Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September 2003, page 25
National Security Agency Documents on Attack on USS Liberty Prove What?
By James M. Ennes
Liberty survivors were pleased when we learned in June that apologists for our attackers had asked the federal courts to order the release of key intercept transcripts compiled during the attack. These, we knew, would prove our case and disprove that of the apologists.
Instead of releasing t ranscripts of the attack itself, however, the National Security Agency (NSA) released signals intelligence transcripts collected after the attack—radio messages from helicopter pilots who came out afterward to clean up.
What a disappointment. We had hoped for some of the communications we know took place between the Israeli jet pilots and their headquarters, but those were not released.
Nevertheless, to our astonishment, the pro-Israel PR team put their own false spin on what was released. The July 9 Ha'aretz released the story with a new twist: "U.S. Agency Confirms [attack on] USS Liberty Was An Accident." Despite the fact that nothing in the documents released suggests that it was an accident, this false account was picked up by media from The Boston Globe to CNN, and repeated as established fact—often with quotes from Chief Apologist A. Jay Cristol, proclaiming victory.
But the released materials reveal no such thing. The NSA intercepts show only that the helicopter pilots were confused about the ship's identity until they arrived about 45 minutes after the first shots were fired. Intercept of the attack itself—not released, but which has been seen by senior NSA sources and others—show that in fact our attackers did know they were attacking an American ship. Israel has managed once again to get wide attention for a headline that gives a totally false account of reality.
The plain truth is that, despite the phony interpretation provided by Israeli spin-masters, most people who look carefully at the circumstances of this attack agree that it was deliberate. Moreover, the top minds in the American intelligence community agree that solid evidence is overwhelming that it was deliberate!
One really must look carefully when such leading lights as Dean Rusk, Marshall Carter, Richard Helms, Lou Tordella, Tom Moorer, Rufus Taylor, Bobby Ray Inman, John Morrison, George Ball, Clark Clifford, Lucius Battle, William Odom, Merlin Staring, Dwight Porter and others—including even LBJ's own press secretary, George Christian—all say, almost with one voice, that a) it was deliberate and b) that the evidence says so. Top intelligence officers agree that the attack's deliberateness was not a debatable issue; it was unanimously agreed-upon fact. None of these men is the sort to adopt wild or irresponsible positions.
We survivors say the attack was deliberate because what we saw argues that it was: Prolonged, low-level pre-attack reconnaissance in which the reconnaissance pilots were heard telling their headquarters that we were American; an extended close air attack with large colors flying throughout; selective jamming of the very frequencies we needed to call for help; torpedo boats that examined the ship and flag from 50 feet away and continued to fire from close range for another 40 minutes; machinegunning of our life rafts in the water.
The NSA released intelligence transcripts collected after the attack.
They then lied about everything, and claimed that they recognized us as American even as the torpedoes were in the water, and never fired again. Nonsense. They falsely claim that their boats called in the air attack because they miscalculated our speed from 32 miles away—when in fact their maximum radar range was 16 miles—and that they judged our speed at 30 knots, when we were actually moving at only five knots. Nonsense. They claim we flew no flag. Nonsense. If it was a mistake, at least they could tell the truth. If they didn't know we were American, why did they jam American radio frequencies?
The evidence goes far beyond those items, however: it is virtually absolute. Recently I called Oliver Kirby, a former NSA Operations boss who was called back in 1967 to look into the circumstances of the attack. He has never before discussed this with anyone outside the confines of the NSA complex, but the first words out of his mouth were, "I can tell you for an absolute certainty that they knew they were attacking an American ship."
How did he know? He saw transcripts of Israeli communications during the attack. There was a Navy EC121 overhead (reported recently by James Bamford) and an Air Force C130 a few miles away. Both were recording communications. The Navy intake was merely recorded; the Air Force product was sent securely in real time via the nation's top secret signals intelligence communications system to Air Force intelligence centers worldwide, where it was seen by hundreds of people. Many of those people now are coming forward to describe what they saw. These are the same intercepts that were seen by Oliver Kirby and other top analysts and officials at the National Security Agency. These transcripts are the reason so many top intelligence officials are certain that this attack was no accident.
NSA now denies there were airplanes overhead during the attack or that the attack was intercepted or recorded. Those denials are contradicted by very credible people who were there, including the navigator of the EC121 who is talking to us.
NSA can deny that such intercepts exist because, shortly after the attack, all such evidence of a deliberate attack was ordered destroyed in order to avoid embarrassing the attackers. Fortunately for the historical record, however, a great many people saw those transcripts before they went into the burn bag, and many of those people are now speaking out.
People are just learning that the Court of Inquiry was falsified. The Court's own legal counsel, Captain Ward Boston, now says publicly in the Navy Times and elsewhere that the court actually believed that the attack was deliberate but reported otherwise, falsely, because it was so ordered by Washington.
For years, apologists for Israel have claimed that what we say cannot be true because there is no known motive for an attack on Israel's wealthy provider. Now that we have proof that is agreed upon by virtually every senior official and several analysts of the era, the naysayers say that even these cannot be believed because 36 years has blurred memories. Nonsense.
Why would Israel attack a clearly marked American ship? We may never know. Dean Rusk once said that it must have been ordered by someone fairly high up to be able to coordinate all the different forces involved, but he had no doubt that it was deliberate. Richard Helms and Admiral Moorer have supposed that it was done to delay American knowledge of the pending Golan invasion. General Morrison agrees that it could have been to ensure that the U.S. didn't learn of Israel's execution of Egyptian POWs then underway at El Arish. We may never know the real reason—but anyone who wonders about this should look carefully at the circumstances before allowing the improbability of such an attack to weigh against the very solid evidence that the attack was deliberate.
A recent article in the June 2003 issue of Naval Institute Proceedings discusses these points in some depth. It can be found online at <http://www.military.com/NewContent/0,13190,NI_Friendless_0603,00.html>. This conservative and trusted publication, known as the voice of the U.S. Navy officer corps, does not adopt weak or frivolous positions. ❑
James Ennes was an officer on the bridge of the ship when the attack started. Author of Assault on the Liberty, available from the AET Book Club, he is webmaster of the USS Liberty memorial web site at <www.ussliberty.com>.