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http://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/23/world/23LIBE.html

Book Says Israel Intended 1967 Attack on U.S. Ship

By JAMES RISEN, New York Times April 23, 2001

WASHINGTON, April 22 - Israel's attack in 1967 on the intelligence ship Liberty, which killed 34 American sailors and wounded 171 others, was deliberate, according to a new book on the National Security Agency, disputing the longstanding Israeli claim that the attack was accidental.

The book, "Body of Secrets," by James Bamford, provides a detailed recounting of the Israeli attack on the American eavesdropping ship, along with new evidence in an incident that has been debated ever since. Mr. Bamford wrote an earlier book on the security agency, "The Puzzle Palace," published in 1982.

The Liberty, a slow, lightly armed Navy ship that was working with the security agency to monitor the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, was attacked from both the air and sea by Israeli forces off the Sinai coast on June 8.

While the Israeli government said the incident was an accident, it did pay modest reparations to the victims and their families. But Mr. Bamford writes that the Israeli explanation is a cover story for a deliberate attack meant to prevent the United States from eavesdropping on its military activities. And the book provides evidence from crew members of an American spy plane that overheard the attack.

While Israeli planes and boats were attacking the Liberty, the American plane, a Navy EC-121 intelligence-gathering aircraft, was far overhead, and recorded Israeli conversations, Mr. Bamford wrote.

And the crew heard Israeli pilots talking about seeing an American flag.

The Israelis did not have any idea "that witnesses were present high above," Mr. Bamford writes in "Body of Secrets," which Doubleday is to publish on Tuesday. The National Security Agency "has hidden the fact the one of its planes was overhead at the time of the incident, eavesdropping on what was going on below," he wrote. "The intercepts from that plane, which answer some of the key questions about the attack, are among N.S.A.'s deepest secrets."

The aircraft crew did not hear the Israelis mention the Liberty by name, but did hear enough to piece together the fact that Israeli forces were attacking a ship flying the American flag.

"Although the attackers never gave a name or hull number, the ship was identified as flying an American flag," one air crew member recalled in an interview with Mr. Bamford. "We logically concluded that the ship was the U.S.S. Liberty."

Surviving crew members of the Liberty also believed that the Israeli attack was deliberate, according to those interviewed in Mr. Bamford's book. Before the attack, Israeli planes flew over the Liberty repeatedly, they noted, and could have clearly seen what it was. During the attack, they could also see that it was flying an American flag, they told Mr. Bamford.

Mr. Bamford argues that the Liberty attack came at a time when President Lyndon B. Johnson was anxious to avoid worsening relations with Israel in the midst of the Middle East crisis. The Israeli government gave Washington a classified report to show that the attack was a mistake, and the Johnson administration then discounted the incident.

"Despite the overwhelming evidence that Israel had attacked the ship and killed the American servicemen deliberately, the Johnson administration and Congress covered up the entire incident," Mr. Bamford wrote.

But security agency officials never believed the Israeli excuses, Mr. Bamford said. "The senior leadership of N.S.A. officials who had unique access to the secret tapes and other highly classified evidence was virtually unanimous in their belief that the attack was deliberate," he wrote.

Walter Deely, who was a senior N.S.A. official at the time of the attack and who was ordered to conduct a secret study of the Liberty for the agency, told Mr. Bamford that his review showed "there is no way they didn't know that the Liberty was American."

John Morrison, an Air Force major general who was deputy chief of the agency's operations at the time of the attack, told Mr. Bamford that "nobody believes that explanation."


http://www.cnn.com/2001/US/04/23/liberty.attack/index.html

Israel's 1967 attack on U.S. ship deliberate, book says

From David Ensor
CNN National Security Correspondent April 23, 2001

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A new book quotes U.S. officials around during the 1967 Israeli attack on a U.S. surveillance ship as saying the attack was not an accident -- as Israel has always claimed -- but deliberate.

The attack, in which 34 American sailors died, was carried out to prevent the United States from eavesdropping on Israeli military activities, author James Bamford writes.

The USS Liberty was attacked during the Six Day War on June 8 by air and sea forces off the Sinai coast. Israel said the ship was mistaken for an Egyptian one and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson then accepted the explanation.

Israel later paid modest reparations to the families of the 34 Americans killed, and to the 171 others who were injured.

What the Israelis did not know, according to "Body of Secrets" -- published by Doubleday and scheduled for release Tuesday -- is that the U.S. National Security Agency had a surveillance plane flying above the Liberty.

The book quotes by name a Hebrew-English translator on that U.S. plane as saying the Israeli pilots talked about completing an attack. He said "they mentioned an American flag" -- suggesting the Israelis knew they were attacking a U.S. ship.

Bamford's other named sources include a former top N.S.A. official who conducted a review of the attack and an Air Force major general.

Israeli officials have not responded to CNN calls seeking comment.

Bamford writes that National Security Agency intercepts of the Israeli pilots and sailors remain secret to this day, although his sources say the communications would clearly show the Israelis attacked the U.S. ship deliberately.

As for motive, Bamford speculates in the book that the Israelis may not have wanted the United States to know that "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."

Survivors of the attack on the USS Liberty have long argued that the Israelis had to know they were attacking an American ship, since the ship was circled repeatedly at a low altitude by Israeli aircraft before the attack and the ship was flying U.S. flags.

Bamford is an intelligence specialist and the author of a previous best-selling book about the NSA called "The Puzzle Palace."


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