Quotes by Contemporary Experts on the USS Liberty
A number of Johnson administration, military, and intelligence community officials – all of whom had access to classified materials regarding the attack – have commented on the conclusions they reached concerning the attack.
- Lyndon B. Johnson, then-President of the United States:
“We saw no need to inform Israel or any other party to the hostilities of the Liberty’s location since the ship was on a peaceful mission and was in international waters. I have seen a report alleging that the Israeli Government has asked us about the presence of the ship prior to the attack, but that report is not true.”
- Dean Rusk, then-Secretary of State:
“...an act of military recklessness reflecting wanton disregard for human life.” —10 June 1967 diplomatic note to the Israeli Ambassador.
"But I was never satisfied with the Israeli explanation. Their sustained attack to disable and sink Liberty precluded an assault by accident or soem trigger-happy local commander. Through diplomatic channels we refused to accept their explanations. I didn't believe them then, and I don't believe them to this day. The attack was outrageous." —Rusk, As I Saw It, W.W.Norton, 1990. p 388
- Clark M. Clifford, then-Presidential Advisor and Chairman of the President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board:
"I do not know to this day at what level the attack on the Liberty was authorized and I think it is unlikely that the full truth will ever come out. Having been for so long a staunch supporter of Israel, I was particularly troubled by this incident; I could not bring myself to believe that such an action could have been authorized by Levi Eshkol. Yet somewhere inside the Israeli government, somewhere along the chain of command, something had gone terribly wrong--and then had been covered up. I hever felt the Israelis made adequate restitution or explanation for their actions..." —Counsel to the President
"That the Liberty could have been mistaken for the Egyptian supply ship El Quseir is unbelievable. El Quseir has one-fourth the displacement of the Liberty, roughly half the beam, is 180 feet shorter, and is very differently configured. The Liberty's unusual antenna array and hull markings should have been visible to low-flying aircraft and torpedo boats. In the heat of battle the Liberty was able to identify one of the attacking torpedo boats as Israeli and to ascertain its hull number. In the same circumstances, trained Israeli naval personnel should have been able easily to see and identify the larger hull markings on the Liberty." —memorandum to the President, 18 July 1967
- Paul C. Warnke, then-General Legal Counsel of the Department of Defense:
"I found it hard to believe that it was, in fact, an honest mistake on the part of the Israeli air force units. I still find it impossible to believe that it was. I suspect that in the heat of battle they figured that the presence of this American ship was inimical to their interests, and that somebody without authorization attacked it."
- George Ball, under secretary of state at the time:
"American leaders did not have the courage to punish Israel for the blatant murder of its citizens. . . . The Liberty's presence and function were well known to Israel's leaders. ...Israel's leaders concluded that nothing they might do would offend the Americans to the point of reprisal. If American leaders did not have the courage to punish Israel for the blatant murder of American citizens, it seemed clear that their American friends would let them get away with almost anything." —writing in The Passionate Attachment: America's Involvement with Israel, pages 57-58.
- Dwight Porter, former US Ambassador to Lebanon:
“‘It's an American ship!’ the pilot of an Israeli Mirage fighter-bomber radioed Tel Aviv as he sighted the USS Liberty on June 8, 1967. Israeli headquarters ordered the pilot to attack the American ship.” —former US Ambassador to Lebanon Dwight Porter describing transcripts of communications he saw, reported in syndicated column "Remembering the Liberty" by Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, November 6, 1991.
- David G. Nes, the deputy head of the American mission in Cairo at the time:
“I don't think that there's any doubt that it was deliberate.... [It is] one of the great cover-ups of our military history.”
- George Christian, Press Secretary to President Lyndon Johnson:
"No one in the White House believed that the attack was an accident." —in letter to James Ennes, 1978.
- John Stenbit, Assistant Secretary of Defense for C3I:
"The Israelis told us 24 hours before that ...if we didn't move it, they would sink it. Unfortunately, the ship was not moved, and by the time the message arrived the ship was taking on water." —in an address to the AFEI/NDAI Conference for Net Centric Operations, Wednesday, April 16, 2003
- Raymond Tate, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy and Deputy Director, NSA:
". . . the commander of the Sixth Fleet was informed by the Washington Intelligence Apparatus that it had evidence that the Liberty was going to be attacked and to provide protection for it. That message was never really acted upon, and the ship was dead in the water when it was hit. So the end result was no accident." —Raymond Tate, Deputy Assistant SecNav and Deputy Director, NSA, Worldwide C3I and Telecommunications (1980, pp. 25-47)
Members of Congress
- Craig Hosmer, then-U.S. Representative:
"I can only conclude that the coordinated attack by aircraft and motor torpedo boats on the U.S.S. Liberty 15 1/2 miles north of Sinai on June 8 which killed 34 officers and men of the Navy and wounded another 175 was deliberate.
"The fact that the U.S.S. Liberty was a Victory hull vessel, hundreds of which were produced and used by the U.S. Navy during World War II and since, rules out the possibility of mistaken identity. Every ship recognition book in the world has, for years, identified the characteristic Victory hull and supersturcture of the U.S.S. Liberty as U.S. Navy property...
"Whatever the reason for the attack, it was an act of high piracy. Those responsible should be court-martialed on charges of murder, amongst other counts. The Israel Government should pay full reparations to the United States and indemnities to the families of the Americans killed." —Craig Hosmer, then-U.S. Representative, on the floor of the House of Representatives, 29 June 1967
- Thomas G. Abernathy, then-U.S. Representative:
"The Liberty ship incident - and indeed it was more than an incident - has been treated entirely too lightly by this Government. To say the lease, too little has been said about it. This useless, unnecessary and inexcusable attack took the lives of 34 American boys, wounded 175 others, and left many others in a state of horrified shock, to say nothing of what it did to a flag-flying vessel of the U.S. Navy. How could this be treated so lightly in this the greatest Capitol in all the world?
"I have heard Members of this House, and many, many others, say that if this had been done by others, the leaders of our Government would have moved in with sternness and appropriate action demands or even retaliatory action.
"These men at all times are entitled to the strong backing of every citizen of this land or every race and every creed. They are entitled to and should have the strong arm, as well as the strong voice of their Government and their people behind them. And who has spoken out in their behalf from this land since some of their number were so suddenly shot down and others so severely wounded on the Liberty ship?
"What complaint have we registered? What has Washington said? To tell you the truth, this great Capitol as well as this great Government - if it can still be called great - was and is as quiet as a tomb regarding this event?" —Thomas G. Abernathy, then-U.S. Representative, on the floor of the House of Representatives, 29 June 1967
- Adlai Stevenson III, former United States Senator:
"Those sailors who were wounded, who were eyewitnesses, have not been heard from by the American public. . . [Their story] leaves no doubt but what this was a premeditated, carefully reconnoitered attack by Israeli aircraft against our ship." —US Senator Adlai Stevenson III in interview with Wm. J. Small, UPI, for publication September 28, 1980
- James Abourezk, former United States Senator
"The shame of the U.S.S. Liberty incident is that our sailors were treated as though they were enemies, rather than the patriots and heroes that they were. There is no other incident--beyond Israeli attack on the U.S.S. Liberty--that shows the power of the Israeli Lobby by being able to silence successive American governments. Allowing the lies told by the Israelis and their minions in the U.S. is disheartening to all of us who are proud of our servicemen." —James Abourezk, United States Senate, 1973-79
- Paul Findley, former U.S. Congressman:
"Certain facts are clear. The attack was no accident. The Liberty was assaulted in broad daylight by Israeli forces who knew the ship's identity. ...The President of the United States led a cover-up so thorough that years after he left office, the episode was still largely unknown to the public -- and the men who suffered and died have gone largely unhonored." —Paul Findley, They Dare to Speak Out, Lawrence Hill & Co., 1985, p166
- Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, US Navy (Ret.):
“The ship was clearly identified, not only by its unique configuration but by a very large U.S. flag that was flown at the time. The weather was calm and the visibility was excellent. During this unprovoked attack 34 U.S. Navy men were killed and 171 wounded. Nevertheless, to this day the American public does not know why the attack took place and who was involved overall. “In my opinion, the United States government and the Israeli government must share responsibility for this cover-up. I cannot accept the claim by the Israelis that this was a case of mistaken identity. I have flown for years in both peace and war on surveillance flights over the ocean, and my opinion is supported by a full career of locating and identifying ships at sea. Based on the way this tragedy was handled both in the United States and in Israel, one must conclude that there is much information that has not been made available to the public. “The U.S. Fleet, positioned nearby, received a distress call from the USS Liberty, and one carrier dispatched a squadron to go to the defense of the disabled ship. Before the aircraft reached the Liberty, they received orders from Washington directing their return to their ship. Who issued those orders? So far, no one knows. In the United States all information available to the U.S. government indicating those who participated in controlling this operation from Washington, together with the exact text of orders transmitted to the Mediterranean Fleet, has never been made public.” —Thomas H. Moorer, Admiral, US Navy (Ret.), Forword to Assault on the Liberty
- Captain Ward Boston, JAGC, US Navy (Ret.):
"Retired Navy legal counsel Capt. Ward Boston says he and the court's president, the late Rear Adm. Isaac "Ike" Kidd, always believed Israeli forces knowingly attacked the Liberty. 'I feel the Israelis knew what they were doing. They knew they were shooting at a U.S. Navy ship,' said Boston, who lives in Coronado, Calif. 'That's the bottom line. I don't care how they tried to get out of it.'" —Text and quotes from the Navy Times, 26 June 2002
"Gentlemen: The JAG Manual provides that the responsibility of Counsel for the Court is to exploit all practicable sources of information and to bring out all facts in an impartial manner without regard to the favorable or unfavorable effect on persons concerned.
"I believe that the record of proceedings of this Court of Inquiry will reflect that all facts and information which are available concerning the unprovoked attack on USS Liberty on 8 June 1967, have been brought to your attention.
"The only remaining responsibility which I have, while this Court is in session is to give summation of the evidence introduced observing the caveat that the summation must be an impartial argument and not amount to partisan advocacy.
"Even though I intend to temper my remarks within the peripheral limits of such a guide line, I must confess however, that after living intimately with the facts of this case for the past week, I have become more and more appalled that such a tragedy should have over occurred. Therefore, I shall attempt to synopsize those salient facts which have influenced my judgment in this summation.
"You have heard testimony and viewed incontrovertible documentary evidence which established the following factual setting:
"USS Liberty, pictured, defined and described in Janes Fighting Ships as an unarmed U.S. Navy technical research ship, deployed to the Mediterranean pursuant to official orders and, on 8 June 1967, was on station in accordance with such orders. However, the Commanding Officer, USS Liberty, had not been appraised that Liberty's orders had been modified, apparently because of the Middle East War so, instead of the previously assigned area of operation being in international waters contiguous to the coast of the United Arab Republic, the modification provided for removal to an area of operation 100 miles from the coast. The evidence clearly reflects that any dereliction for USS Liberty not having knowledge of the modification in orders is not attributable to Liberty. Nor is there any evidence of probative value establishing culpability in non-receipt." —Ward Boston, Captain, JAGC, US Navy (Ret.), in the Counsel for the Court's Summary of Evidence of the U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry into the attack on USS Liberty
- Commander Ernest Castle, U.S. Naval Attaché at American Embassy in Tel-Aviv:
". . . Info on MTB attack received by embassy officer from IDF naval officer who said he was aboard MTB. . . . They eagerly raced into action without waiting to identify our ship." —Commander Ernest Castle, U.S. Naval Attaché at American Embassay in Tel-Aviv in 15 June 1967 message to Rear Admiral Kidd
- Commander William McGonagle, Captain, USS Liberty:
After more than two hours of unremitting assault, the Israelis finally halted their attack. One of the torpedo boats approached the Liberty. This same torpedo boat crew had been circling the ship, machine-gunning anyone who stuck his head above decks, as well as the lifeboats the crew had put over the side.
What had changed? The Israeli government knew that US aircraft carriers had just launched aircraft to come to Liberty's aid and the attack was quickly called off. The Israeli government called the US Embassy and said that they had made a "mistake."
A torpedo boat officer asked in English over a bullhorn: "Do you need any help?"
The wounded commander of the Liberty, Captain William McGonagle, instructed the quartermaster to respond emphatically: "Fuck you."
Intelligence Community Officials
- Richard Helms, then-Director of Central Intelligence (CIA Director):
"Israeli authorities subsequently apologized for the incident, but few in Washington could believe that the ship had not been identified as an American naval vessel. Later, an interim intelligence memorandum concluded the attack was a mistake and not made in malice against the U.S. . . .
I had no role in the board of inquiry that followed, or the board's finding that there could be no doubt that the Israelis knew exactly what they were doing in attacking the Liberty. I have yet to understand why it was felt necessary to attack this ship or who ordered the attack." —Richard Helms, then-Director of Central Intelligence (CIA Director), A Look Over My Shoulder
- Adm. Rufus Taylor, then-Deputy Director of Central Intelligence (CIA Deputy Director)
"To me, the picture thus far presents the distinct possibility that the Israelis knew that the Liberty might be their target and attacked anyway, either through confusion in Command and Control or through deliberate disregard of instructions on the part of subordinates."
- Lieutenant General William E. Odom, former director, National Security Agency:
On the strength of intercept transcripts of pilots' conversations during the attack, the question of the attack's deliberateness "just wasn't a disputed issue" within the agency.
Lieutenant General William E. Odom, former director, National Security Agency, interview with David Walsh on March 3, 2003, reported in Naval Institute Proceedings, June, 2003
- Major General John Morrison, US Air Force, Deputy Chief NSA Operations during the attack and later Chief of NSA Operations:
"....did not buy the Israeli ‘mistake’ explanations either. Nobody believes that explanation." When informed by author Bamford of gruesome war crime (killing of large numbers of POWs) at nearby El Arish, Morrison saw the connection. "That would be enough," he said. "They wouldn't want us in on that. You've got the motive. What a hell of a thing to do." —reported in Body of Secrets by James Bamford, p233.
- Admiral Bobby Ray Inman, USN, Director National Security Agency 1977-1981:
Inman said he "flatly rejected" the Cristol thesis that the attack was an accident. "It is just exceedingly difficult to believe that [USS Liberty] was not correctly identified" based on his talks with NSA seniors at the time having direct knowledge of intercepted communications. No NSA official could be found who dissented from the "deliberate" conclusion. —reported in Proceedings, June, 2003
- Oliver Kirby, former deputy director for operations/production, National Security Agency:
"I can tell you for an absolute certainty (from intercepted communications) that they knew they were attacking an American ship."
Oliver Kirby, former deputy director for operations/production, National Security Agency. Kirby participated in NSA's investigation of the attack and reviewed translations of intercepted communications between pilots and their headquarters which he reports show conclusively that they knew their target was an American ship. Kirby is considered the "Godfather" of the USS Liberty and USS Pueblo intercept programs. (Telephone interviews with James Ennes and David Walsh for Friendless Fire, Proceedings, June 2003)
- Louis W. Tordella, former NSA Deputy Director
"A nice whitewash for a group of ignorant, stupid and inept [expletive deleted]." —Handwritten note of August 26, 1967, by NSA Deputy Director Louis W. Tordella reacting to the Israeli court decision exonerating Israelis of all blame for the Liberty attack.
Intelligence Community Officials
- Yitzhak Rabin, IDF Chief of Staff in 1967 and former Prime Minister of Israel:
"A ship had been sighted opposite El Arish. Following standing orders to attack any unidentified vessel near the shore (after appropriate attempts had been made to ascertain its identity), our air force and navy zeroed in on the vessel and damaged it. But they still could not tell whose ship it was.... Four of our planes flew over it at a low altitude in an attempt to identify the ship, but they were unable to make out any markings and therefore concluded it must be Egyptian...."
- Abba Eban, Israeli UN Ambassador in 1967:
"American leaders--including Secretary of State Rusk--found it difficult to assume that the attack had been inadvertent. They occupied their minds with various scenarios of motivation. All of them were false. Israel had no interest whatever in preventing the United States from knowing what was going on. There was nothing apologetic about our military decisions ....I categorically assert that the LIBERTY tragedy was not deliberate. I attended all the intimate consultations of the defense and diplomatic leaders in those forty-eight hours, and it is certain that airmen and soldiers would not have reported falsely to the prime minister, the newly appointed defense minister and to the chief of staff on a matter as grave as the sinking [sic] of an American vessel by Israeli forces. "
- Brig. General Yiftah Spector, Israeli Air Force and the pilot who initiated the attack on USS Liberty in international waters:
"They must understand that a mistake was made here," Spector said. "The fool is one who wanders about in the dark in dangerous places, so they should not come with any complaints."
Brig Gen. Yiftah Spector, Israeli Air Force, in an interview with the Jerusalem Post..
General Spector was the Israeli pilot who launched the attack, in clear violation of international law, on the unarmed USS Liberty sailing in international waters.
Shamelessly, in that same interview, the reporter wrote of him:
"He added he remains baffled that the conspiracy theories live on that Israel deliberately attacked the US intelligence ship. He suggested it might be due to anti-Semitism, or anti-Israeli sentiments" [on the part of the Liberty crewmembers he tried to kill].