An artist’s collage juxtaposes the real-life conditions Palestinian workers face in the occupied West Bank with Scarlett Johansson’s role as SodaStream spokesmodel. (Courtesy Electronic Intifada)
Outside the U.S. Embassy in Amman, Jordan, activists demonstrate against U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and his peace proposal, Jan. 29, 2014. (Khalil Mazraawi/AFP/Getty Images)
A Jewish settler (unseen at left) places the Israeli flag on a road sign as Israeli troops encircle Palestinian villagers protesting the army’s cutting branches off olive trees on a road leading to the illegal Jewish settlement of Tekoa, south of Bethlehe
Dr. Eyad El Serraj at a 1993 press conference in East Jerusalem denouncing Israel’s use of torture. (Ruben Bittermann/Photofile)
U.N. and Arab League envoy for Syria Lakhdar Brahimi (l) and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the Jan. 22 press conference closing the Geneva II peace talks on Syria. (Philippe Desmazes/AFP/Getty Images)
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, June 1995, Pages 21, 90
Remembering the USS Liberty: The Secret War Against the Jews—A Litany of Lies
By James M. Ennes, Jr.
One of the first lessons learned by people directly involved in a major media event is that reporters, writers and some who call themselves investigative journalists are often seriously wrong, if not irresponsible, in what they write. Israel's attack on the USS Liberty is such an event. Much incredible nonsense has been written about the 1967 attack by Israeli aircraft and torpedo boats on the American intelligence ship USS Liberty, and the treatment of this matter in The Secret War Against the Jews by John Loftus and Mark Aarons (St. Martin's Press, 1994) is a striking example.
Loftus and Aarons boast a long list of "investigative" reports, mostly about Nazis, Jews, and plots against Jews. The Secret War Against the Jews, one more effort in this growing genre, devotes more than 500 pages of text and an additional 120 pages of source notes and bibliography to "exposing" a catalog of mostly unprovable crimes against the Jewish people and the Jewish state, told confidentially by anonymous and unidentifiable "old spies."
According to the authors, "The major powers of the world have repeatedly planned covert operations to bring about the destruction of Israel." During the Six-Day War of June 1967, they maintain, "The U.S. and British governments, while pretending to be on Israel's side, were giving all of Israel's secrets to the Arabs." Therefore, one chapter, the subject of this report, deals with the USS Liberty, which Israel attempted to sink during the Six-Day War.
According to Loftus and Aarons, the USS Liberty was the most sophisticated intelligence vessel in the world and was a major player in this secret war against world Jewry. "All of the published versions of the Liberty incident are wrong," they write. "The State Department's Middle East policies had a pronounced anti-Semitic tilt." The only reason the ship was sent to the Sinai coast, they say, was to spy on Israel so that the U.S. government could curry favor with Arab leaders.
The Loftus-Aarons Version
According to the authors, the USS Liberty was operating near Egypt when she was suddenly removed from Navy control, placed under the direct control of the National Security Agency, and told to "ignore all orders from the Joint Chiefs of Staff" in order to support the Arab war effort against Israel.
Soon the ship was augmented with Hebrew linguists and ordered to steam in circles off the Israeli coast. A major from the National Security Agency, identified as one Alan Blue, was in charge. Blue consulted frequently with Captain McGonagle, the commanding officer, who was forbidden to enter the intelligence spaces.
Israel never asked about ships in the area until after the Liberty attack.
Liberty's real task, Loftus and Aarons want us to believe, was to monitor the low-power, short-range radio transmissions of Israeli tanks and small infantry units in the desert. Those transmissions were then relayed by satellite to British intelligence teams in Cyprus who, using sophisticated voice print matching equipment, could identify and locate every Israeli unit in the war. British intelligence then relayed this vital information to the Egyptian government.
When the Israelis learned of this treachery, we are told, they asked the United States to explain the presence of an American vessel in the area. But the Americans lied, denying that the ship was American.
To save itself, Israel had no choice but to eliminate the ship. Because Israelis regard all human life as precious, they got approval from the highest levels of government to conduct a pinpoint attack by torpedo on the precise compartment housing the intelligence team. That, they decided, would stop the threat to Israel with the least loss of American lives.
And when the Joint Chiefs, whose orders Liberty had been told to ignore, tried desperately to order this ship away from the area, not a single message got through the ship's sophisticated communication center for two days. Even messages sent at the Navy's highest priority level, code named "Pinnacle," were delayed or lost during this period.
All this is ponderously reported and painstakingly documented with 91 source notes, including references to hundreds of "confidential interviews" with those anonymous "old spies" and former employees of various intelligence agencies.
The conclusion, attributed to "several" reluctant but typically anonymous Israelis, is that the attack was indeed deliberate, but was a necessary act of self-defense.
The sad but overwhelming fact is that none of this is true. The ship did not come from Egypt; it was diverted from the African coast well before the war started. We didn't steam in circles, but on a course parallel to the coast. Nor were we heading "from the direction of Egypt" when "spotted" by the Israelis; on the contrary, we were headed directly toward Egypt. The only "Israeli coast" in sight was Sinai land the Israelis had captured just before we arrived.
It is preposterous to believe that we were "removed from Navy control," as these authors claim, or directed to "ignore" orders from the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The truth is, we were always under the direct military control of the local commander, who took his orders from the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Washington.
Israel has claimed for years that the U.S., when asked about the Liberty, denied that the ship was American. That story, repeated here by Loftus and Aarons, is also untrue. On the contrary, Israel never asked about ships in the area until after the attack. Then, Israeli briefers falsely claimed in a news conference to have asked days earlier. They never made that claim officially to our government, because any such false claim by the Israeli government would have brought a quick official denial from the Americans.
What about this "NSA major" who was "in charge"? There was no major. NSA does not bestow military rank. The man in charge of the intelligence operation was U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. David Edwin Lewis, who reported to Captain McGonagle. Like any Navy commanding officer, McGonagle had full access to every part of his ship, including the intelligence spaces.
Alan Blue, who is identified as "the major," was in fact a 24-year-old Arabic linguist who died in the attack. Blue was a GS-7 civilian, just out of the Navy. He had been with the National Security Agency for less than a year. He was a technician. He didn't "consult" with the ship's captain about anything. He had no supervisory authority and never even met the captain.
What about the "Hebrew linguist" we are said to have picked up for the mission? The men we picked up were Russian and Arabic linguists. If there was a single Hebrew linguist aboard, no one can recall who he was or what his job might have been.
The fact is, NSA had very few Hebrew linguists and used them sparingly because whenever Israeli supporters in the Congress learned of such things they threatened to cut the agency's budget.
Not a single message got through, including some at the most urgent precedence called "Pinnacle"? Nonsense. Some key orders were lost in overworked relay stations ashore, but this ship sent and received hundreds of messages every day. And "Pinnacle" is not a military communications precedence at all.
The authors want us to believe Israel carefully targeted only the intelligence spaces with a precisely aimed torpedo in order to spare American lives. Yet they couldn't even hit the side of the 455-foot ship with the other four torpedoes, which missed completely.
These authors have the British "downloading" the ship's satellite communications destined for NSA headquarters. Yet Navy satellite communications did not exist in 1967, and Liberty's sophisticated lunar communications relay system was not working.
When attacked, the USS Liberty was near the Gaza Strip, moving away from the Israeli coast and toward Egypt. At least two men recall that their orders were to concentrate on Soviet intercepts and to ignore any Israeli signals they happened to hear. "Note the signal and, if it is Israeli, drop it," were the orders. Do not collect, record, or even listen to Israeli signals. That was consistent with NSA policy. The prime target was not Israel.
What Was the Liberty Really Doing?
In 1967, the Soviets were known to have stationed at least five Soviet TU-95 Bear bombers in Egypt, where they were supposedly flown by Arab pilots. But the U.S. suspected that these were actually Soviet bombers under Soviet control using Soviet pilots. The Liberty was asked to determine who controlled those aircraft.
Israel attacked our ship not because of what we were doing, but what they thought we were capable of doing. We were indeed capable of monitoring the war and could probably have detected the scheduled Golan invasion and other Israeli movements if those had been our orders.
The truth is that our primary target had nothing to do with the Six-Day War at all. Some argue that the war merely provided a cover to explain our presence in the area while our real purpose was to determine who was piloting the Russian Bears.
"Where Do They Get This Stuff?"
"Where do they get this stuff?" several of my USS Liberty shipmates asked after reviewing the Loftus-Aarons chapter on the Liberty. "Do they make it up?"
It would seem so. Many of these fables started with Anthony Pearson in his book Conspiracy of Silence, published in England in the late 1970s. Pearson asked me to join him in that effort. I refused. Then I learned that he was lying about alliances with a prominent writer, a senator, and a dozen Arab countries. Still later I learned that most of his book was a lie.
Pearson created the "Major Blue" fable and a host of other fairy tales related to the Liberty. Many of the stories lived on, only to be repeated and embellished by others. Pearson is also the creator of the weird story that has an ICBM submarine lying 90 miles off the Israeli coast during the Six-Day War, ready to nuke Tel Aviv if necessary to keep the Israelis from using nuclear weapons against the Arabs.
Pearson, sadly, was dying from a brain tumor when he wrote his book. It rendered him paranoid. He died on the run from the Mossad, which he believed was trying to silence him. He spent his days slipping in and out of London subways to evade his pursuers; he rarely slept in the same bed twice.
His book reflects his paranoia. Sadly, Pearson's ramblings are constantly picked up and further embellished by other writers who fail to understand just how sick he really was. Then those writers cite one another as sources for their ravings, never bothering with any serious research or verification. Now, Loftus and Aarons bring 25 years of misinformed embellishments together and give them credence with long lists of "confidential sources" whose identities are known only to themselves.
In a very real sense, this is dangerous, because some of what they say will be believed. Suggestible people will be frightened for no reason, and that should not happen.
In the end, the only thing Loftus and Aarons seem to have gotten right is the fact that the attack was no accident. Even that, they justify as being "necessary." It was not.
James M. Ennes, Jr. was an officer on the bridge of the USS Liberty when the ship was attacked. He is the author of Assault on the Liberty, which is available through the AET Book Club. As an eyewitness to the attack, he has spent many years verifying details through further research and careful live interviews with eyewitnesses who were also there and with other knowledgeable experts. For this article he reinterviewed seven of his fellow crew members, all former Navy or National Security Agency personnel, concerning specific allegations in the Loftus and Aarons book regarding the mission and the orders under which USS Liberty linguists were operating.