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the Israeli attack," wrote Tordella on June 20, 1967, nearly two weeks
after the incident. "I told him we simply did not know from either open or
intelligence sources but that, by now, there probably was a fair amount
of denial and cover-up by the Israelis for the sake of protecting their
national position. He asked my private opinion of the attack and I said
that, for what it was worth, I believed the attack might have been ordered
by some senior commander on the Sinai Peninsula who wrongly
suspected that the Liberty was monitoring his activities.
"He asked if a mistake of this sort was common or should be
expected," Tordella continued. "I told him that I thought a ship the size of
the Liberty was unlike and much larger than Egyptian ships and that an
obviously cargo-type vessel should not reasonably be mistaken by
competent naval forces or air pilots for an Egyptian man-of-war. At best I
estimated that the attacking ships and planes were guilty of gross
negligence and carelessness." So angry was Tordella over the attack and
cover-up that he scrawled across the top of the Israeli "mistake" report:
"A nice whitewash."
Finally, U.S. Air Force Major General John Morrison, at the time the
deputy chief”and later chief”of NSA's operations, did not buy the Israeli
"mistake" explanation, either. "Nobody believes that explanation," he said
in a recent interview with the author. "The only conjecture that we ever
made that made any near sense is that the Israelis did not want us to
intercept their communications at that time." When informed by the
author of the gruesome war crimes then taking place at El Arish,
Morrison saw the connection. "That would be enough," he said. "Twelve
miles is nothing. . . . They wouldn't want us to get in on that." He added:
"You've got the motive. . . . What a hell of a thing to do."
Even without knowledge of the murders taking place nearby in the
desert, many in NSA's G Group, who analyzed the intercepts sent back
by both the Liberty and the EC-121, were convinced that the attack was
no mistake. And among the survivors of the Liberty, the conviction is
virtually unanimous. "The Israelis got by with cold-blooded, premeditated
murder of Americans on June 8, 1967," said Phillip F. Tourney, president
of the USS Liberty Veterans Association, in July 2000. "There is
widespread cynicism that our elected officials will not go up against the
powerful Israeli lobby out of fear. . . . This cover-up must be investigated,
now."
For more than thirty years, Captain William L. McGonagle refused to
say a single word on the issue of whether the killing of his crew was done
with foreknowledge or by mistake. Finally, dying of cancer in November
1998, he at last broke his long silence. "After many years I finally believe


196
that the attack was deliberate," he said. "I don't think there has been an
adequate investigation of the incident. . . . The flag was flying prior to the
attack on the ship." McGonagle died less than four months later, on
March 3, 1999, at the age of seventy-three.
Even without the NSA evidence, many people in the administration
disbelieved the Israeli "mistake" report. "Frankly, there was considerable
skepticism in the White House that the attack was accidental," said
George Christian, Johnson's press secretary at the time. "I became
convinced that an accident of this magnitude was too much to swallow. If
it were a deliberate attack the question remains, of course, of whether it
was a tactical decision on the part of elements of the Israeli military or
whether it was ordered by high officials."
Another NSA review, conducted fifteen years later and classified Top
Secret/Umbra, ridiculed the decision by the Israeli court of inquiry that
accepted the "mistake" theory and exonerated all Israeli officials.
"Exculpation of Israeli nationals," it said, "apparently not being hindmost
in the court's calculations." Next the review accused the Israeli fighter
pilots of outright perjury:


Though the pilots testified to the contrary, every official
interview of numerous Liberty crewmen gives consistent
evidence that indeed the Liberty was flying an American
flag”and, further, the weather conditions were ideal to
assure its easy observance and identification. These
circumstances”prior identification of the Liberty and easy
visibility of the American flag”prompted the Department of
State to inform the Israeli Government that "the later
military attack by Israeli aircraft on the USS Liberty is quite
literally incomprehensible. As a minimum, the attack must
be condemned as an act of military recklessness reflecting
wanton disregard for human life." (Emphasis in original.)


The pilots, said the report, were not the only ones lying: the story told
by the torpedo-boat crewmen who blew up the ship”after missing with
their first four torpedoes”was also unbelievable. The torpedo-boat crew
claimed that they had mistaken the Liberty for an Egyptian troop
transport, El Quseir. At the time of the attack, the Egyptian ship was
rusting alongside a pier in the port of Alexandria, 250 miles from where
the Liberty was attacked, and along that pier El Quseir remained
throughout the war. The location of every Egyptian ship would have been
a key piece of intelligence before Israel launched its war. According to the
long-secret 1981 NSA report:



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The fact that two separate torpedo boat commanders
made the same false identification only raises the question of
the veracity of both commanders. The El-Kasir [El Quseir]
was approximately one-quarter of the Liberty's tonnage,
about one-half its length, and offered a radically different
silhouette. To claim that the Liberty closely resembled the El-
Kasir was most illogical. The Department of State expressed
its view of the torpedo attack in these words:
"The subsequent attack by Israeli torpedo boats,
substantially after the vessel was or should have been
identified by Israeli military forces, manifests the same
reckless disregard for human life. The silhouette and
conduct of USS Liberty readily distinguished it from any
vessel that could have been considered hostile. ... It could
and should have been scrutinized visually at close range
before torpedoes were fired."


Finally the NSA report, fifteen years after the fact, added:


A persistent question relating to the Liberty incident is
whether or not the Israeli forces which attacked the ship
knew that it was American . . . not a few of the Liberty's
crewmen and [deleted but probably "NSA's G Group"] staff
are convinced that they did. Their belief derived from
consideration of the long time the Israelis had the ship under
surveillance prior to the attack, the visibility of the flag, and
the intensity of the attack itself.
Speculation as to the Israeli motivation varied. Some
believed that Israel expected that the complete destruction of
the ship and killing of the personnel would lead the U.S. to
blame the UAR [Egypt] for the incident and bring the U.S.
into the war on the side of Israel . . . others felt that Israeli
forces wanted the ship and men out of the way.


"I believed the attack might have been ordered by some senior
commander on the Sinai Peninsula who wrongly suspected that the
Liberty was monitoring his activities," said Tordella. His statement was
amazingly astute, since he likely had no idea of the war crimes being
committed on the Sinai at the time, within easy earshot of the antenna
groves that covered the Liberty's deck.
On the morning of June 8, the Israeli military command received a
report that a large American eavesdropping ship was secretly listening


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only a few miles off El Arish. At that same moment, a scant dozen or so
miles away, Israeli soldiers were butchering civilians and bound
prisoners by the hundreds, a fact that the entire Israeli army leadership
knew about and condoned, according to the army's own historian.
Another military historian, Uri Milstein, confirmed the report. There were
many incidents in the Six Day War, he said, in which Egyptian soldiers
were killed by Israeli troops after they had raised their hands in
surrender. "It was not an official policy," he added, "but there was an
atmosphere that it was okay to do it. Some commanders decided to do it;
others refused. But everyone knew about it."
Israel had no way of knowing that NSA's Hebrew linguists were not on
the ship, but on a plane flying high above. Nevertheless, evidence of the
slaughter might indeed have been captured by the unmanned recorders
in the NSA spaces. Had the torpedo not made a direct hit there, the
evidence might have been discovered when the tapes were transmitted or
shipped back to NSA. At the time, Israel was loudly proclaiming”to the
United States, to the United Nations, and to the world”that it was the
victim of Egyptian aggression and that it alone held the moral high
ground. Israel's commanders would not have wanted tape recordings of
evidence of the slaughters to wind up on desks at the White House, the
UN, or the Washington Post. Had the jamming and unmarked fighters
knocked out all communications in the first minute, as they attempted to
do; had the torpedo boat quickly sunk the ship, as intended; and had the
machine gunners destroyed all the life rafts and killed any survivors,
there would have been no one left alive to tell any stories.
That was the conclusion of a study on the Liberty done for the U.S.
Navy's Naval Law Review, written by a Navy lawyer, Lieutenant
Commander Walter L. Jacobsen. "To speculate on the motives of an
attack group that uses unmarked planes and deprives helpless survivors
of life rafts raises disturbing possibilities," he wrote, "including the one
that the Liberty crew was not meant to survive the attack, and would not
have, but for the incorrect 6th Fleet radio broadcast that help was on its
way”which had the effect of chasing off the MTBs [motor torpedo
boats]."
Since the very beginning, Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, appointed Chief
of Naval Operations shortly after the attack, has also been convinced that
the assault was deliberate. "I have to conclude that it was Israel's intent
to sink the Liberty and leave as few survivors as possible," he said in
1997, on the thirtieth anniversary of the assault. "Israel knew perfectly
well that the ship was American."
And in a CIA report received by that agency on July 27, 1967, a CIA
official quotes one of his sources, who seems to be an Israeli government
official:



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[Regarding the] attack on USS LIBERTY by Israeli
airplanes and torpedo boats . . . He said that, "You've got to
remember that in this campaign there is neither time nor
room for mistakes," which was intended as an obtuse
reference that Israel's forces knew what flag the LIBERTY
was flying and exactly what the vessel was doing off the
coast. [Deletion] implied that the ship's identity was known
six hours before the attack but that Israeli headquarters was
not sure as to how many people might have access to the
information the LIBERTY was intercepting. He also implied
that [deletion] was no certainty on controls as to where the
intercepted information was going and again reiterated that
Israeli forces did not make mistakes in their campaign. He
was emphatic in stating to me that they knew what kind of
ship the USS LIBERTY was and what it was doing offshore.


The CIA called the document "raw intelligence data," and said it was
one of "several which indicated a possibility that the Israeli Government
knew about the USS Liberty before the attack."
In fact, another CIA report, prepared in 1979, indicates that Israel not
only knew a great deal about the subject of signals intelligence during
the 1967 war, but that Sigint was a major source of their information on
the Arabs. "The Israelis have been very successful in their Comint and
Elint operations against the Arabs," said the report. "During the Six-Day
War in 1967, the Israelis succeeded in intercepting, breaking, and
disseminating a tremendous volume of Arab traffic quickly and
accurately, including a high-level conversation between the late President
Gamal Abdel Nasser of the UAR and King Hussein of Jordan. Over the
years the Israelis have mounted cross-border operations and tapped
Arab landline communications for extended periods. The Israelis have
also on occasion boobytrapped the landlines."
The same CIA report also made clear that after collecting intelligence
on the Arab world, spying on the United States was Israel's top priority:
"The principal targets of the Israeli intelligence and security services are:
... (2) collection of information on secret U.S. policy or decisions, if any,
concerning Israel."
A mistake or mass murder? It was a question Congress never
bothered to address in public hearings at the time. Among those who
have long called for an in-depth congressional investigation was Admiral
Thomas Moorer, who went on to become chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff. "Congress to this day," he said, "has failed to hold formal hearings
for the record on the Liberty affair. This is unprecedented and a national


200
disgrace." Perhaps it is not too late, especially for a Congress that rushes
into lengthy hearings on such momentous events as the firing of a few
employees from a travel office in the White House.
Throughout its history, Israel has hidden its abominable human
rights record behind pious religious claims. Critics are regularly silenced
with outrageous charges of anti-Semitism”even many Liberty crew-
members who managed to survive the bloody attack and dared call for an
investigation. Evidence of Israel's deliberate killing of civilians is as
recent as May 2000. The British Broadcasting Corporation has charged
that the death of one of its drivers that month was caused by a deliberate
and unprovoked strike on civilian targets during an Israeli tank attack.
The driver was Abed Takkoush, a news assistant for the BBC in
Lebanon for twenty-five years. Takkoush was killed on May 23, when an
Israeli Merkava tank, in Israel, fired an artillery shell across the southern
Lebanon border at his blue Mercedes. "I saw Abed lurch out of the
driver's side of the car and then fall to the ground," said Jeremy Bowen,
the BBC reporter whom Takkoush had driven to the scene. As Bowen
rushed to help the driver, Israelis opened up on him with machine-gun
fire. They also fired at a Lebanese Red Cross truck as it attempted to
come to the rescue.
According to the BBC's account, which is supported by extensive
video footage from its own camera crew and those of four other television
news organizations, the killing was totally unprovoked. "Everything was
quiet," said Bowen. There had been no gunfire, rocket attacks, or artillery
exchanges during the day as Israeli forces withdrew from southern
Lebanon, which they had occupied for more than two decades. Bowen
was close enough to the border to wave at residents of a local kibbutz
across the fence. Predictably, as it did in the case of the attack on the
Liberty, the Israeli government claimed the shooting was a "mistake." But
the BBC was not buying that, and instead began investigating whether
Israel could be accused of a war crimes violation under the Geneva
Convention.
Even more damningly, the BBC contends that its news film shows
that the Israeli Army "appeared to be sporadically targeting vehicles"
driven by Lebanese civilians along the same stretch of road earlier on
May 23 and on May 22, despite the absence of any "retaliatory fire from
the Lebanese side of the border."

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