USS Liberty

The Coming Storm - Avenge the USS Liberty (Part 1)

The Coming Storm - Avenge the USS Liberty (Part 2)

The Coming Storm - Avenge the USS Liberty (Part 3)

The Coming Storm - Avenge the USS Liberty (Part 4)

The Coming Storm - Avenge the USS Liberty (Part 5)

The Coming Storm - Avenge the USS Liberty (Part 6)

So Who's Afraid of the Israel Lobby?

By Ray McGovern
October 5, 2007

Virtually everyone: Republican, Democrat—Conservative, Liberal.

The fear factor is non-partisan, you might say, and palpable.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee brags that it is the

most influential foreign policy lobbying organization on Capitol Hill,

and has demonstrated that time and again, and not only on Capitol


Nowhere is the Lobby’s power more clearly demonstrated than in

its ability to suppress the awful truth that on June 8, 1967 during

the Six Day War:

--Israel deliberately attacked the intelligence collection ship USS

Liberty, in full awareness it was a U.S. Navy ship, and did its best to

sink it and leave no survivors;

--The Israelis would have succeeded had they not broken off the

attack upon learning, from an intercepted message, that the

commander of the U.S. 6th Fleet had launched carrier fighters to

the scene; and

--By that time, 34 of the Liberty’s crew had been killed and over

170 wounded.

Scores of intelligence analysts and senior officials have known this

for years. That virtually all of them have kept a 40-year frightened

silence is testament to the widespread fear of touching this live wire.

Even more telling is the fact that the National Security Agency

destroyed voice tapes seen by many intelligence analysts, showing

beyond doubt that the Israelis knew exactly what they were doing.

But the truth will out—eventually. All it took in this case is for a

courageous journalist (of the endangered species kind) to listen to

the surviving crew and do a little basic research, not shrinking from

naming war crimes and not letting senior U.S. officials, from the

president on down off the hook for suppressing—even

destroying—unimpeachable evidence from intercepted Israeli


The mainstream media have now published an exposé based largely

on interviews with those most intimately involved.

A lengthy article by Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative reporter

John Crewdson appeared in the Chicago Tribune and Baltimore

Sun on Oct. 2 titled “New revelations in attack on American spy

ship.” [For the full story, click here.]

To the subtitle goes the prize for understatement of the year:

“Veterans, documents suggest U.S., Israel didn’t tell full story of

deadly 1967 incident.”

Better 40 years late than never, I suppose. Many of us have known

of the incident and cover-up for a very long time and have tried to

expose and discuss it for the lessons it holds for today.

It has proved far easier, though, to get a very pedestrian

Dog-Bites-Man article published than an article with the

importance and explosiveness of this damning story.

A Marine Stands Up

On the evening of Sept. 26, 2006, I gave a talk on Iraq to an

overflow crowd of 400 at National Avenue Church in Springfield,


A questioner asked what I thought of the study by John

Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Stephen Walt of

Harvard titled “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy.”

The study had originally been commissioned by The Atlantic

Monthly. When the draft arrived, however, shouts of “Leper!” were

heard at the Atlantic. The monthly wasted no time in saying

thanks-but-no-thanks, and the leper-study then wandered in search

of a home, finding none among American publishers.

Eventually the London Review of Books published it in March


I had read that piece carefully and found it an unusual act of

courage as well as scholarship. That’s what I told the questioner,

adding that I did have two problems with the study:

--First, it seemed to me the authors erred in attributing virtually all

the motivation for the U.S. attack on Iraq to the Israel Lobby and

the so-called “neo-conservatives” running our policy and armed

forces. Was Israel an important factor? Indeed. But of equal

importance, in my view, was the oil factor and what the Pentagon

now calls the “enduring” military bases in Iraq, which the White

House and Pentagon decided were needed for the U.S. to dominate

that part of the Middle East.

--Second, I was intrigued by the fact that Mearsheimer and Walt

made no mention of what I believe to be, if not the most telling, then

perhaps the most sensational proof of the power the Lobby knows it

can exert over our government and Congress. In sum, in June

1967, after deliberately using fighter-bombers and torpedo boats to

attack the USS Liberty for over two hours in an attempt to sink it

and kill its crew, and then getting the U.S. government, the Navy

and the Congress to cover up what happened, the Israeli

government learned that it could—literally—get away with murder.

I found myself looking out at 400 blank stares. The USS Liberty?

And so I asked how many in the audience had heard of the attack

on the Liberty on June 8, 1967. Three hands went up; I called on

the gentleman nearest me.

Ramrod straight he stood:

“Sir, Sergeant Bryce Lockwood, United States Marine Corps,

retired. I am a member of the USS Liberty crew, Sir.”

Catching my breath, I asked him if he would be willing to tell us

what happened.

“Sir, I have not been able to do that. It is hard. But it has been

almost 40 years, and I would like to try this evening, Sir.”

You could hear a pin drop for the next 15 minutes, as Lockwood

gave us his personal account of what happened to him, his

colleagues and his ship on the afternoon of June 8, 1967.

He was a linguist assigned to collect communications intelligence

from the USS Liberty, which was among the ugliest—and most

easily identifiable—ships in the fleet with antennae springing out in

all directions.

Lockwood told of the events of that fateful day, beginning with the

six-hour naval and air surveillance of the Liberty by the Israeli navy

and air force on the morning of June 8.

After the air attacks including thousand-pound bombs and napalm,

three sixty-ton torpedo boats lined up like a firing squad, pointing

their torpedo tubes at the Liberty’s starboard hull.

Lockwood had been ordered to throw the extremely sensitive

cryptological equipment overboard and had just walked beyond the

bulwark separating the NSA intelligence unit from the rest of the

ship when, he recalled, he sensed a large black object, a

tremendous explosion, and sheet of flame.

The torpedo had struck dead center in the NSA space.

The cold, oily water brought Lockwood back to consciousness.

Around him were 25 dead colleagues; but he heard moaning.

Three were still alive; one of Lockwood’s shipmates dragged one up

the hatch. Lockwood was able to lift the two others, one-by-one,

onto his shoulder and carry them up through the hatch.

This meant alternatively banging on the hatch for someone to open

it and swimming back to fish his shipmate out of the water lest he

float out to sea through the 39-foot hole made by the torpedo.

At that Lockwood stopped speaking. It was enough. Hard, very

hard—even after almost 40 years.

What Else We Know

John Crewdson’s meticulously documented article, together with

the 57 pages that James Bamford devotes to the incident in Body of

Secrets and recent confessions by those who played a role in the

cover-up, paint a picture that the surviving crew of the USS Liberty

can only find infuriating.

The evidence, from intercepted communications as well as

testimony, of Israeli deliberate intent is unimpeachable, even though

the Israelis continue to portray it as just a terrible mistake.

Crewdson refers to U.S. Navy Captain Ward Boston, who was the

Navy lawyer appointed as senior counsel to Admiral Isaac C. Kidd,

named by Admiral John S. McCain to “inquire into all the facts and

circumstances.” [Yes, the father of presidential hopeful, Sen. John


The fact that they were given only one week to gather evidence and

were forbidden to contact the Israelis screams out “cover-up.”

Captain Boston, now 84, signed a formal declaration on Jan. 8,

2004, in which he described himself as “outraged at the efforts of

the apologists for Israel in this country to claim that this attack was

a case of ‘mistaken identity.’” Boston continued:

“The evidence was clear. Both Admiral Kidd and I believed with

certainty that this attack...was a deliberate effort to sink an

American ship and murder its entire crew...Not only did the Israelis

attack the ship with napalm, gunfire, and missiles, Israeli torpedo

boats machine-gunned three lifeboats that had been launched in an

attempt by the crew to save the most seriously wounded—a war

crime...I know from personal conversations I had with Admiral

Kidd that President Lyndon Johnson and Secretary of Defense

Robert McNamara ordered him to conclude that the attack was a

case of ‘mistaken identity’ despite overwhelming evidence to the


Why the Israelis decided to take the draconian measure to sink a

ship of the U.S. Navy is a subject of speculation.

One view is that the Israelis did not want the U.S. to find out they

were massing troops to seize the Golan Heights from Syria, and

wanted to deprive the U.S. of the opportunity to argue against such

a move.

James Bamford, in Body of Secrets, adduces evidence, including

reporting from an Israeli journalist eyewitness and an Israeli

military historian, of wholesale killing of Egyptian prisoners of war

at the coastal town of El Arish in the Sinai.

The Liberty was patrolling directly opposite El Arish in

international waters but within easy range to pick up intelligence on

what was going on there. And the Israelis were well aware.

As for the why, well, someone could at least approach the Israelis

involved and ask, no?

The important thing here is not to confuse what is known (the

deliberate nature of the Israeli attack) with the purpose behind it,

which remains a matter of speculation.

Other Indignities

Bowing to intense pressure from the Navy, the White House agreed

to award the Liberty’s skipper, Captain William McGonagle, the

Medal of Honor....but not at the White House, and not by the

president (as is the custom).

Rather, the Secretary of the Navy gave the award at the

Washington Navy Yard on the banks of the acrid Anacostia River.

A naval officer involved in the awards ceremony told one of the

Liberty crew, “The government is pretty jumpy about Israel...the

State Department even asked the Israeli ambassador if his

government had any objections to McGonagle getting the medal.”

Adding insult to injury, those of the Liberty crew who survived well

enough to call for an independent investigation have been hit with

charges of, you guessed it, anti-Semitism.

Now that some of the truth has emerged more and more, others are

showing more courage in speaking out. In a recent e-mail, a former

CIA analyst-colleague shared:

“The chief of the analysts studying the Arab/Israeli region at the

time told me about the intercepted messages and said very flatly and

firmly that the pilots reported seeing the American flag and

repeated their requests for confirmation of the attack order. Whole

platoons of Americans saw those intercepts. If NSA now says they

do not exist, then someone ordered them destroyed.”

Leaving the destruction of evidence without investigation is an open

invitation to repetition in the future.

As for the larger picture, visiting Israel this past summer I was

constantly told that Egypt forced Israel into war in June 1967. This

does not square with the unguarded words of Menachem Begin in

1982, when he was Israel’s prime minister. Rather he admitted


“In June 1967, we had a choice. The Egyptian army concentrations

in the Sinai approaches do not prove that [Egyptian President]

Nasser was really about to attack us. We must be honest with

ourselves. We decided to attack him.”

Israel had, in fact, prepared well militarily and mounted

provocations against its neighbors, in order to provoke a response

that could be used to justify an expansion of its borders.

Israel’s illegal 40-year control over and confiscation of land in the

occupied territories and U.S. enabling support (particularly the

one-sided support by the current U.S. administration) go a long way

toward explaining why it is that 1.3 billion Muslims “hate us.”

Ray McGovern works for Tell the Word, the publishing arm of the

ecumenical Church of the Saviour in Washington, DC. He was a

CIA analyst for 27 years and is now on the Steering Committee of

Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS). He spent

some time in Israel and the West Bank this summer.