From my inbox, enjoy the content and if possible focus on the issues raised rather than attack personalities, that strategy stopped working some months ago.
This is a special 2-part series on new evidence obtained
by the Chicago Tribune. The second part will be delivered
to you tomorrow. After 40 years, the truth needs to be
Video Clip Of The Week
US Had Foreknowledge of Israeli Attack On Syria
On September 20, Israel attacked Syria under mysterious
circumstances. Both Israeli and US governments maintained
silence on the nature of the attack and a compliant media
followed suit. But there were a few isolated reports in
<a href=" http://www.evtv1.com/player.aspx?itemnum=9142 ">
US Had Foreknowledge of Israeli Attack On Syria</a>
Did US and Israel Lie about the 1967 USS Liberty Incident?
-By John Crewdson, Chicago Tribune senior correspondent
Bryce Lockwood, Marine staff sergeant, Russian-language
expert, recipient of the Silver Star for heroism, ordained
Baptist minister, is shouting into the phone.
"I'm angry! I'm seething with anger! Forty years, and I'm
seething with anger!"
Lockwood was aboard the USS Liberty, a super-secret spy
ship on station in the eastern Mediterranean, when four
Israeli fighter jets flew out of the afternoon sun to
strafe and bomb the virtually defenseless vessel on
June 8, 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 incredulity: that Israel would attack an important
ally, then attribute the attack to a case of mistaken
identity by Israeli pilots who had confused the U.S.
Navy's most distinctive ship with an Egyptian horse-
cavalry transport that was half its size and had a dis-
similar profile. And they're also incredulous that, for
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 believe that for a minute! You just don't shoot
at a ship at sea without identifying it, making sure of
Four decades later, many of the more than two dozen Liberty
survivors located and interviewed by the Tribune cannot
talk about the attack without shouting or weeping.
Their anger has been stoked by the declassification of
government documents and the recollections of former
military personnel, including some quoted in this article
for the first time, which strengthen doubts about the U.S.
National Security Agency's position that it never intercept-
ed the communications of the attacking Israeli pilots --
communications, according to those who remember seeing
them, that showed the Israelis knew they were 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 the case with what even
some of its participants now say was a hasty and seriously
In declassifying the most recent and largest batch of
materials last June 8, 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 set of conclusions, many of which can be
drawn from a thorough review of this material," available
at http://www.nsa.gov/liberty .
An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mark Regev, called
the attack on the Liberty "a tragic and terrible accident,
a case of mistaken identity, for which Israel has official-
ly apologized." Israel also paid reparations of $6.7
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' apology nor the passing of time has lessened
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
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 husband of two years, an Arab-
language expert with the NSA, had been hurriedly dispatched
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 on the 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 Israel's ally, and the
Israelis knew the Americans were there. The ship's mission
was 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 stretched out on the deck for a lunch-hour sun bath.
Theodore Arfsten, a quartermaster, remembered watching a
Jewish officer cry when he saw the blue Star of David 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 casualty. An additional 171 were wounded in the
air and sea assault by Israel, which was about to celebrate
an overwhelming victory over the combined armies of Egypt,
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 dis-
order. 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 construct-
ion, 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 cap-
able 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 the
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
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 communi-
cations between Washington and the 6th Fleet, remembered
listening as Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, in Washing-
ton, 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 "absolute-
ly 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
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
"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 attack-
ed 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 it. The 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 activities."
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
it 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 and television
documentaries, scholarly papers published in academic
journals, and Internet chat groups where amateur sleuths
debate arcane points of photo interpretation and torpedo
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 long.
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 conclusion.
"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 the shelling.
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 twice 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 fire 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
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
"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 tele-
type 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
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 in the military.
Forslund's recollections are supported by those of two
other Air Force intelligence specialists, working in widely
separate locations, who say they also 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
"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 crypt-
ologists monitoring Middle Eastern communications.