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empty streets, Rostow ticked off in his mind the order in which he
needed answers. At the top of the list was discovering exactly how the
war had started. A few notches down was deciding when to wake the
president.
The car pulled into the Pennsylvania Avenue gate at 3:25 and Rostow
was quickly on the phone with Secretary of State Dean Rusk, who was
still at home. "I assume you've received the Flash," he said. They agreed
that, if the facts were as grim as reported, Johnson should be awakened
in about an hour. Intelligence reports quickly began arriving indicating
that a number of Arab airfields appeared to be inoperative and the
Israelis were pushing hard and fast against the Egyptian air force.
Sitting at the mahogany conference table in the Situation Room, a
map of Vietnam on the wall, Rostow picked up a phone. "I want to get
through to the President," he said. "I wish him to be awakened." Three
stories above, Lyndon Johnson picked up the phone next to his carved
wood bedstead. "Yes," he said.
"Mr. President, I have the following to report." Rostow got right to
business. "We have information that Israel and the UAR are at war." For


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the next seven minutes, the national security adviser gave Johnson the
shorthand version of what the United States then knew.
About the same time in Tel Aviv, Foreign Minister Abba Eban
summoned U.S. Ambassador Walworth Barbour to a meeting in his
office. Building an ever larger curtain of lies around Israel's true activities
and intentions, Eban accused Egypt of starting the war. Barbour quickly
sent a secret Flash message back to Washington. "Early this morning,"
he quoted Eban, "Israelis observed Egyptian units moving in large
numbers toward Israel and in fact considerable force penetrated Israeli
territory and clashed with Israeli ground forces. Consequently, GOI
[Government of Israel] gave order to attack." Eban told Barbour that his
government intended to protest Egypt's action to the UN Security
Council. "Israel is [the] victim of Nasser's aggression," he said.
Eban then went on to lie about Israel's goals, which all along had
been to capture as much territory as possible. "GOI has no rpt [repeat]
no intention taking advantage of situation to enlarge its territory. That
hopes peace can be restored within present boundaries." Finally, after
half an hour of deception, Eban brazenly asked the United States to go
up against the USSR on Israel's behalf. Israel, Barbour reported, "asks
our help in restraining any Soviet initiative." The message was received at
the White House at two minutes before six in the morning.
About two hours later, in a windowless office next to the War Room in
the Pentagon, a bell rang five or six times, bringing everyone to quick
attention. A bulky gray Russian Teletype suddenly sprang to life and
keys began pounding out rows of Cyrillic letters at sixty-six words a
minute onto a long white roll of paper. For the first time, an actual on-
line encrypted message was stuttering off the Moscow-to-Washington hot
line. As it was printing, a "presidential translator"”a military officer
expert in Russian”stood over the machine and dictated a simultaneous
rough translation to a Teletype operator. He in turn sent the message to
the State Department, where another translator joined in working on a
translation on which both U.S. experts agreed.
The machine was linked to similar equipment in a room in the
Kremlin, not far from the office of the chairman of the Council of
Ministers of the USSR. Known formally as the Washington”Moscow
Emergency Communications Link (and in Moscow as the Molink), the hot
line was activated at 6:50 P.M. on August 30, 1963, largely as a result of
the Cuban missile crisis.
The message that June morning in 1967 was from Premier Alexei
Kosygin. The Pentagon and State Department translators agreed on the
translation:


Dear Mr. President,


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Having received information concerning the military clashes
between Israel and the United Arab Republic, the Soviet
Government is convinced that the duty of all great powers is
to secure the immediate cessation of the military conflict.
The Soviet Government has acted and will act in this
direction. We hope that the Government of the United States
will also act in the same manner and will exert appropriate
influence on the Government of Israel particularly since you
have all opportunities of doing so. This is required in the
highest interest of peace.
Respectfully, A. Kosygin


Once the presidential translator finished the translation, he rushed it
over to the general in charge of the War Room, who immediately called
Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara several floors above.
McNamara had arrived in his office about an hour earlier. "Premier
Kosygin is on the hot line and asks to speak to the president," the War
Room general barked. "What should I tell him?"
"Why are you calling me?" McNamara asked.
"Because the hot line ends in the Pentagon," the general huffed.
(McNamara later admitted that he had had no idea that the connection
ended a short distance away from him.) "Patch the circuit over to the
White House Situation Room, and I'll call the president," McNamara
ordered.
McNamara, not having been in on the early morning White House
calls, assumed Johnson would still be sleeping, but he put the call
through anyway. A sergeant posted outside the presidential bedroom
picked up the phone. "The president is asleep and doesn't like to be
awakened," he told the Pentagon chief, not realizing that Johnson had
been awake since 4:30 A.M. discussing the crisis. "I know that, but wake
him up," McNamara insisted.
"Mr. President," McNamara said, "the hot line is up and Kosygin
wants to speak to you. What should we say?"
"My God," Johnson replied, apparently perplexed, "what should we
say?" McNamara offered an idea: "I suggest I tell him you will be in the
Situation Room in fifteen minutes. In the meantime, I'll call Dean and
we'll meet you there." Within half an hour, an American-supplied
Teletype was cranking out English letters in the Kremlin. Johnson told
Kosygin that the United States did not intend to intervene in the conflict.
About a dozen more hot-line messages followed over the next few weeks.




163
As the first shots of the war were being fired across the desert
wasteland, NSA had a box seat. A fat Air Force C-130 airborne listening
post was over the eastern Mediterranean flying a figure-eight pattern off
Israel and Egypt. Later the plane landed back at its base, the Greek air
force section of Athens International Airport, with nearly complete
coverage of the first hours of the war.
From the plane, the intercept tapes were rushed to the processing
center, designated USA-512J by NSA. Set up the year before by the U.S.
Air Force Security Service, NSA's air arm, it was to process intercepts”
analyzing the data and attacking lower-level ciphers”produced by Air
Force eavesdropping missions throughout the Mediterranean, North
Africa, and the Middle East. Unfortunately, they were not able to listen to
the tapes of the war immediately because they had no Hebrew linguists.
However, an NSA Hebrew linguist support team was at that moment
winging its way to Athens. (To hide their mission and avoid the
implication of spying on Israel, Hebrew linguists were always referred to
as "special Arabic" linguists, even within NSA.)
Soon after the first CRITIC message arrived at NSA, an emergency
notification was sent to the U.S. Navy's listening post at Rota. The base
was the Navy's major launching site for airborne eavesdropping missions
over the Mediterranean area. There the Navy's airborne Sigint unit, VQ-2,
operated large four-engine aircraft that resembled the civilian passenger
plane known as the Constellation, an aircraft with graceful, curving lines
and a large three-section tail. Nicknamed the Willy Victor, the EC-121M
was slow, lumbering, and ideal for eavesdropping”capable of long,
twelve- to eighteen-hour missions, depending on such factors as weather,
fuel, altitude, intercept activity, and crew fatigue.
Within several hours of the tasking message, the EC-121 was airborne
en route to Athens, from where the missions would be staged. A few days
before, a temporary Navy signals intelligence processing center had been
secretly set up at the Athens airport near the larger U.S. Air Force Sigint
facility. There, intercepts from the missions were to be analyzed and the
ciphers attacked.
After landing, the intercept operators were bused to the Hotel Seville
in Iraklion near the Athens airport. The Seville was managed by a
friendly Australian and a Greek named Zina; the crew liked the fact that
the kitchen and bar never closed. But they had barely reached the lobby
of the hotel when they received word they were to get airborne as soon as
possible. "We were in disbelief and mystified," said one member of the
crew. "Surely, our taskers did not expect us to fly into the combat zone in
the dead of the night!" That was exactly what they expected.
A few hours later, the EC-121 was heading east into the dark night
sky. Normally the flight took about two or three hours. Once over the



164
eastern Mediterranean, they would maintain a dogleg track about
twenty-five to fifty miles off the Israeli and Egyptian coasts at an altitude
of between 12,000 and 18,000 feet. The pattern would take them from an
area northeast of Alexandria, Egypt, east toward Port Said and the Sinai
to the El Arish area, and then dogleg northeast along the Israeli coast to
a point west of Beirut, Lebanon. The track would then be repeated
continuously. Another signals intelligence plane, the EA3B, could fly
considerably higher, above 30,000 to 35,000 feet.
On board the EC-121 that night was Navy Chief Petty Officer Marvin
E. Nowicki, who had the unusual qualification of being a Hebrew and
Russian linguist. "I vividly recall this night being pitch black, no stars, no
moon, no nothing," he said. "The mission commander considered the
precariousness of our flight. He thought it more prudent to avoid the
usual track. If we headed east off the coast of Egypt toward Israel, we
would look, on radar, to the Israelis like an incoming attack aircraft from
Egypt. Then, assuming the Israelis did not attack us, when we reversed
course, we would then appear on Egyptian radar like Israeli attack
aircraft inbound. It, indeed, was a very dangerous and precarious
situation."
Instead, the mission commander decided to fly between Crete and
Cyprus and then head diagonally toward El Arish in the Sinai along an
established civilian air corridor. Upon reaching a point some twenty-five
miles northeast of El Arish, he would reverse course and begin their
orbit.
"When we arrived on station after midnight, needless to say the
'pucker factor' was high," recalled Nowicki; "the crew was on high,
nervous alert. Nobody slept in the relief bunks on that flight. The night
remained pitch black. What in the devil were we doing out here in the
middle of a war zone, was a question I asked myself several times over
and over during the flight. The adrenaline flowed."
In the small hours of the morning, intercept activity was light. "The
Israelis were home rearming and reloading for the next day's attacks,
while the Arabs were bracing themselves for the next onslaught come
daylight and contemplating some kind of counterattack," said Nowicki.
"Eerily, our Comint and Elint positions were quiet." But that changed as
the early-morning sun lit up the battlefields. "Our receivers came alive
with signals mostly from the Israelis as they began their second day of
attacks," Nowicki remembered. Around him, Hebrew linguists were
furiously "gisting"”summarizing”the conversations between Israeli
pilots, while other crew members attempted to combine that information
with signals from airborne radar obtained through electronic intelligence.
From their lofty perch, they eavesdropped like electronic voyeurs. The
NSA recorders whirred as the Egyptians launched an abortive air attack



165
on an advancing Israeli armored brigade in the northern Sinai, only to
have their planes shot out of the air by Israeli delta-wing Mirage aircraft.
At one point Nowicki listened to his first midair shootdown as an
Egyptian Sukhoi-7 aircraft was blasted from the sky. "We monitored as
much as we could but soon had to head for Athens because of low fuel,"
he said. "We were glad to get the heck out of there."
As they headed back, an Air Force C-130 flying listening post was
heading out to relieve them.


Down below, in the Mediterranean, the Liberty continued its slow
journey toward the war zone as the crew engaged in constant general
quarters drills and listened carefully for indications of danger. The Navy
sent out a warning notice to all ships and aircraft in the area to keep at
least 100 nautical miles away from the coasts of Lebanon, Syria, Israel,
and Egypt. But the Liberty was on an espionage mission; unless
specifically ordered to change course, Commander McGonagle would
continue steaming full speed ahead. Meanwhile, the Soviet navy had
mobilized their fleet. Some twenty Soviet warships with supporting
vessels and an estimated eight or nine submarines sailed toward the
same flashpoint.
On hearing that war had started, Gene Sheck, an official in NSA's K
Group section, which was responsible for managing the various mobile
collection platforms, became increasingly worried about the Liberty.
Responsibility for the safety of the ship, however, had been taken out of
NSA's hands by the JCS and given to the Joint Reconnaissance Center.
Nevertheless, Sheck took it upon himself to remind NSA's representative
at the JRC, John Connell, that during the Cuban missile crisis five years
earlier, the Oxford had been pulled back from the Havana area. Then he
asked if any consideration was being given to doing the same for the
Liberty. Connell spoke to the ship movement officer at the JRC but they
refused to take any action.
Although analysts in K Group knew of the Liberty's plight, those in G
Group did not. Thus it was not until the morning of June 7 that an
analyst rushed into Frank Raven's office and asked incredulously, "For
God's sake, do you know where the Liberty is?" Raven, believing she was
sitting off the east end of Crete as originally planned, had barely begun to
answer when the analyst blurted out, "They've got her heading straight
for the beach!" By then the Liberty was only about ten hours from her
scheduled patrol area, a dozen miles off Egypt's Sinai Desert.
"At this point," recalled Raven, "I ordered a major complaint [protest]
to get the Liberty the hell out of there! As far as we [NSA] were concerned,
there was nothing to be gained by having her in there that close, nothing
she could do in there that she couldn't do where we wanted her. . . . She


166
could do everything that the national requirement called for [from the
coast of Crete]. Somebody wanted to listen to some close tactical program
or some communications or something which nobody in the world gave a
damn about”local military base, local commander. We were listening for
the higher echelons. . . . Hell, you don't want to hear them move the
tugboats around and such, you want to know what the commanding
generals are saying."
The JRC began reevaluating the Liberty's safety as the warnings
mounted. The Egyptians began sending out ominous protests
complaining that U.S. personnel were secretly communicating with Israel
and were possibly providing military assistance. Egypt also charged that
U.S. aircraft had participated in the Israeli air strikes. The charges
greatly worried American officials, who feared that the announcements
might provoke a Soviet reaction. Then the Chief of Naval Operations
questioned the wisdom of the Liberty assignment.

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