June 8th: Date of the Vicious Israeli Act of War Against America.

IT WASN’T THE ARABS: Assault on the Liberty

June 8, 1967. On this day which lives on in infamy, an unarmed, clearly marked communications vessel sailing peacefully in the eastern Mediterranean, was suddenly attacked without warning by Israeli jets and torpedo boats, leaving 34 U.S. servicemen dead and another 171 wounded and maimed for life. The ship was the USS Liberty.

Its mission was to monitor the fighting going on between Israel and its Arab neighbors, which were then at war. Details of this vicious, cold-blooded atrocity by America’s favorite rogue state are recounted by James Bamford in his no-holds-barred examination of the National Security Agency, Body of Secrets. Below are several excerpts from this devastating exposé.

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.”

In the communications spaces, radioman 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 and require immediate assistance.”

“Great, wonderful, she’s burning, she’s burning,” said the Israeli pilot.

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 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.”

Then the planes attacked the bridge in order to blind her, killing instantly the ship’s executive officer. With the Liberty now deaf, blind and silenced, unable to call for help and unable to move, the Israeli pilots next proceeded to kill her. Designed to punch holes in the toughest tanks, the Israeli shells tore through the Liberty’s steel plating like hot nails through butter, exploding into jagged bits of shrapnel and butchering men deep in their living quarters.

“Menachem, is he screwing her?” [Israeli] headquarters asked one of the pilots, excitedly.

As the Israelis contined their slaughter, neither they nor the Liberty crew had any idea that witnesses were present hight above. Until now. According to information, interviews and documents obtained for Body of Secrets, for nearly thirty-five years NSA has hidden the fact that one of its planes was overhead at the time of the incident, eavesdropping on what was going on below. The intercepts from that plane, which answer some of the key questions about the attack, are among NSA’s deepest secrets.

At 2:24, minutes after the air attack, horror once again washed over the crew. Charles Rowley, the ship’s photographer, was lying in the ward room being treated for shrapnel wounds when armor-piercing bullets began penetrating the bulkhead. Through the porthole he saw three sixty-two-ton motor torpedo boats rapidly approaching in attack formation. Closing in at about forty knots, each of the French-built boats had a crew of fifteen and were heavily armed with a 40mm cannon, four 20mm cannons and two torpedoes. Like a firing squad, they lined up in a row and pointed their guns and torpedo tubes at the Liberty’s starboard hull. Seeing that the Israeli fighters had destroyed the American flag, Commander McGonagle ordered the signalman to quickly hoist another—this one the giant “holiday ensign,” the largest on the ship.

Almost immediately, the boats opened up with a barrage of cannon fire. One armor-piercing bullet slammed through the ship’s chart house and into the pilothouse, coming to rest finally in the neck of a young helmsman, killing him instantly. Three other crewmen were slaughtered in this latest shower of steel.

“Stand by for torpedo attack, starboard side,” McGonagle shouted frantically into the announcing system. The Israelis were ready for the kill. At 2:37 p.m., the safety plug was pulled from a 19-inch German-made torpedo on Motor Torpedo Boat 203. Seconds later it sped from its launcher and took direct aim at the Liberty’s NSA spaces. Four other torpedoes—more than enough to sink the largest aircraft carrier—were also launched. Had all or most of them hit their mark, the Liberty’s remaining life would have been measured in minutes. Through a miracle, only one struck home. But that hit was devastating.

To prevent anyone from escaping the badly wounded ship, the Israelies even destroyed the few surviving life rafts that were put into the water following the call to abandon ship. “I watched with horror as the floating life rafts were riddled with holes,” said Lieutenant Lloyd painter, in charge of the evacuation. “No survivors were planned for this day!”

Earlier that day, the Israelis had massacred civilians and prisoners in the [northern Sinai] desert; now they were prepared to ensure that no American survived the sinking of the Liberty. Another witness to the lifeboat attacks was pipefitter Phillip F. Tourney. “As soon as the lifeboats hit the water they were sunk. They would shoot at us for target practice . . . They wanted to kill and maim and murder anyone they could.”

Black smoke was still escaping through the more than 800 holes in the Liberty’s hull, and the effort to hush up the incident had already begun. Within hours of the attack, Israel asked President Johnson to quietly bury the incident. “Embassy Tel Aviv,” said a highly secret, very-limited-distribution message to the State Department, “urged de-emphasis on publicity since proximity of vessel to scene of conflict was fuel for Arab suspicions that U.S. was aiding Israel.” Shortly thereafter, a total news ban was ordered by the Pentagon. No one in the field was allowed to say anything about the attack. All information was to come only from a few senior Washington offcials.

At 11:29 a.m. (5:29 p.m. Liberty), [President] Johnson took the unusual step of ordering the JCS to recall the [American fighters being sent to the aid of the stricken vessel] while the Liberty still lay smoldering, sinking, fearful of another attack, without aid, and with its decks covered with the dead, the dying and the wounded. Onboard the flagship of the Sixth Fleet, Rear Admiral Lawrence R. Geis, who commanded the carrier force in the Mediterranean, was angry and puzzled at the recall and protested it to Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara.

Admiral Geis was shocked by what he heard next. According to information obtained for Body of Secrets, “President Lyndon Johnson came on with a comment that he didn’t care if the ship sunk, he would not embarrass his [Israeli] allies.”

The hole in the Liberty’s twenty-tree-year-old skin was nearly wide enough to drive a bus through; the ship had a heavy list to starboard . . . thirty-two of its crew were dead (two others would later die) and two-thirds of the rest wounded; its executive officer was dead, and its commander officer was badly hurt. Despite all this, the Liberty was heroically brought back to life and slowly made her way toward safer waters.

Once the Liberty pulled into Malta on June 14, the effort to bury the incident continued at full speed ahead. A total news blackout was imposed. Crew members were threatened with courts-martial and jail time if they ever breathed a word of the episode to anyone — including family members and even fellow crew members. “If you ever repeat this to anyone else ever again, you will be put in prison and forgotten about,” Larry Weaver said he was warned.

“Tob shebbe goyim harog.” (“Kill the best of the Gentiles.”)
—THE TALMUD, Sanhedrin 59