50th anniversary of the day Israel attacked the USS Liberty

Miriam Pensack provides new information about an event that has been sent into the media memory hole. (I wrote about this incident back in 2010.) The media loves to commemorate anniversaries of major events but the 50th anniversary of the day that Israeli warplanes attacked a US navy vessel has been ignored. The NSA continues to keep the details secret but Pensack reports on two documents that were revealed by Edward Snowden.

ON JUNE 8, 1967, an Israeli torpedo tore through the side of the unarmed American naval vessel USS Liberty, approximately a dozen miles off the Sinai coast. The ship, whose crew was under command of the National Security Agency, was intercepting communications at the height of the Six-Day War when it came under direct Israeli aerial and naval assault.

Reverberations from the torpedo blast sent crewman Ernie Gallo flying across the radio research room where he was stationed. Gallo, a communications technician aboard the Liberty, found himself and his fellow shipmates in the midst of an attack that would leave 34 Americans dead and 171 wounded.

This week marks the 50th anniversary of the assault on the USS Liberty, and though it was among the worst attacks in history against a noncombatant U.S. naval vessel, the tragedy remains shrouded in secrecy. The question of if and when Israeli forces became aware they were killing Americans has proved a point of particular contention in the on-again, off-again public debate that has simmered over the last half a century. The Navy Court of Inquiry’s investigation proceedings following the incident were held in closed sessions, and the survivors who had been on board received gag orders forbidding them to ever talk about what they endured that day.

Now, half a century later, The Intercept is publishing two classified documents provided in the cache of files leaked by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden related to the attack and its aftermath. They reveal previously unknown involvement by Government Communications Headquarters, the U.K. signals intelligence agency; internal NSA communications that seem to bolster a signals intelligence analyst’s account of the incident, which framed it as an accident; as well as a Hebrew transliteration system unique to the NSA that was in use at least as recently as 2006.

Though neither document reveals conclusive information about the causes of the assault, both highlight that at the time of their publication — approximately four decades after the incident — the NSA was determined to keep even seemingly minor details about the attack classified. The agency declined to comment for this article.

Ultimately, both the United States’ and Israel’s investigations deemed the attack on the Liberty an accident that resulted when Israel mistook the American spy ship for an Egyptian freighter. Bamford considers that conclusion a cover-up, however, citing the gag order issued to survivors, as well as the fact that NSA’s deputy director at the time, Louis Tordella, referred to the Israeli Defense Forces preliminary inquiry into the attack “a nice whitewash.” Still, other sources assert that any notion of cover-up is mere paranoia. According to a spokesperson at the Israeli Ministry of Foreign affairs, the Liberty assault was “a tragic accident … that was settled between the parties involved years ago,” and that, “as is the case with many of these matters, there are always enough conspiracy theories to go around, but they never hold water.”

In a statement to The Intercept, Ernie Gallo, who currently serves as the president of the Liberty Veterans Association, said, “We now know that the Navy Court of Inquiry was merely for show, as the officers were told to come to the conclusion the Liberty did [its] job and the attack was accidental.” Bamford also references the magnitude and length of the attack as proof of its deliberateness: The ship was hit repeatedly, first by planes dropping thousand-pound bombs and napalm, and then by torpedo boats. Israeli forces also jammed the Liberty’s antennas and communication channels, took out the four .50-caliber machine guns on board, and reportedly shot at life rafts and crew members as they attempted to evacuate the vessel. “It was an attack in broad daylight,” said Bamford. “They were flying a large U.S. flag. [The ship] said USS Liberty on the back. … I mean, what do you need?”


  1. Mark Dowd says

    Why are we Israel’s bitch?

    I’ve asked this before, and I’m pretty sure you even wrote a post in response to my comment about this (I think it’s this one: https://freethoughtblogs.com/singham/2014/08/04/how-the-israel-lobby-works-and-how-it-might-be-challenged/), but that didn’t really answer the question. It demonstrates the way the Israel lobby exerts its power, but I want to know why they are so powerful to begin with.

    As an example, the source of the NRA’s power is obvious: too many people in this country have a fetish for guns, so there is large popular support in addition to the gun manufacturer’s money (which itself comes as a result of the popularity of guns to begin with). From where does the Israeli lobby’s power come? I can’t imagine that most people in this country care that strongly about Jews for it to be a grassroots thing like guns.

    That leaves the shadow elite, big money as the real influencers in the background. Why does Israel matter to them? That kind of wondering can easily lead into Protocols of the Elders of Zion territory. It can’t be religion, at least not personally. Most of them are probably as religious and Donald Trump, just less obvious about it. A business opportunity for the military-industrial complex to sell more weapons? I think I read somewhere that Evangelicals are a part of it, but I’m not sure how much their end times theology could translate into actual political support.

    So if someone feels like giving me a lesson (or showing me the way to one), what gives here?

  2. Mano Singham says


    I would suggest reading John J. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt’s book The Israel Lobby and U. S. Foreign Policy. You can find links to my detailed three-part review of the book in the first paragraph of my post here but reading the book is better.

  3. says

    Bamford’s theory about El Arish is interesting, but I never thought it held much water, because it presupposes that the US government (and the Israeli government) give a shit about war crimes. Which, they pretty clearly don’t. The shocking news would be if either party started caring then, or now.

    I think it was just territorial dick-waving, which is something that the US and Israel are supremely concerned with.

    There’s another potential angle, which may be that the Israelis were concerned that the US spy ship was recording command/control references regarding Israel’s prototype nuclear weapons, which some believe were fielded during the 6 day war, and were in a potentially ready but not ideally usable state. That would have contradicted the assurances Israel gave the US, namely that they would not be the “first to introduce” nuclear weapons. Again, I’d be surprised if signals intelligence indicated that Israel gave a shit.

  4. Dunc says

    Israel is well-placed to control shipping in the western Mediterranean -- i.e. everything passing through either the Suez canal or the Bosporus status. This is also why Britain still maintains a significant military and naval presence on Cyprus.

    A lot of things which might seem puzzling become a lot clearer if you have a good look at a map of world shipping routes, with particular regard for the choke points.

  5. lanir says

    @Dunc #6: An interesting point but I guess the obvious follow-up (from ignorance) is “What do they (or maybe what do we) do with it?” I’m sure that could easily be a complex answer but I’m guessing it could be simplified to mostly be a military or economic thing?

  6. lanir says

    Another reason we’re in there could be the general conservative thing. Conservative asshole enemies fuel conservative assholes locally. Nowhere is this more clear than in the open ISIS strategy of alienating muslims by causing their neighbors to attack them, leaving them no option but to feed ISIS itself in return.

    There are breaks on the machine because everybody in the world isn’t a complete moron but generally speaking the conservative approach is to take advantage of anyone they can which creates a problem. Once the problem exists they always propose that the solution to the problem is more problem.

  7. Dunc says

    Both. When it comes to actual warfare, economics and logistics are as important as military strength, and the ability to interdict shipping can be a decisive advantage. Also, it’s important to hold these strategic choke points if for no other reason than to prevent anyone else from holding them…

  8. fentex says

    Why are we Israel’s bitch?

    Because Israel made it part of their foreign policy since Suez to prevent the U.S from siding against them.

    When the UK and France decided to retake, in concert with Israel, the Suez Canal and attempt to depose Nasser it was the U.S that put a decisive end to the business -- against their interests.

    Since then Israel has pursued a purposeful, deliberate and effective, policy of making it impossible for U.S politicians to be seen to act against their interests. So well executed and successful that many elected U.S representatives openly put Israeli interests ahead of U.S ones.

  9. says

    See U-Tube video “ALL WARS ARE BANKERS WARS” to understand Who, How and Why we are in such a messed up world. Also the video lectures and documentary video’s of professor Guy Mcpherson about the end of all life on earth within ten years. Last but not least the website of Dane Wiggington http://www.geoengineeringwatch.org

  10. TTT says

    So: only one of the documents has any bearing on the cause of the attack at all, and that one agrees with every single other investigation in finding it to have been an accident.

    Friendly fire is a constant in warfare. Look it up. As for the NSA still considering the Liberty docs secret as of 2006 -- to this day Scotland Yard still won’t release all of the documents about the Jack the Ripper investigation in 1888. This is just the way intelligence and security services work.

    This site’s approach towards Israel has long since screeched past antisemitism and is now in the realm of supernatural terror. I half expect you to post that Israelis use sorcery when they sit in big winged metal vehicles that fly through the air like birds.

  11. Mano Singham says


    The charge of anti-Semitism has been greatly cheapened by its reflexive use against any criticism of actions of the Israeli government.

  12. TTT says

    Sounds like Fox News accusing black people of cheapening racism by “playing the race card too much.”

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