"We had been surveilled all morning
and part of the afternoon by Israeli forces. They knew who we were. We
heard them reporting over radio who we were and how we were sailing and
where we were sailing. They saw the flag and everything else. We were in
international waters." -
Statement by survivor
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.
We had been surveilled all morning and
part of the afternoon by Israeli forces. They knew who we were. We heard
them reporting over radio who we were and how we were sailing and where we
were sailing. They saw the flag and everything else. We were in
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.
At 2:00 the action started when we had
just completed a general quarters drill. I had just come out or the engine
room to get some fresh air when the firing started. That's when I took my
shrapnel hit, nothing fantastic but pieces of shrapnel. I went back to the
boiler room and prepared to start lighting off number one boiler to get
steam to get out of there.
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.
This persisted for probably 25 or 35
minutes with the aircraft rocketing us and hitting us with everything they
had, napalm and cannon fire and after that there was a comparatively small
lull. We heard that they were getting hit all over the place and we could
see the torpedo boats moving in and firing torpedoes at us, and then one
hit and put a 40 foot hole in the side of the ship and knocked all power
By that time the ship's interior was
blackened, you couldn't see anything except with battle lanterns. We were
still in the process of lighting off the boiler and trying to head the
ship out to see. The ship was listing and we got the word to prepare to
abandon ship. We were ordered by Lieutenant Golden who was in charge in
the engine room to exit, and the last one out of there was myself, and I
had to cut off the boilers' fuel supply. I was the last one.
We got outside at the
main battle dressing station where a lot of injuries were. We were just
about to go topside when we heard a lot of shots and canon fire and
machine gun fire. Evidently they were trying to pick off people who were
fighting fires and trying to put life rafts in the water. They were
picking these people off with machine guns. We were told, I didn't see
them, but we were told that they were shooting up the life rafts that were
in the water, so needless to say they weren't going to take survivors at
And so we headed back to
our spaces and did not abandon ship. We stayed with it. And it continued
probably for another 40 minutes with them shooting and finally after
seeing that the ship was not going to sink they grabbed one of the life
rafts and they exited the scene. And through that, the helicopters had
come over loaded with Israeli troops.
This lasted almost two
hours and finally we got the ship turned around and boilers lit off and
headed out to sea.
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.
We also heard that nine minutes into
the attack we had reached a message to the Sixth Fleet and they were on
their way with aircraft to help us. Little did we know until afterwards
that three sets of aircraft were turned back.
Israel officially states the attack on
the USS Liberty was accidental.
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 ceasefire 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 ceasefire 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
ceasefire before they conquered the coveted territory.
As James Bamford says, based on what
Israeli military sources indicate, the Israelis killed hundreds of Egyptian
POWs, most of them with their hands tied behind their backs. The attack on
USS Liberty survivors in life rafts was necessary to coverup the warcrimes
of the Israeli Defense Force.
MORE EVIDENCE OF GUILT
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 ultramodern (for
1967) 16foot 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 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 preplanned 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 attaché 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 attaché, 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
* 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; lastminute 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.
Israeli Pilot Speaks Up
Fifteen years after the attack, an
Israeli pilot approached Liberty survivors and then held extensive
interviews with former Congressman Paul N. (Pete) McCloskey about his role.
According to this senior Israeli lead pilot, he recognized the Liberty as
American immediately, so informed his headquarters, and was told to ignore
the American flag and continue his attack. He refused to do so and returned
to base, where he was arrested.
Later, a dual-citizen Israeli major told
survivors that he was in an Israeli war room where he heard that pilot's
radio report. The attacking pilots and everyone in the Israeli war room knew
that they were attacking an American ship, the major said. He recanted the
statement only after he received threatening phone calls from Israel.
The pilot's protests also were heard by
radio monitors in the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon. Then-U.S. Ambassador to
Lebanon Dwight Porter has confirmed this. Porter told his story to
syndicated columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak and offered to submit
to further questioning by authorities. Unfortunately, no one in the U.S.
government has any interest in hearing these first-person accounts of
Key members of the Lyndon Johnson
administration have long agreed that this attack was no accident. Perhaps
most outspoken is former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral
Thomas Moorer. "I can never accept the claim that this was a mistaken
attack, " he insists. Former Secretary of State Dean Rusk is equally
outspoken, calling the attack deliberate in press and radio interviews.
Similarly strong language comes from top leaders of the Central Intelligence
Agency, National Security Agency (some of whose personnel were among the
victims), National Security Council, and from presidential advisers such as
Clark Clifford, Joseph Califano and Lucius Battle.
Cover Up Claimed In Attack:
Ex-Admiral Questions Facts of Liberty Raid
Retired Adm. Thomas Moorer accused the
U.S. and Israeli governments yesterday of covering up evidence surrounding
the 1967 Israeli attack on the American intelligence ship USS Liberty.
Thirty-four American crewmen were killed
and 171 wounded in the combined air and sea attack June 8, 1967, against the
reconnaissance ship, cruising in international waters 15 miles off the Sinai
Peninsula during the Six-Day War.
Israel maintains its fighter pilots, who
buzzed the ship for eight hours before the attack, and torpedo boat crews,
mistook the Liberty for an Egyptian ship.
"The Israelis maintain this was simply a
case of mistaken identity, but this clearly does not hold water," said
Moorer, who was chief of naval operations at the time of the attack. "In
clear visibility, this unique ship was very easy to identify.
"The Israeli forces circled the ship and
then proceeded to attack over an extended period of time. There is Simply no
way the fighter pilots and torpedo boat crews could have come to such a
conclusion," he said.
Moorer, a former chairman of the Joint
Chiefs of Staff, joined a dozen surviving crew members of the USS Liberty at
a seminar during the annual convention of the American-Arab
Anti-Discrimination Committee in Washington.
He suggested the incident was a
deliberate attack to prevent the Liberty from picking up signals that could
have forewarned the United States of an Israeli military push into Syria the
"Based on the way this tragedy was
handled, both in the United States and Israel, one must conclude there is
much information that has not been made available to the public," Moorer
The U.S. 6th Fleet, positioned nearby,
received a distress call from the Liberty, and one carrier dispatched a
squadron to search for the disabled ship. Before the ship was found, the
fleet received orders from Washington ordering the planes back. Moorer
called on Congress to, once and for all clear up the uncertainties,
speculation and unanswered questions surrounding this tragedy, which is
still thought by many to be a deliberate cover-up on the part of the
government of Israel as well as the government of the United States.
U.S. military rescue aircraft were
recalled, not once, but twice, through direct intervention by the Johnson
administration. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara's cancellation of the
Navy's attempt to rescue the Liberty, which I personally confirmed from
the commanders of the aircraft carriers America and Saratoga, was the most
disgraceful act I witnessed in my entire military career.
The following appeared in the Fall, 1995
(Vol 8, No 3) Issue of the International Journal of Intelligence and
The Attack on the Liberty: an
"Accident"? by Reverdy S. Fishel
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 U.S.S. 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.
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."
False Flag Attack on the
USS Liberty in 1967 -