5th February 17:24
USS LIBERTY, ISRAELI PILOT SPEAKS
Israeli Pilot Speaks Up
Fif**** 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 Israeli treachery.
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
A top-secret ****ysis of Israel's excuse conducted by the Department of
State found Israel's story to be untrue. Yet Israel and its defenders
continue to stand by their claim that the attack was a "tragic accident" in
which Israel mistook the most modern electronic surveillance vessel in the
world for a rusted-out 40-year-old Egyptian horse transport. Despite the
evidence, no U.S. administration has never found the courage to defy the
Israeli lobby by publicly demanding a proper accounting from Israel.
5th February 17:24
USS LIBERTY, ISRAELI PILOT SPEAKS
The USS Liberty
While researching for my reply to one of my readers who had asked for
comments about the Israeli attack on the American US Liberty in 1967, I was
amazed to discover that, although this event took place thirty six years
ago, it is a story which is still occasionally in the news. I therefore
delved into both aspects of the story.
The first aspect, and most obvious, is the actual sequence of events
leading up to, and including, the tragic attack on the afternoon of June
8th, 1967 - the 4th day of the Six Day War. This article is based mainly,
but not only, on two sources and I quote extensively and freely from both.
Both have based themselves on recently declassified material which was
unavailable prior to 2003. This renders their research far more accurate
that anything previously published.
Furthermore, neither Michael Oren or Dr. Jay Cristol have any "hidden
agenda", which cannot be said for most of the USS Liberty literature
available in bookstores and on the internet.
1) The USS Liberty: Case Closed by Michael Oren - Azure Spring
2) Interviews with, and articles by, Dr. A Jay Cristol, US Florida
judge, US navy pilot, navy lawyer, lecturer for the Department of Defense
on the law of naval warfare and, after 16 years of research, author of the
definitive The Liberty Incident.
As both authors have noted their sources for virtually every statement
or claim they make, their readers are able to check their accuracy. Those
sources include the minutes of the official enquiries, presidential diaries,
accredited archival material and lately declassified material.
The second aspect, which as I mentioned took me by surprise, is why
this story keeps surfacing even though all similar incidents of "friendly
fire" or other such tragic errors have faded into history. What I discovered
however, was really not so surprising. Read on.
Mid May: The USS Liberty was on its way from Norfolk, Virginia to
Abidjan, Ivory Coast when the Mid East crisis erupted and Egyptian President
Abdul Nasser closed the international Straits of Tiran and shipping access
to the Israeli port of Eilat. As this was in effect an Egyptian declaration
of war on Israeli, US Pres. Lyndon Johnson decided to challenge the closure,
despite American pre-occupation with Vietnam war.
24th May: The US Sixth Fleet was ordered to eastern Mediterranean, but
was advised to remain “outside an arc whose radius is 240 miles from Port
Said”. The USS Liberty was under command of Sixth Fleet but, in practice,
orders came from Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) under aegis of National
Security Agency (NSA). Although called an “auxiliary general technical
research ship” it was in fact a “signals intelligence vessel” equipped with
listening and decoding devices. Of 294 man crew, several dozen members of
the Naval Security Group worked in an area off-limits even to the captain,
Cmdr. William McGonagle. At Rota, Spain, ship took on supplies, plus three
Marine Corps Arabic translators.
30th May: Cmdr. McGonagle received orders from JCS to sail “at best
speed” to a point a half a mile outside Egyptian and Israeli territorial
waters, which extended twelve and six nautical miles, respectively, from the
coast. This order superseded a request of the US Naval Command in Europe,
which did not know of the mission of USS Liberty, to hold the Liberty in
Rota. Apparently Cmdr. McGonagle himself was also not aware of the true
mission of the USS Liberty..
Though the exact nature of the mission remains classified it was
probably to track movements of Egyptian troops and their Russian advisors -
hence the Russian and Arabic translators.
31st May: Concerned about threats to the heavily populated and
industrialized coast line, an Egyptian navy outnumbering the Israeli by
five to one, the presence of about seventy Russian ships in the vicinity,
IDF Chief of Staff Gen. Yitzhak Rabin, informer the US Naval Attach? in TA,
Cmdr. Ernest Castle that Israel would defend its coast with every means at
its disposal. All unidentified ships would be sunk. The US was requested to
acknowledge its ships in the area or remove them.
The US provided no information on the USS Liberty and rejected Israel’
s request for a formal naval liaison. Abraham Harman, Israel’s ambassador in
Washington, warned Under-Secretary of State Eugene Rostow “if war breaks
out, we will have no telephone number to call, no code for plane
recognition, no way to get in touch with the Sixth fleet.
5th June: The war began with an Israeli attack on Egyptian Air Force
bases, followed by the Israeli army advance into the Sinai peninsula.
8th June: Before dawn, the Liberty reached its destination, between
Port Said and Gaza, using a lane rarely used by commercial shipping and
declared closed to neutral ships by Egypt. Concerned about being so close to
the fighting, Cmdr. McGonagle requested permission to pull back, or to be
provided with a destroyer escort. . Vice-Adm. William Martin, commander of
the Sixth fleet refused both requests.
Both were unaware that the JCS had repeatedly cabled the Liberty to
withdraw to 100 miles from the Egyptian and Israeli coasts. Due to the
complex communication system, the message was delayed as it had been
diverted via the Philippines. It would reach the Liberty only on the 9th.
5.55: A naval observer on an IAF reconnaissance flight noted what he
took to be an American supply vessel 70 miles west of Gaza. At naval
headquarters in Haifa this was marked with a red marker indicating
"unknown". After checking Jane’s Fighting Ships, the marked was changed to
green, signifying "neutral" when the ship was identified as “the
electromagnetic audio-surveillance ship of the US, the Liberty”.
9.00: An Israeli fighter aircraft sighted a vessel, described as
“gray, bulky, with its bridge amidships”, 20 miles north of El Arish.
Neither observer reported seeing a flag. The ship’s crew would later testify
that six IAF aircraft flew over the ship. In retrospect it appears that the
IAF were probably looking for a submarine that had been spotted on the
coast, and not for the ship.
11.00: The duty officer at naval headquarters in Haifa ended his shift
and removed the Liberty marker as it was five hours old and no longer
accurate. A follow-up as to the where-abouts of the Liberty was not
instigated by the new duty officer, an error which Israel later expressed
regret. At the same time, Gen. Rabin, concerned that the Egyptians were
planning an amphibious landing, repeated the order to sink all unidentified
vessels, emphasizing that care had to be taken as there may be Russian
ships in the area.
11.24: An explosion at El Arish, where the IDF and Egyptian army were
engaged in a fierce battle. The explosion could be heard on the Liberty. IDF
forces were sure they were being bombarded from the sea and reported
sighting two unidentified vessels close offshore. Only much later did it
become clear that an Egyptian ammunition dump had exploded.
11.29: The Liberty reached the eastern limit of its patrol and turned
239 degrees, back in the direction of Port Said, and away from El Arish,
thereby giving the impression that it had accomplished its mission and was
leaving the area. As no fighter planes were available to investigate, the
navy was asked to intercede.
12.05: At naval headquarters Capt. Rahav dispatched three torpedo
13.41: On the torpedo boat, Ensign Aharon Yifrah informed Cmdr. Moshe
Oren that an unidentified ship had been sighted 22 miles NE of El Arish,
sailing at approx. 30 knots, a speed attained only by fighting ships and
certainly not by the Liberty, which had a max. speed of 18 knots. Despite
double checking the his calculations, only later did it become clear that
the calculation was incorrect. All signs seemed to indicate that an enemy
destroyer was fleeing to Egypt after shelling El Arish. The torpedo boats
gave chase and alerted the IAF.
13.56: Capt. Spector, in one of the two Mirage IIIs diverted from the
Suez C****, made two passes at 3,000 feet and reported a Hunt-class
destroyer without Israeli navy deck markings. They were unable to see a flag
or to identify black letters on the hull.
IAF Intelligence Chief Col. Yeshayahu Bareket claimed to have
contacted US Naval Attach? Castle to ascertain if this was the Liberty.
Castle professed to have no knowledge of the Liberty’s schedule, a claim
which he later denied, but which was confirmed by Cmdr. McGonagle.
13.58: After completing two sweeps, the order was given to attack.
Rockets and 30mm canons strafed the ship. Nine were killed and dozens
injured, including Cmdr. McGonagle. Radio operators found their frequencies
inoperable and barely managed to send an SOS to the Sixth fleet. Conspiracy
theorists, about whom more later, continue to insist that Israel had jammed
Radioman Chief Wayne Smith tried three times to raise the radio
without success. Only when he got to the transmitter room did he discover
why. In the chaos of the air strike someone had accidentally knocked the
frequency dial one kilocycle off.. This sworn testimony is disregarded.
The Mirages made three strafing runs and then two IAF Super-Mysteres
returning from the Mitla pass dropped a payload of napalm.
14.12: Making a final pass one of the Israeli pilots reported seeing
no flag but markings on the hull - CTR5. As Egyptian vessels used Arabic
markings, Rabin feared a Russian vessel had been hit and he called off the
jets. Two IAF Hornet helicopters were sent to search for survivors.
14.20: The torpedo boat squadron was ordered to hold fire. This order
appeared in the log but Cmdr. Oren claimed not to have received it. The
Liberty replaced its flag and made contact with the Sixth fleet. Eight
armed F-104's were on the way. However, they were recalled by Vice-Adm.
Martin who suspected the attackers were Russian and preferred to wait for
higher authorization before acting.
The Israelis were concerned that the ship was Russian while the
Americans thought the IAF planes were Russian!.
14.24: The torpedo boats came into range. Even though the Liberty was
shrouded in smoke, Cmdr. Oren could see this was not the destroyer that had
presumably attacked El Arish. At 6,000 meters he signaled “AA” - identify
yourself. Due to damaged equipment McGonagle could only reply “AA”. Oren
recalled that in the 1956 Sinai war he had received a similar reply from the
Egyptian destroyer Ibrahim al-Awwal, which was later captured by the
Countering the claim that the attack was deliberate and premeditated,
Cristol wonders why, if the identity of the ship was known to the Israelis,
and they were intent on destroying it, did they bother to signal to it. And
no one denies that the torpedo boats did try and engage in a dialogue.
After consulting his naval intelligence manual, Cmdr. Oren decided
that the vessels resembled the Egyptian freighter El-Quseir. The officers of
the other two boats, independently, reached the same, incorrect, conclusion.
Any doubts were dispelled when the Israeli boats came under sudden fire from
The following quotes from the sworn testimony given by Cmdr. McGonagle
at the US Court of Inquiry are revealing.
“I did not have direct communication with the gun control or gun
mounts … our flag had been shot away during the attack and I ordered a
replacement … at approx. 2,000 yards it appeared they were flying an Israeli
flag … it was not possible to read the signals from the torpedo boat because
of the flames and smoke … I yelled to machinegun 51 to tell him to hold
fire … I realised that there was a possibility of the aircraft being Israeli
and the attack being conducted in error … the man on machine gun 51 fired a
short burst … instantly machine gun 53 began firing … as far as the torpedo
boats are concerned, I am sure they felt they were under fire from the USS
Liberty”. (Prepared by Cristol as a response to a History Channel program
full of inaccuracies and quoted by JCPA in a memorandum published on 31
Only one torpedo scored a direct hit, killing twenty five. As they
closed in one of the rafts was found to have US markings. Then the GTR-5
marking became clear.
14.30 - 15.37: Declassified US transcripts, released in 2003, of
conversations between IAF pilots and ground control, as recorded by an
American EC-121 spy plane sent to the area by NSA attest to the confusion,
and confirm that the transcripts issued years earlier by Israel were
accurate. The IAF pilots were ordered to check the survivors nationality.
“If they speak Arabic, take them to El Arish. If they speak English, take
them to Lod (a base in Israel)”.
The American tapes confirm that at 15.12 one of the pilots was heard
reporting that he thought he had seen an American flag. The ground crew
order him to check again.
15.30: The USS Liberty was finally identified. An apology was
immediately sent to the US Naval attach?, Cmdr. Castle. Two Israeli Hornet
helicopters tried to offer assistance as did the torpedo boats. Both offers
were refused by Cmdr.
16.??: McGonagle refused to allow Cmdr. Castle, who had in the
meanwhile arrived on another IAF helicopter, to board his vessel. Eight
armed US warplanes launched from the USS Saratoga were recalled.
17.05: Israel broke off all contact and the USS Liberty limped out to
sea with 34 dead, 171 injured and without an operating communications
17.50: Hours after the first shots were fired, and still unaware of
the final outcome, the White House received first word from the JCS that
the Liberty had been attacked. President Johnson, sure that this was a
Russian attack and desirous of avoiding further escalation, used the
hot-line to call the Kremlin.
Within 48 hours the Israeli government offered to compensate the
victims and their families. Eventually over $6 million was paid to the
families of those wounded and killed and a further $6 million was paid
directly to the US.
But, whereas other “friendly fire” incidents throughout the world soon
become history, the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty has not been laid to
rest. Almost immediately accusations against Israel and "conspiracy
theories" were bandied about. Israel conducted three enquiries into the
incident. The USA has conducted no less than ten enquiries over the years.
Two preliminary Israeli reports both admitted to errors concerning the
source of the explosion at El Arish, miscalculating the Liberty’s speed and
mistaking its identity. At no point has the US admitted that a certain
degree of blame rests with its own lack of clarity concerning both the
mission of the USS Liberty and its whereabouts on that day.
Although the US administration accepted that the entire affair was the
result of a series of errors, it did not take long for dissenting voices to
be heard, louder and louder. They included both Secretary of State, Dean
Rusk, and Under Secretary of State, Eugene Rostow, who demanded that Israel
admit wrong-doing and court martial those responsible.
The findings of a third, more probing, investigation conducted by
Military jurist Yeshayahu Yerushalmi confirmed those of the first two. “For
all my regret that our forces were involved in an incident with a vessel
belonging to a friendly state, I have not discovered any deviation from the
standard of reasonable conduct which would justify a court martial”.
The first US investigation was conducted by the Navy Court of Inquiry
in Malta shortly after the attack. There were discrepancies between the
testimony of Cmdr. McGonagle and several of his officers. The suggestion
that the flag was not visible because of the absence of even light winds was
only proven to be correct much later when Cristol closely examined
photographs taken by the camera of the attacking jet.
They clearly show smoke rising from the ship in a straight column,
undisturbed by any wind. The flag mast was shot down by the first jet so
there would have been nothing for the others to see. Photographs taken of
the burning ammunition dump in El Arish also show the smoke rising in a
Subsequently nine more investigations were held by the CIA, the NSA,
the JCS and by both houses of Congress, all arrived at the same conclusion.
Eight presidents endorsed the findings of the enquiry held during their term
of office and in a letter in October 2002 President Bush indicated that no
further investigation of this incident is needed.
What are these "conspiracy theories"? A look at some of the
Liberty-related internet sites is hair-raising. The demands for yet another
official US enquiry are unending.
The main theory is that Israel deliberately attacked the Liberty to
prevent the US from obtaining information about Israel’s up and coming
attack on the Syria and Israel feared the US would issue an ultimatum to
prevent it. However, declassified do***ents reveal that Israel kept the US
advised of her intentions through the usual diplomatic channels. Nor was
there any hint of American opposition.
The American consulate in Jerusalem and the US Ambassador, Walworth
Barbour in TA both reported of an impending attack. Senior White House aide
Harry McPherson, in Israel at the time, was told by IDF Intelligence Chief
Aharon Yariv that it would be necessary “to give Syria a blow”.
Although this theory has been shown to be conclusively incorrect, it
is still used.
Another theory is that Israel wanted to hide the fact that the Liberty
had proof that the IDF had massacred Egyptians in Sinai. This despite the
fact that Egypt had never made such a claim, that no mass graves were ever
found, that no Egyptian soldiers were left un accounted for after the war,
and no less important, the Liberty lacked the ability to garner such
information, nor in fact, did any such electronic intelligence equipment
exist in 1967.
Another theory which has been shown to be conclusively incorrect, but
it is still used.
The theory that Israel deliberately jammed the communications system
has been shown by American records to be incorrect. Radioman Chief Wayne
Smith testified that only when he got to the transmitter room did he
discover why he had been unsuccessful in his three attempts to raise the
radio. In the chaos of the air strike someone had accidentally knocked the
frequency dial one kilocycle off.
This sworn testimony is disregarded and yet another theory which has
been shown to be conclusively incorrect, is still used.
The last theory I want to mention is that Defense Minister Moshe Dayan
knew that this was an American ship and insisted, despite the protests of an
unnamed admiral, that it be sunk. The source for this story was supposedly a
major in the IDF Intelligence corps who witnessed the argument between Dayan
and the admiral and reported it to journalists Evans and Novak.
Here too Cristol did some elegant detective work, shades of TV’s best.
A photograph taken by David Rubinger, who accompanied Dayan to Hebron on 8th
June was enlarged to show Dayan’s wrist watch. From the time displayed it
was clear that he was nowhere near TA at the time of the attack.
Furthermore, Dayan was clearly unable to be in contact with military
headquarters in TA as his command car lacked a field radio. And the admiral
with whom he was supposed to have argued, the only admiral in the Israeli
forces, Shlomo Erell, was at that time at the naval headquarters in Haifa.
How could someone have witnessed an argument which could not possibly have
Once again, the facts are irrelevant and this theory which has also
been shown to be conclusively incorrect, is still used.
The cherry on the top of the above investigation is that Cristol was
unable to uncover the identity of the “major” who was the source for this
claim. - private Giora Dagan, “a driver in the motor pool”. Serial number
Who has organized a conspiracy against whom??
That is the tantalizing question one has to ask, especially in light
of all the above, accurate information.
In an interview given by Jay Cristol to Joel Leyden, which appeared
in the Jerusalem Post, 10th July, 2003, Jay Cristol has some theories.
Here are some excerpts from that interview.
“For years conspiracy theorists have claimed tapes existed of Israeli
pilots identifying the ship as American before they attacked, interceptions
recorded both by the Liberty and by the US submarine Amberjack.
“On July 2, 2003, as a result of my lawsuit using the Freedom of
Information Act, the National Security Agency admitted that there had been
no radio intercepts made by the USS liberty and that there had been no radio
intercepts made by the US submarine Amberjack.
“And finally, NSA released copies of the recordings it made from an
EC-121 aircraft in the vicinity of the attacks”.
I personally cannot but wonder why it took the NSA so long to
discredit these false claims, and then only as the result of a law suit.
In reply to a question concerning the Liberty Veteran’s Association
and its very rabid web site, Cristol had this to say:
“Not all former crew members are members of the association and there
are certainly those who accept that the tragedy was the result of Israeli
and US mistakes. The association was founded with the assistance of former
US Congressman Paul Findley, the first Congressman to espouse the PLO and
Paul McCloskey, who is a regular speaker at Holocaust denial conferences.
“Both are among the founders of the Council for the National
Interest, CNI, an organisation whose avowed purpose (according to their own
press release) was to be an anti-Israel lobby”.
When asked why attack on the USS Liberty has remained alive for 36
years whereas other similar incidents fade into history, Cristol replied:
"The victims have been imposed upon and used and abused by people with
their own agendas … whether they are pro-Arab, anti-Israel or
anti-Semitic … to drive a wedge into the otherwise excellent relationship
between the US and Israel ”
23rd November, 2003.
Hi Beryl -
As a quick intro, I'm an amateur naval historical researcher and a
former US Navy sailor. I also helped A. Jay Cristol with some of his later
research (which went into the book) as well as doing my own, independent
research, on certain aspects of the subject of your article.
This is the first time I've come across your article, and it's very
well done. Good show. I especially like the way you weave various
components of the US naval court testimony into the time line - few ever
take the time to do so.
Nice of you to put the article together, and display it.
[Zionism is NOT Racism, Anti-Zionism is Anti-Semitism]