in Washington's
Farragut Square park on "a beautiful June afternoon" when she was a
22-year-old secretary for a law firm. Blue heard somebody's portable radio saying a U.S. Navy ship had been
torpedoed in the eastern Mediterranean. A few weeks before, Blue's
two years, an Arab-language expert with the NSA, had been hurriedly
As she listened to the news report, "it just all came together." Soon
afterward, the NSA confirmed that Allen Blue was among the missing.
"I never felt young again," she said.
Aircraft on the horizon
Beginning before dawn on June 8, Israeli aircraft regularly appeared
horizon and circled the Liberty. The Israeli Air Force had gained control of the skies on the first
day of the
war by destroying the Egyptian air force on the ground. America was
ally, and the Israelis knew the Americans were there. The ship's
to monitor the communications of Israel's Arab enemies and their Soviet
advisers, but not Israeli communications. The Liberty felt safe. Then the jets started shooting at the officers and enlisted men
on the deck for a lunch-hour sun bath. Theodore Arfsten, a
remembered watching a Jewish officer cry when he saw the blue Star of
on the planes' fuselages. At first, crew members below decks had no idea
whose planes were shooting at their ship.
Thirty-four died that day, including Blue, the only civilian
additional 171 were wounded in the air and sea assault by Israel,
about to celebrate an overwhelming victory over the combined armies
Syria, Jordan, and several other Arab states.
For most of those who survived the attack, the Six-Day War has become the
defining moment of their lives. Some mustered out of the Navy as soon as their enlistments were up. Others
stayed in long enough to retire. Several went on to successful business
careers. One became a Secret Service agent, another a Baltimore policeman. Several are being treated with therapy and drugs for what has since been
recognized as post-traumatic stress disorder. One has undergone more than 30
major operations. Another suffers seizures caused by a piece of shrapnel still
lodged in his brain.
After Bryce Lockwood left the Marines, he worked construction, then tried
selling insurance. "I'd get a job and get fired," he said. "I had a hell of a
time getting my feet on the ground." With his linguistic background, Lockwood could have had a career with the
NSA, the CIA, or the FBI. But he was too angry at the U.S. government to work
for it. "Don't talk to me about government!" he shouts.
U.S. Navy jets were called back
An Israeli military court of inquiry later acknowledged that their naval
headquarters knew at least three hours before the attack that the odd-looking
ship 13 miles off the Sinai Peninsula, sprouting more than 40 antennas capable
of receiving every kind of radio transmission, was "an electromagnetic
audio-surveillance ship of the U.S. Navy," a floating electronic vacuum
cleaner. The Israeli inquiry later concluded that that information had simply gotten
lost, never passed along to the ground controllers who directed the air
attack nor to the crews of the three Israeli torpedo boats who picked up where
air force left off, strafing the Liberty's decks with their machine guns and
launching a torpedo that blew a 39-foot hole in its starboard side.
To a man, the survivors interviewed by the Tribune rejected Israel's
Nor, the survivors said, did they understand why the American 6th Fleet,
which included the aircraft carriers America and Saratoga, patrolling 400 miles
west of the Liberty, launched and then recalled at least two squadrons of
Navy fighter-bombers that might have arrived in time to prevent the torpedo
attack -- and save 26 American lives.
J.Q. "Tony" Hart, then a chief petty officer assigned to a U.S. Navy relay
station in Morocco that handled communications between Washington and the 6th
Fleet, remembered listening as Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, in
Washington, ordered Rear Adm. Lawrence Geis, commander of the America's carrier
battle group, to bring the jets home.When Geis protested that the Liberty was under attack and needed help, Hart
said, McNamara retorted that "President [Lyndon] Johnson is not going to go
to war or embarrass an American ally over a few sailors." McNamara, who is now 91, told the Tribune he has "absolutely no recollection
of what I did that day," except that "I have a memory that I didn't know at
the time what was going on."
The Johnson administration did not publicly dispute Israel's claim that the
attack had been nothing more than a disastrous mistake. But internal White
House documents obtained from the Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library show
that the Israelis' explanation of how the mistake had occurred was not
believed. Except for McNamara, most senior administration officials from Secretary of
State Dean Rusk on down privately agreed with Johnson's intelligence adviser,
Clark Clifford, who was quoted in minutes of a National Security Council
staff meeting as saying it was "inconceivable" that the attack had been a case
of mistaken identity.
The attack "couldn't be anything else but deliberate," the NSA's director,
Lt. Gen. Marshall Carter, later told Congress. "I don't think you'll find many people at NSA who believe it was
accidental," Benson Buffham, a former deputy NSA director, said in an
interview. "I just always assumed that the Israeli pilots knew what they were doing,"
said Harold Saunders, then a member of the National Security Council staff and
later assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern and South Asian affairs.
"So for me, the question really is who issued the order to do that and why?
That's the really interesting thing."
The answer, if there is one, will probably never be known. Gen. Moshe Dayan,
then the country's minister of defense; Levi Eshkol, the Israeli prime
minister; and Golda Meir, his successor, are all dead. Many of those who believe the Liberty was purposely attacked have suggested
that the Israelis feared the ship might intercept communications revealing
its plans to widen the war, which the U.S. opposed. But no one has ever
produced any solid evidence to support that theory, and the Israelis dismiss
NSA's deputy director, Louis Tordella, speculated in a recently declassified
memo that the attack "might have been ordered by some senior commander on
the Sinai Peninsula who wrongly suspected that the LIBERTY was monitoring his
Was the U.S. flag visible?
Though the attack on the Liberty has faded from public memory, Michael Oren,
a historian and senior fellow at The Shalem Center in Jerusalem, conceded
that "the case of the assault on the Liberty has never been closed."
If anything, Oren said, "the accusations leveled against Israel have grown
sharper with time." Oren said in an interview that he believed a formal
investigation by the U.S., even 40 years later, would be useful if only because
would finally establish Israel's innocence.
Questions about what happened to the Liberty have been kept alive by
survivors' groups and their Web sites, a half-dozen books, magazine articles
television documentaries, scholarly papers published in academic journals, and
Internet chat groups where amateur sleuths debate arcane points of photo
interpretation and torpedo running depth. Meantime, the Liberty's survivors and their supporters, including a
distinguished constellation of retired admirals and generals, have persisted in
asking Congress for a full-scale formal investigation.
"We deserve to have the truth," Pat Blue said.
For all its apparent complexity, the attack on the Liberty can be reduced to
a single question: Was the ship flying the American flag at the time of the
attack, and was that flag visible from the air? The survivors interviewed by the Tribune uniformly agree that the Liberty
was flying the Stars and Stripes before, during and after the attack, except
for a brief period in which one flag that had been shot down was replaced with
another, larger flag -- the ship's "holiday colors" -- that measured 13 feet
Concludes one of the declassified NSA documents: "Every official interview
of numerous Liberty crewmen gave consistent evidence that indeed the Liberty
was flying an American flag -- and, further, the weather conditions were ideal
to ensure its easy observance and identification. The Israeli court of inquiry that examined the attack, and absolved the
Israeli military of criminal culpability, came to precisely the opposite
"Throughout the contact," it declared, "no American or any other flag
appeared on the ship."
The attack, the court said, had been prompted by a report, which later
proved erroneous, that a ship was shelling Israeli-held positions in the Sinai
Peninsula. The Liberty had no guns capable of shelling the shore, but the court
concluded that the U.S. ship had been mistakenly identified as the source of
Yiftah Spector, the first Israeli pilot to attack the ship, told the
Jerusalem Post in 2003 that when he first spotted the Liberty, "I circled it
and it did not fire on me. My assumption was that it was likely to open fire
at me and nevertheless I slowed down and I looked and there was positively no flag."
But the Liberty crewmen interviewed by the Tribune said the Israeli jets
simply appeared and began shooting. They also said the Liberty did not open
on the planes because it was armed only with four .50-caliber machine guns
intended to repel boarders.
"I can't identify it, but in any case it's a military ship," Spector radioed
his ground controller, according to a transcript of the Israeli
air-to-ground communications published by the Jerusalem Post in 2004. That transcript, made by a Post reporter who was allowed to listen to what
the Israeli Air Force said were tapes of the attacking pilots' communications,
contained only two references to "American" or "Americans," one at the
beginning and the other at the end of the attack.
The first reference occurred at 1:54 p.m. local time, two minutes before the
Israeli jets began their first strafing run.
In the Post transcript, a weapons system officer on the ground suddenly
blurted out, "What is this? Americans?""Where are Americans?" replied one of the air controllers. The question went unanswered, and it was not asked again. Twenty minutes later, after the Liberty had been hit repeatedly by machine
guns, 30 mm cannon and napalm from the Israelis' French-built Mirage and
Mystere fighter-bombers, the controller directing the attack asked his chief in
Tel Aviv to which country the target vessel belonged.
"Apparently American," the chief controller replied.
Fourteen minutes later the Liberty was struck amidships by a torpedo from an
Israeli boat, killing 26 of the 100 or so NSA technicians and specialists in
Russian and Arabic who were working in restricted compartments below the
Analyst: Israelis wanted it sunk
The transcript published by the Jerusalem Post bore scant resemblance to the
one that in 1967 rolled off the teletype machine behind the sealed vault
door at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, where Steve Forslund worked as an
intelligence analyst for the 544th Air Reconnaissance Technical Wing, then the
highest-level strategic planning office in the Air Force.
"The ground control station stated that the target was American and for the
aircraft to confirm it," Forslund recalled. "The aircraft did confirm the
identity of the target as American, by the American flag. "The ground control station ordered the aircraft to attack and sink the
target and ensure they left no survivors."
Forslund said he clearly recalled "the obvious frustration of the controller
over the inability of the pilots to sink the target quickly and completely."
"He kept insisting the mission had to sink the target, and was frustrated
with the pilots' responses that it didn't sink."
Nor, Forslund said, was he the only member of his unit to have read the
transcripts. "Everybody saw these," said Forslund, now retired after 26 years
the military. Forslund's recollections are supported by those of two other Air Force
intelligence specialists, working in widely separate locations, who say they
saw the transcripts of the attacking Israeli pilots' communications.
One is James Gotcher, now an attorney in California, who was then serving
with the Air Force Security Service's 6924th Security Squadron, an adjunct of
the NSA, at Son Tra, Vietnam. "It was clear that the Israeli aircraft were being vectored directly at USS
Liberty," Gotcher recalled in an e-mail. "Later, around the time Liberty got
off a distress call, the controllers seemed to panic and urged the aircraft
to 'complete the job' and get out of there."
Six thousand miles from Omaha, on the Mediterranean island of Crete, Air
Force Capt. Richard Block was commanding an intelligence wing of more than 100
analysts and cryptologists monitoring Middle Eastern communications. The transcripts Block remembered seeing "were teletypes, way beyond Top
Secret. Some of the pilots did not want to attack," Block said. "The pilots
'This is an American ship. Do you still want us to attack?'
"And ground control came back and said, 'Yes, follow orders.'"
Gotcher and Forslund agreed with Block that the Jerusalem Post transcript
was not at all like what they remember reading.
"There is simply no way that [the Post transcript is] the same as what I
saw," Gotcher said. "More to the point, for anyone familiar with air-to-ground
[communications] procedures, that simply isn't the way pilots and controllers
Block, now a child protection caseworker in Florida, observed that "the fact
that the Israeli pilots clearly identified the ship as American and asked
for further instructions from ground control appears to be a missing part of
that Jerusalem Post article." Arieh O'Sullivan, the Post reporter who made the newspaper's transcript,
said the Israeli Air Force tapes he listened to contained blank spaces. He said
he assumed those blank spaces occurred while Israeli pilots were conducting
their strafing runs and had nothing to communicate.
'But sir, it's an American ship!'
Forslund, Gotcher and Block are not alone in claiming to have read
transcripts of the attack that they said left no doubt the Israelis knew they
attempting to sink a U.S. Navy ship. Many ears were tuned to the battles being fought in and around the Sinai
during the Six-Day War, including those belonging to other Arab nations with a
keen interest in the outcome.
"I had a Libyan naval captain who was listening in that day," said a retired
CIA officer, who spoke on condition that he not be named discussing a
clandestine informant. "He thought history would change its course," the CIA officer recalled."Israel attacking the U.S. He was certain, listening in to the Israeli and
American comms [communications]. The late Dwight Porter, the American ambassador to Lebanon during the
Six-Day War, told friends and family members that he had been shown
English-language transcripts of Israeli pilots talking to their controllers.
A close friend, William Chandler, the former head of the Trans-Arabian Pipe
Line Co., said Porter recalled one of the pilots protesting, "But sir, it's
an American ship -- I can see the flag!' To which the ground control
responded, 'Never mind; hit it!'" Porter, who asked that his recollections not be made public while he was
alive because they involved classified information, also discussed the
transcripts during a lunch in 2000 at the Cosmos Club in Washington with
retired American diplomat, Andrew Kilgore, the former U.S. ambassador to Qatar.
Kilgore recalled Porter saying that he "saw the telex, read it, and passed
it right back" to the embassy official who had shown it to him. He quoted
Porter as recalling that the transcript showed "Israel was attacking, and they
know it's an American ship."
Haviland Smith, a young CIA officer stationed in Beirut during the Six-Day
War, said that although he never saw the transcript, he had "heard on a number
of occasions exactly the story that you just told me about what that
transcript contained." He had later been told, Smith recalled, "that ultimately all of the
transcripts were deep-sixed. I was told that they were deep-sixed because the
administration did not wish to embarrass the Israelis."
Perhaps the most persuasive suggestion that such transcripts existed comes
from the Israelis themselves, in a pair of diplomatic cables sent by the
Israeli ambassador in Washington, Avraham Harman, to Foreign Minister Abba Eban
Tel Aviv. Five days after the Liberty attack, Harman cabled Eban that a source the
Israelis code-named "Hamlet" was reporting that the Americans had "clear proof
that from a certain stage the pilot discovered the identity of the ship and
continued the attack anyway."
Harman repeated the warning three days later, advising Eban, who is now
dead, that the White House was "very angry," and that "the reason for this is
that the Americans probably have findings showing that our pilots indeed knew
that the ship was American." According to a memoir by then-CIA director Richard Helms, President
Johnson's personal anger was manifest when he discovered the story of the
attack on an inside page of the next day's New York Times. Johnson barked that "it should have been on the front page!"
Israeli historian Tom Segev, who mentioned the cables in his recent book "1967," said other cables showed that Ha rman's source for the second cable was
Arthur Goldberg, then U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The cables, which have been declassified by the Israelis, were obtained from
the Israeli State Archive and translated from Hebrew by the Tribune. Oliver Kirby, the NSA's deputy director for operations at the time of the
Liberty attack, confirmed the existence of NSA transcripts. Asked whether he had personally read such transcripts, Kirby replied, "I
sure did. I cetainly did."
"They said, 'We've got him in the zero,'" Kirby recalled, "whatever that
meant -- I guess the sights or something. And then one of them said, 'Can you
see the flag?' They said 'Yes, it's U.S, it's U.S.' They said it several times,
so there wasn't any doubt in anybody's mind that they knew it." Kirby, now 86 and retired in Texas, said the transcripts were "something
that's bothered me all my life. I'm willing to swear on a stack of Bibles that
we knew they knew."
One set of transcripts apparently survived in the archives of the U.S.
Army's intelligence school, then located at Ft. Holabird in Maryland.
W. Patrick Lang, a retired Army colonel who spent eight years as chief of
Middle East intelligence for the Defense Intelligence Agency, said the
transcripts were used as "course material" in an advanced class for
officers on the clandestine interception of voice transmissions. "The flight leader spoke to his base to report that he had the ship in view,
that it was the same ship that he had been briefed on and that it was
clearly marked with the U.S. flag," Lang recalled in an e-mail.
"The flight commander was reluctant," Lang said in a subsequent interview."That was very clear. He didn't want to do this. He asked them a couple of
times, 'Do you really want me to do this?' I've remembered it ever since. It
very striking. I've been harboring this memory for all these years."
Key NSA tapes said missing
Asked whether the NSA had in fact intercepted the communications of the
Israeli pilots who were attacking the Liberty, Kirby, the retired senior NSA
official, replied, "We sure did." On its Web site, the NSA has posted three recordings of Israeli
communications made on June 8, 1967. But none of the recordings is of the attack
itself. Indeed, the declassified documents state that no recordings of the "actual
attack" exist, raising questions about the source of the transcripts recalled
by Forslund, Gotcher, Block, Porter, Lang and Kirby.
The three recordings reflect what the NSA describes as "the aftermath" of
the attack -- Israeli communications with two Israeli helicopters dispatched to
rescue any survivors who may have jumped into the water. Two of the recordings were made by Michael Prostinak, a Hebrew linguist
aboard a U.S. Navy EC-121, a lumbering propeller-driven aircraft specially
equipped to gather electronic intelligence. But Prostinak said he was certain that more than three recordings were made
"I can tell you there were more tapes than just the three on the Internet,"
he said. "No doubt in my mind, more than three tapes." At least one of the missing tapes, Prostinak said, captured Israeli
communications "in which people were not just tranquil or taking care of
normal. We knew that something was being attacked," Prostinak said. "Everyone
we were listening to was excited. You know, it was an actual attack. And
during the attack was when mention of the American flag was made."
Prostinak acknowledged that his Hebrew was not good enough to understand
every word being said, but that after the mention of the American flag "the
attack did continue. We copied [recorded] it until we got completely out of
range. We got a great deal of it." Charles Tiffany, the plane's navigator, remembers hearing Prostinak on the
plane's intercom system, shouting, "I got something crazy on UHF," the radio
frequency band used by the Israeli Air Force. "I'll never forget it to this day," said Tiffany, now a retired Florida
lawyer. He also remembers hearing the plane's pilot ordering the NSA linguists
to"start taping everything."
Prostinak said he and the others aboard the plane had been unaware of the
Liberty's presence 15,000 feet below, but had concluded that the Israelis'
target must be an American ship. "We knew that something was being attacked,"
Prostinak said. After listening to the three recordings released by the NSA, Prostinak said
it was clear from the sequence in which they were numbered that at least two
tapes that had once existed were not there.
One tape, designated A1104/A-02, begins at 2:29 p.m. local time, just after
the Liberty was hit by the torpedo. Prostinak said there was a preceding
tape, A1104/A-01. That tape likely would have recorded much of the attack, which began with
the air assault at 1:56 p.m. Prostinak said a second tape, which preceded one
beginning at 3:07 p.m., made by another linguist aboard the same plane, also
appeared to be missing. As soon as the EC-121 landed at its base in Athens, Prostinak said, all the
tapes were rushed to an NSA facility at the Athens airport where Hebrew
translators were standing by.
"We told them what we had, and they immediately took the tapes and went to
work," recalled Prostinak, who after leaving the Navy became chief of police
and then town administrator for the village of Lake Waccamaw, N.C. Another linguist aboard the EC-121, who spoke on condition that he not be
named, said he believed there had been as many as "five or six" tapes recording
the attack on the Liberty or its aftermath. Andrea Martino, the NSA's senior media adviser, did not respond to a
question about the apparent conflict between the agency's assertion that there
no recordings of the Israeli attack and the recollections of those
interviewed for this article.
U.S. inquiry widely criticized
Rather than investigating how and why a U.S. Navy vessel had been attacked
by an ally, the Navy seemed interested in asking as few questions as possible
and answering them in record time. Even while the Liberty was still limping toward a dry dock in Malta, the
Navy convened a formal Court of Inquiry. Adm. John McCain Jr., the commander of
U.S. naval forces in Europe and father of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), chose
Adm. Isaac Kidd Jr. to preside.
The court's charge was narrow: to determine whether any shortcomings on the
part of the Liberty's crew had contributed to the injuries and deaths that
resulted from the attack. McCain gave Kidd's investigators a week to complete
the job. "That was a shock," recalled retired Navy Capt. Ward Boston, the inquiry's
counsel, who said he and Kidd had estimated that a thorough inquiry would take
six months. "Everyone was kind of stunned that it was handled so quickly and without
much hullabaloo," said G. Patrick March, then a member of McCain's staff in
London. Largely because of time constraints, Boston said, the investigators were
unable to question many of the survivors, or to visit Israel and interview any
Israelis involved in the attack. Rear Adm. Merlin Staring, the Navy's former judge advocate general, was asked to assess the American inquiry's report before it was sent to Washington.
But Staring said it was taken from him when he began to question some aspects
of the report. He describes it now as "a hasty, superficial, incomplete and
totally inadequate inquiry."
Staring, who is among those calling for a full congressional investigation
on behalf of the Liberty's survivors, observed in an interview that the
inquiry report contained several "findings of fact" unsupported by testimony or
evidence. One such finding ignored the testimony of several inquiry witnesses that the
American flag was flying during the attack, and held that the "available
evidence combines to indicate the attack on LIBERTY on 8 June was in fact a
of mistaken identity." There are also apparent omissions in the inquiry's report. It does not
include, for example, the testimony of a young lieutenant, Lloyd Painter, who
serving as officer of the deck when the attack began. Painter said he
testified that an Israeli torpedo boat "methodically machine-gunned one of our
rafts" that had been put over the side by crewmen preparing to abandon ship.
Painter, who spent 32 years as a Secret Service agent after leaving the
Navy, charged that his testimony about the life rafts was purposely omitted. Ward Boston recalled that, after McCain's one-week deadline expired, Kidd
took the record compiled by the inquiry "and flew back to Washington, and I
went back to Naples," the headquarters of the 6th Fleet. "Two weeks later, he comes back to Naples and calls me from his office,"
Boston recalled in an interview. "In that deep voice, he said, 'Ward, they
aren't interested in the facts. It's a political issue and we have to put a lid
it. We've been ordered to shut up.'
"It's time for the truth to come out," declared Boston, who is now 84."There have been so many cover-ups.""Someday the truth of this will come out," said Dennis Eikleberry, a NSA technician aboard the Liberty. "Someday it will, but we'll all be gone." James Ennes, now 74, who was officer of the deck just before the attack
began, and later spent two months in a body cast, is one of the more vocal
survivors. Like the others, Ennes is tired of waiting.
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