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searching for radar signals and analyzing their cryptic sounds, was the
evaluator, who would attempt to make sense of all the data. Elsewhere,
several intercept operators were assigned to monitor VHF and UHF radio-
telephone signals. In addition to Chief Nowicki, who could translate both
Hebrew and Russian, there were two other Hebrew and two Arabic
linguists on board.
Soon after wheels-up from Athens, a security curtain was pulled
around the "spook spaces" to hide the activity from members of the flight
crew who did not have a need to know. In front of the voice-intercept
operators were twin UHF/VHF receivers, essential because the Israelis
mostly used UHF transceivers, while the Arabs used Soviet VHF
equipment. To record all the traffic, they had a four-track voice recorder
with time dubs and frequency notations. Chief Nowicki, the supervisor,
had an additional piece of equipment: a spectrum analyzer to view the
radio activity in the form of "spikes" between 100 to 150 megahertz and
200 to 500 megahertz. It was very useful in locating new signals.
About noon, as they came closer to their orbit area, the activity began
getting hectic. Fingers twisted large black dials, sometimes quickly and
sometimes barely at all. "When we arrived within intercept range of the
battles already in progress," Nowicki recalled, "it was apparent that the
Israelis were pounding the Syrians on the Golan Heights. Soon all our
recorders were going full blast, with each position intercepting signals on
both receivers."
In addition to recording the voices of the Israeli and Egyptian troops
and pilots, the linguists were frantically writing down gists of voice
activity on logs and shouting to the evaluator what they were recording.
The evaluator in turn would then direct his Elint people to search for
corresponding radar activity. At other times, the Elint operators would
intercept a radar signal from a target and tip off the linguists to start
searching for correlating voice activity. A key piece of equipment was
known as Big Look. It enabled the Elint operators to intercept, emulate,
and identify the radar signals, and to reverse-locate them”to trace them
back to their source.


Sixty miles north of Tel Aviv, atop Mount Carmel, Israel's naval
command post occupied a drab former British Royal Air Force base built
in the 1920s. Known as Stella Maris, it contained a high-ceilinged war
room with a large map of Israel and its coastal areas on a raised
platform. Standing above it, senior naval officials could see the location
of ships in the area, updated as air reconnaissance passed on the


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changing positions of various ships. Since dawn that morning, the
Liberty had been under constant observation. "Between five in the
morning and one in the afternoon," said one Liberty deck officer, "I think
there were thirteen times that we were circled."
About noon at Stella Maris, as the Liberty was again in sight of El
Arish and while the massacres were taking place, a report was received
from an army commander there that a ship was shelling the Israelis from
the sea. But that was impossible. The only ship in the vicinity of El Arish
was the Liberty, and she was eavesdropping, not shooting. As any
observer would immediately have recognized, the four small defensive
50mm machine guns were incapable of reaching anywhere near the
shore, thirteen miles away, let alone the buildings of El Arish. In fact, the
maximum effective range of such guns was just 2,200 yards, a little over
a mile. And the ship itself, a tired old World War II cargo vessel crawling
with antennas, was unthreatening to anyone”unless it was their secrets,
not their lives, they wanted to protect.
By then the Israeli navy and air force had conducted more than six
hours of close surveillance of the Liberty off the Sinai, even taken
pictures, and must have positively identified it as an American electronic
spy ship. They knew the Liberty was the only military ship in the area.
Nevertheless, the order was given to kill it. Thus, at 12:05 P.M. three
motor torpedo boats from Ashdod departed for the Liberty, about fifty
miles away. Israeli air force fighters, loaded with 30mm cannon
ammunition, rockets, and even napalm, then followed. They were all to
return virtually empty.
At 1:41 P.M., about an hour and a half after leaving Ashdod, the
torpedo boats spotted the Liberty off El Arish and called for an immediate
strike by the air force fighters.


On the bridge of the Liberty, Commander McGonagle looked at the
hooded green radar screen and fixed the ship's position as being 25½
nautical miles from the minaret at El Arish, which was to the southeast.
The officer of the deck, Lieutenant (junior grade) Lloyd Painter, also
looked at the radar and saw that they were 17½ miles from land. It was
shortly before two o'clock in the afternoon.
McGonagle was known as a steamer, a sailor who wants to constantly
feel the motion of the sea beneath the hull of the ship, to steam to the
next port as soon as possible after arriving at the last. "He longed for the
sea," said one of his officers, "and was noticeably restless in port. He
simply would not tolerate being delayed by machinery that was not vital
to the operation of the ship." He was born in Wichita, Kansas, on
November 19, 1925, and his voice still had a twang. Among the first to
join the post”World War II Navy, he saw combat while on a minesweeper


174
during the Korean War, winning the Korean Service Medal with six battle
stars. Eventually commanding several small service ships, he had taken
over as captain of the Liberty about a year earlier, in April 1966.
A Chief of Naval Operations once called the Liberty "the ugliest ship in
the Navy," largely because in place of powerful guns it had strange
antennas protruding from every location. There were thin long-wire VLF
antennas, conical electronic-countermeasure antennas, spiracle
antennas, a microwave antenna on the bow, and whip antennas that
extended thirty-five feet. Most unusual was the sixteen-foot dish-shaped
moon-bounce antenna that rested high on the stern.
Despite the danger, the men on the ship were carrying on as normally
as possible. Larry Weaver, a boatswain's mate, was waiting outside the
doctor's office to have an earache looked at. Muscular at 184 pounds, he
exercised regularly in the ship's weight room. Planning to leave the Navy
shortly, he had already applied for a job at Florida's Cypress Gardens as
a water skier. With the ability to ski barefoot for nine miles, he thought
he would have a good chance.
As for Bryce Lockwood, the Marine senior Russian linguist who had
been awakened in the middle of a layover in Rota, Spain, and virtually
shanghaied, his wife and daughter had no idea where he was. Having
boarded the ship on such short notice, Lockwood had gone to the small
ship's store to buy some T-shirts and shorts. While waiting to go on
watch, he was sitting on his bunk stamping his name in his new
underwear.
On the stern, Stan White was struggling with the troublesome moon-
bounce antenna. A senior chief petty officer, he was responsible for the
complicated repair of the intercept and cipher gear on board. The giant
dish was used to communicate quickly, directly, and securely with NSA
back at Fort Meade, and for this purpose both locations had to be able to
see the moon at the same time. But throughout the whole voyage, even
back in Norfolk, the system was plagued with leaking hydraulic fluid.
Now another critical part, the klystron, had burned out and White was
attempting to replace it.
Below deck in the Research Operations Department, as the NSA
spaces were known, Elint operators were huddled over round green
scopes, watching and listening for any unusual signals. Charles L.
Rowley, a first-class petty officer and a specialist in technical intelligence
collection, was in charge of one of the Elint sections. "I was told to be on
the lookout for a different type of signal," he said. "I reported a signal I
thought was from a submarine. ... I analyzed it as far as the length of the
signal, the mark and space on the bods, and I could not break it, I didn't
know what it was, I had no idea what it was . . . and sent it in to NSA."
But NSA had an unusual reaction: "I got my butt chewed out. They tried



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to convince me that it was a British double-current cable code and I
know damn good and well that it wasn't." In fact, the blackness deep
beneath the waves of the eastern Mediterranean was beginning to
become quite crowded.
One deck down, just below the waterline, were the Morse code as well
as Russian and Arabic voice-intercept operators, their "cans" tight
against their ears. Lined up along the bulkheads, they pounded away on
typewriters and flipped tape recorders on and off as they eavesdropped
on the sounds of war. Among their key missions was to determine
whether the Egyptian air force's Soviet-made bombers, such as the
TU-95 aircraft thought to be based in Alexandria, were being flown and
controlled by Russian pilots and ground controllers. Obtaining the
earliest intelligence that the Russians were taking part in the fighting
was one of the principal reasons for sending the Liberty so far into the
war zone.
In another office, communications personnel worked on the ship's
special, highly encrypted communications equipment.
Nearby in the Coordination”"Coord"”spaces, technicians were
shredding all outdated documents to protect them from possible capture.
Others were engaged in "processing and reporting," or P&R. "Processing
and reporting involves figuring out who is talking," said Bryce Lockwood,
one of the P&R supervisors, "where they're coming from, the other
stations on that network, making some kind of sense out of it, forwarding
it to the consumers, which primarily was the NSA, the CIA, JCS."
But as the real war raged on the shore, a mock war raged in the
Coord spaces. One of the Arabic-language P&R specialists had developed
a fondness for Egypt and had made a small Egyptian flag that he put on
his desk. "The guys would walk by and they would take a cigarette
lighter," recalled Lockwood, "and say, 'Hey, what's happening to the UAR
[United Arab Republic, now Egypt] over there?' And they would light off
his UAR flag and he would reach over and say, 'Stop that,' and put the
fire out, and it was getting all scorched."
Then, according to Lockwood, some of the pro-Israel contingent got
their revenge. They had gotten Teletype paper and scotch-taped it
together and with blue felt marking pens had made a gigantic Star of
David flag. This thing was about six feet by about twelve feet”huge. And
stuck that up on the starboard bulkhead."


"You'd better call the forward gun mounts," Commander McGonagle
yelled excitedly to Lieutenant Painter. "I think they're going to attack!"
The captain was standing on the starboard wing, looking at a number of
unidentified jet aircraft rapidly approaching in an attack pattern.



176
Larry Weaver was still sitting outside the doctor's office when he first
heard the sound. A few minutes before, an announcement had come over
the speaker saying that the engine on the motor whaleboat was about to
be tested. "All of a sudden I heard this rat-a-tat-tat real hard and the first
thing I thought was, 'Holy shit, the prop came off that boat and went
right up the bulkhead,' that's exactly what it sounded like. And the very
next instant we heard the gong and we went to general quarters."
Stan White thought it sounded like someone throwing rocks at the
ship. "And then it happened again," he recalled, "and then general
quarters sounded, and by the captain's voice we knew it was not a drill.
Shortly after that the wave-guides to the dish [antenna] were shot to
pieces and sparks and chunks fell on me."
"I immediately knew what it was," said Bryce Lockwood, the Marine,
"and I just dropped everything and ran to my GQ station which was
down below in the Co-ord station."
Without warning the Israeli jets struck”swept-wing Dassault Mirage
IIICs. Lieutenant Painter observed that the aircraft had "absolutely no
markings," so that their identity was unclear. He then attempted to
contact the men manning the gun mounts, but it was too late. "I was
trying to contact these two kids," he recalled, "and I saw them both; well,
I didn't exactly see them as such. They were blown apart, but I saw the
whole area go up in smoke and scattered metal. And, at about the same
time, the aircraft strafed the bridge area itself. The quartermaster, Petty
Officer Third Class Pollard, was standing right next to me, and he was
hit."
With the sun at their backs in true attack mode, the Mirages raked
the ship from bow to stern with hot, armor-piercing lead. Back and forth
they came, cannons and machine guns blazing. A bomb exploded near
the whaleboat aft of the bridge, and those in the pilothouse and the
bridge were thrown from their feet. Commander McGonagle grabbed for
the engine order annunciator and rang up all ahead flank.
"Oil is spilling out into the water," one of the Israeli Mirage pilots
reported to base.
Charles L. Rowley, an electronics intelligence specialist who doubled
as the ship's photographer, grabbed his Nikon and raced to the bridge to
try to get a shot of the planes. Instead, the planes shot him. "They shot
the camera right out of my hands," he recalled. "I was one of the first
ones that got hit."
In the communications spaces, radiomen James Halman and Joseph
Ward had patched together enough equipment and broken antennas to
get a distress call off to the Sixth Fleet, despite intense jamming by the
Israelis. "Any station, this is Rockstar," Halman shouted, using the
Liberty's voice call sign. "We are under attack by unidentified jet aircraft


177
and require immediate assistance."
"Great, wonderful, she's burning, she's burning," said the Israeli pilot.
As Bryce Lockwood rushed into the Co-ord unit, most of the intercept
operators were still manning their positions. Suddenly one of the other
Russian voice supervisors rushed over to him excitedly, having at last
found what they had been looking for, evidence of Soviet military activity
in Egypt. "Hey, Sarge, I found them, I found them," he said. "You found
who?" Lockwood asked. "I got the Russkies."
Now the operators began frantically searching the airwaves,
attempting to discover who was attacking them. At the same time, Lock-
wood and some others started the destruction procedure. The Marine
linguist broke out the white canvas ditching bags, each about five feet
tall. The bags were specially made with a large flat lead weight in the
bottom and brass fittings that could be opened to let in the water so they
would sink to the bottom faster. At the top was a rope drawstring. "We
had a room where we did voice tape transcripts," said Lockwood, "and
there were literally hundreds of reel-to-reel tapes in there that had to be
put in those ditching bags. So we got these ditching bags and started
putting these tapes in there. These were voice conversations of, mostly,
UAR targets. All the tapes and transcripts were loaded in the bags, a lot
of code manuals, and so forth."
At 2:09, the American aircraft carrier USS Saratoga, operating near
Crete, acknowledged Liberty's cry for help. "I am standing by for further
traffic," it signaled.
After taking out the gun mounts, the Israeli fighter pilots turned their
attention to the antennas, to sever the Liberty's vocal cords and deafen it
so it could not call for help or pick up any more revealing intercepts. "It
was as though they knew their exact locations," said Senior Chief Stan
White. Lieutenant Commander Dave Lewis, in charge of the NSA
operation on the ship, agreed. "It appears to me that every tuning section
of every HF antenna had a hole in it," he said. "It took a lot of planning to
get heat-seeking missiles aboard to take out our entire communications
in the first minute of the attack. If that was a mistake, it was the best-
planned mistake that has ever been perpetrated in the history of
mankind."
Not hearing anything from the Saratoga for a few minutes, the radio
operator repeated his call for help. "Schematic, this is Rockstar. We are
still under attack by unidentified jet aircraft and require immediate
assistance." But the Saratoga demanded an authentication code.

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