Posted by: Khepera | Wednesday, 14 July 2004

An Attack on Liberty


More historical context….as the puzzle fits together in time, many correlations become clear which may otherwise be missed. The following are my original comments from an earlier blog…

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When we examine information, of any sort, considering our sources is also a critical component in the digestion of the info presented. When you peruse what follows, go to some of the web sites, especially for WRMEA, and click on the link “About Us” to find out about who they are & why they do what they do. Some may consider this to be an old story, old news, but it is STILL news for some, and, more importantly, *unresolved* issues which may lead the intelligent &/or contemplative person to ask serious questions about the relationship between this country, the USA, and Israel. Two articles follow…

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[This article first appeared in The San Diego Union-Tribune, March 28, 2004, pages 26-28]

By David C. Walsh

The bare bones are these: The intelligence ship Liberty, AGTR-5, on June 8, 1967 was describing a slow, dogleg pattern a little less than 13 miles off the Egyptian coast in the Eastern Mediterranean. Without warning, rocket-firing Israeli jets, followed after an interval by torpedo boats, pummeled her to near-death; 821 separate holes would later be counted in the scorched superstructure.

An Israeli torpedo blew a 40-foot hole in the Liberty’s hull, devastating the cryptological spaces below decks and killing 25 U.S. National Security Agency technicians. The spy ship’s defensive armament comprised a mere four machine guns. These had been judged adequate, insofar as she was a noncombatant in international waters. The Israeli attack continued for an hour and a quarter. When the smoke cleared, 34 Americans were dead, another 172 lay wounded.

The story of the intelligence ship in a sense resembles the Liberty herself: both refuse to go down. The heartbreaking saga is kept afloat by mutually antagonistic partisans — I dub them the “deliberates” and the “accidentalists.”

Periodically, the dispute flares anew, each side throwing punch and counterpunch. Some strikes are errant, or glancing, or below the belt; others, solid hammer blows the recovery from which seems impossible.

Occasionally, as now, the action is in synch. In one “corner” are a retired Navy JAG captain-cum-judge and the government of Israel; in the other, Liberty survivors, former leaders of the highly secret National Security Agency and other spooky types. The judge, A. Jay Cristol, has written a controversial book, The Liberty Incident. It alleges that the furious attack on the U.S. Navy ship (tasked by the NSA and the Pentagon’s Joint Chiefs of Staff) was what Israel since 1967 has claimed: a “friendly-fire” accident, the sort that bedevils every war.

For their part, Liberty supporters assert that the ex-Navy lawyer is merely the latest, albeit most effective, in a long series of apologists for Israel. He is helping Israel engage in a decades-long campaign of disinformation and deceit, they maintain. Some harbor their own “conspiratorial” suspicions, i.e., that Israel paid for the many research trips Cristol made to the Jewish state over many years. Regardless, they say the present round of rhetorical combat has exposed their nemesis as highly selective in the use of records, disingenuous and desperate. “He’s on the ropes!” exclaims one. Perhaps. But with skeins of the story ever spreading, knotty issues left to be untied and core truths waiting to be teased out, neither side can declare “case closed.”

The sad slugfest continues.

In June 2003, I published an investigative article in the United States Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine; one that drew on some unusually well-informed people. These weren’t Israelis (Judge Cristol supplies those), but American intelligence leaders. They were addressing the tragedy for the first time; partly, some said, because of the Cristol book. Also included were interviews and conversations with the Liberty’s surviving cryptanalysts and other specialists.

In total, they pointed the way toward an unsettling conclusion: The Cristol/Israeli explanation of “accidental attack in the fog of war” may have grown so threadbare as to be virtually unsustainable.

Proof

Two former NSA directors — Adm. Bobby Ray Inman, Gen. William Odom — and two ex-deputy directors — Gen. John Morrison and Oliver Kirby — told me that there has never been any question at the agency but that Israel’s attack on the Liberty was deliberate.

Kirby, for example, is “absolutely certain” about this. A storied career NSA official, Kirby had founded the ELINT program under which the Liberty and her several sister ships operated. “It was my baby,” he said in an interview last year.

Pressed about what made him sure the Israelis wanted to destroy the Liberty, Kirby said it was because he’d personally analyzed the SIGINT intercepts of their communications gleaned from various American intelligence sources. These disclosed: 1) that the on-scene attackers that June 8 correctly identified the ship, and 2) that regardless, Israeli commanders at an as-yet-unknown level instructed them to annihilate the Liberty.

Why had Kirby not gone public with this astonishing disclosure?

”No one had asked me the right questions before,” he told me.

In an interview Feb. 24, 2003, retired Air Force Maj. Gen. John Morrison, the agency’s then-second in command (and Kirby’s successor), said he had been informed at the time of Kirby’s findings and endorsed them. William Odom, former NSA director and retired Army lieutenant general, said on March 3, 2003 that on the strength of such data, the attack’s deliberateness “just wasn’t a disputed issue” within the agency.

On March 5, 2003, retired Navy Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, NSA director from 1977 to 1981, said he “flatly rejected” the Cristol/Israeli thesis. “It is just exceedingly difficult to believe that [the Liberty] was not correctly identified.” Inman said his conclusions were based on his talks with NSA senior officials who had direct knowledge at the time. All four officials said they were unaware of any agency official at any time who dissented from the “deliberate,” conclusion, based on the intelligence. These men’s comments undergird those recorded by other writers over at least two decades.

In fact, the number of intelligence professionals who reject the accidental, or related “mistaken identity” explanation is growing. In 2002, the late Richard Helms, then-director of Central Intelligence, finally added his authoritative voice to the “deliberates,” telling the Navy Times the attack was “no mistake.” Previously, the then-NSA director, Gen. Marshall Carter, and his deputy, Louis Tordella, said likewise.

USS Liberty Veterans Association historian James Ennes (author of the 1980 book Assault on the Liberty, now updated) says more apostates to the official Israeli — and United States — position are being heard from in sworn affidavits. For example, two ex-USAF Intelligence personnel state that the damning electronic signals they monitored had been captured by an NSA-operated EC-130 flying near the attack, translated and disseminated worldwide. Hundreds of technicians and intelligence specialists around the world had access to these intercepts. At least a few are now coming forward to discuss what they saw.

Here it’s worth reiterating something key to this dimension of the accidentalists vs. deliberates contest. The intercepts referenced by Odom, Helms, Kirby et al. (the existence of which the NSA officially denies) were real-time intelligence gleaned as the attack commenced. By contrast, the NSA-held material Cristol succeeded in declassifying, which he insists validates his view, appear limited to be after-action reports by Israeli helicopter pilots. They’d arrived to survey the damage from the attack and played no role in it.

In any case, the disparity between these intelligence officials’ revelations and the official, steadfast American government position — “no evidence of deliberateness” — is as enormous as it is remarkable. Obviously, people like Helms (who as CIA director coordinated the entire United States intelligence community), Inman, Morrison et al. were among the world’s most knowledgeable. Thus, it seems difficult to understand why during so many years spent probing the Liberty, Cristol apparently caged only one of like rank for book jacket blurbs. And even this source — ex-Naval Intelligence director Rear Admiral Thomas A. Brooks — now contradicts the judge. He observes in the open-source intelligence journal he edits that the case is not closed.

In any event, why the dearth of American intelligence professionals among sources cited by Cristol? Are they to be lumped in with the “conspiracists,” pro-Arabs, etc.?

Cristol does not say. (Various questions to him during the preparation of my Proceedings piece went unanswered, on the grounds, he wrote me, that I was biased.)

The explanation is simple, Liberty men believe. They were steered clear of because their judgments would have collided with the “accidentalist” thesis.

Why?

The Liberty story entails an important ancillary question. How did this catastrophe occur and why would Israel — in 1967 much less tightly tethered to the American lifeline than now — commit such an outrage?

Those I interviewed are like others who have spoken to the disaster for the past 36 years: They profess not to know about motive. Speculation here is as rife as it is, at times, sensational.

Was the coordinated attack to prevent Washington from learning of an Israeli massacre of Egyptian prisoners of war on the Sinai coast nearby? (The killings were belatedly reported in 1995.) Or, more plausibly, did the Israelis put the eavesdropping Liberty out of commission to conceal Israel’s impending attack on Syria to seize the strategic Golan Heights?

Why did Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral David McDonald shout orders to the two carrier commanders to recall jets sent to help the Liberty, which was then still under deadly attack? (This, according to Liberty’s deck officer James Ennes, quoting an electronic technician aboard the Liberty who had “patched” McNamara and Martin together with the carrier skippers through the Naval Communications Station at Port Laerty, Morocco.)

Was the recall on orders from President Lyndon Johnson? Did LBJ fear political retaliation at home if he punished Israel? I don’t know. I can say that McNamara once told me, as he has others in virtually identical language, that “I have no recollection of the Liberty, and therefore can be of no assistance to you.” This is a dumbfounding remark, given the former defense chief’s ability to recount decades-old conversations verbatim.

Such tangential questions, interesting and provocative as they are, remain for the future to answer. But they pale before the issue of responsibility, what United States intelligence experts at the highest levels say they knew — and now publicly maintain about the attack. The curtain of official silence long enshrouding the Liberty seems to be slowly rising, and the fog of war lifting. This can only be to the good for all concerned; and for history.

Human Costs

Never before or since, according to survivors, has a Navy vessel come under such concerted “friendless” fire with officialdom’s reaction being anything less than outrage. Calls for punishment in like circumstances do seem invariably quick and clarion. Witness, for example, Japan’s 1937 attack on the United States gunboat Panay, North Korea’s seizure of the Navy intelligence ship Pueblo in 1968, and the terrorist attack on the Navy destroyer Cole in 2000.

This failure by any administration to probe the motive for the tragedy is wrenching for all who experienced the horror of the attack, cryptologic technicians and seamen alike. As Dr. Richard Kiepfer, the ship’s overwhelmed physician, has written, “Never before in the history of the United States Navy has a Navy Board of Inquiry ignored the testimony of American military eyewitnesses and taken, on faith, the word of their attackers.” A harsh judgment.

Kiepfer was referring to a perfunctory hearing convened barely a week following the attack, memorable to survivors mainly for its frequent rejection of testimony and evidence that tended to implicate Israel in a deliberate attack. Shockingly, the court’s chief legal counsel, Capt. Ward Boston, in 2002 told Navy Times the naval court was, in fact, a politicized sham. Its conclusions, he declared, had been preordained to exonerate Israel.

Last month, Boston expanded upon those views in an interview with the Union-Tribune. He told Union-Tribune reporter James Crawley that a judgment of “no evidence of deliberate intent” was ordered from Washington to spare Israel embarrassment. Formerly, Cristol had supposed Boston would support him.

The debate on such things rages still. But the aggrieved victims, their families and next of kin aren’t really interested in legal minutiae, foreign lobbies or the intrigues of power politics or geo-strategies. They seek what they’ve always been, and likely always will be, denied: a public forum with official sponsorship but without back-room meddling; the opportunity to express grievances before fellow citizens, and to demand answers to volatile questions left too long unanswered.

The questions are fundamental. To their own government: Why did you abandon us during the attack and ignore us until now? And to Israel: Why did you kill our friends?

History’s Judgment

Would it serve for the United States to call Israel to book at this late date, to insist the attackers be surrendered for questioning, along with relevant paperwork and evidence; say, the orange life raft an Israeli torpedo boat seized after allegedly machine-gunning it and two others in the water?

At least one senior Navy lawyer has said yes. In 1986, Lt. Cmdr. Walter Jacobsen, writing in the Naval Law Review, argued the case for reopening the Liberty matter. Jacobsen based his argument partly on his belief that the attack violated international law and that the machine-gunning of life rafts released from the Liberty constituted a war crime. No statute of limitations exists for murder or war crimes.

One probe might examine what the men saw and heard and wrote down in deck and radio intercept logs during and after the attack. That would reveal, they insist, the miscarriage of justice of the hastily convened naval court of inquiry.

The second might go to motive: why Israel attacked this virtually unarmed, clearly unthreatening vessel on the high seas, and, per the Watergate process, ask “what the Johnson administration knew and when it knew it.”

This is, few would disagree, a calamity — a major historic controversy with possible toxic ramifications to this day. Does this country owe anything to the surviving crew, their next of kin and the public? Certainly not a public reading of every encrypted message. But also, not the boilerplate and obfuscation that have been trotted out for nearly 37 years and that smack so transparently of cover-up. At a time when enormous amounts of intelligence and other government records dating to the 1960s have been declassified and released, Washington ought to come clean about the Liberty, no matter how embarrassing that might prove.

Until that happens, the ghosts of the Liberty’s dead will find no peace.

David C. Walsh, a Washington, DC-based journalist, last June published “Friendless Fire?” in the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings magazine.

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Fri, 24 Oct 2003 13:40:03 -0400

A Dull and Largely Uncritical Recitation of Official Sources

By Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

The New York Times reported yesterday that a Columbia University history professor hired by the paper to make an independent assessment of the coverage of one of its correspondents in the Soviet Union during the 1930s said that the Pulitzer Prize the reporter received should be rescinded because of his “lack of balance” in covering Stalin’s government.

The Times had asked the professor, Mark von Hagen, to examine the coverage of the correspondent, Walter Duranty, specifically for his “failure to report on a famine that killed millions of Ukrainians in 1932 and 1933.”

According to the Times, Professor von Hagen described the coverage for which Mr. Duranty won the Pulitzer — his writing in 1931, a year before the onset of the famine — as a “dull and largely uncritical recitation of Soviet sources.”

Well, if the standard is “dull and largely uncritical recitation of” official sources, then maybe the Times should just close up shop.

Let’s take one example: the 1967 Israeli military attack on the USS Liberty that killed 34 American crew members. Both the government of Israel and the government of the United States continue to claim that the Israeli bombardment of the U.S. ship was a “tragic mistake.”

There was a press conference on Capitol Hill yesterday where former high-ranking U.S. government officials released a report that found that Israel “committed acts of murder against American servicemen and an act of war against the United States” when it deliberately attacked the USS Liberty.

Why would Israel want to deliberately sink a U.S. ship? One reason put forth by the Commission: Sink the ship, and blame Egypt — with the hope of drawing the United States into the 1967 war.

In addition, the chief attorney to the original 1967 Navy Court of Inquiry said in a sworn affidavit that then-President Johnson and then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered the Court of Inquiry to cover up the attack by presenting it as a mistake.

Admiral Thomas Moorer, the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, headed the independent commission of inquiry that released the report yesterday.

”The men of the USS Liberty were representing the U.S. They were attacked for over two hours by Israeli Air Force and Navy units with 70 percent American casualties and the eventual loss of our best intelligence ship,” Moorer said. “These sailors and marines were entitled to our best defense. We gave them no defense. The findings of this commission are irrefutable. Every other attack on a ship in our history has been investigated by our Congress except this one.”

”Nor has Congress ever investigated the recall by the White House of U.S. Navy aircraft sent to rescue the Liberty while the ship was still under attack.”

Moorer called the Johnson White House’s cancellation of the Navy’s attempt to rescue the Liberty “the most disgraceful thing I have witnessed in my entire military career.”

The major newspapers, including the New York Times, did not mention Moorer or his report. Typical of the Times’ reporting on this issue is its most recent entry July 10, 2003, when it ran an AP story reporting that “newly declassified transcripts back up Israel’s claim that its attack on an American spy ship during the 1967 Middle East war was an accident.” The AP dispatch quotes a Florida Judge, A. Jay Cristol.

It was Mr. Cristol’s work that led the Navy attorney of the official inquiry to go public after almost four decades of silence.

In his sworn affidavit, Captain Ward Boston, Counsel to the original 1967 U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry’s investigation into the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty, says the attack was deliberate but that the Court was ordered to cover it up by the Johnson White House.

”For more than 30 years I have remained silent on the topic of the USS Liberty. I am a military man and when orders come in from the Secretary of Defense and President of the United States, I follow them,” Boston said.

Boston said that Cristol’s book forced him out of the closet. The book, The Liberty Incident, “twists the facts and misrepresents the views of those of us who investigated the attack. “Contrary to the misinformation presented by Cristol and others, it is important for the American people to know that it is clear that Israel is responsible for deliberately attacking an American ship and murdering American sailors.”

On the issue of the USS Liberty, it can be said that the New York Times’ reporting has been a “dull and largely uncritical recitation of” official sources.

They’ll win no Pulitzer on this one — so they won’t have to give it back.

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Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter, http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com. Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, http://www.multinationalmonitor.org. They are co-authors of Corporate Predators: The Hunt for MegaProfits and the Attack on Democracy (Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press; http://www.corporatepredators.org). (c) Russell Mokhiber and Robert Weissman

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  1. […] now we have a circumstance which is perhaps even more compelling than Israel’s attack on the USS Cole.  Why?  Because it is not merely the report of one, or even a few reporters, it is a […]


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