Last updated on: 10/15/2008 8:15:00 AM PST

What Was the USS Liberty Incident?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

USS Liberty before Israeli attack, Oct. 1966
(Source: US Naval Historical Center)

USS Liberty after Israeli attack, June 1967
(Source: US Naval Historical Center)

- Naval Historical Center 

The Naval Historical Center, an official US Navy website, in a July 19, 2006 reference titled "USS Liberty (AGTR-5), 1964-1970," contained the following information:

"USS Liberty, a 7725-ton Belmont class technical research ship... during the 'Six-Day War' between Israel and several Arab nations, was sent to collect electronic intelligence in the eastern Mediterranean. On the afternoon of 8 June 1967, while in international waters off the Sinai Peninsula, Liberty, though clearly marked as a U.S. Navy ship, was struck by Israeli aircraft. After suffering damage and many personnel casualties from gunfire, rockets and bombs, she was further attacked by three Israeli Navy motor torpedo boats. One torpedo hit her on the starboard side, forward of the superstructure, opening a large hole in her hull. In all, thirty-four men were killed in the attacks and nearly 170 wounded. Israel subsequently apologized for the incident, explaining that its air and naval forces had mistaken the Liberty for a much smaller Egyptian Navy ship."

July 19, 2006 - Naval Historical Center 

John Crewdson, Senior Correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, in an Oct. 2, 2007 "Special Report" titled "New Revelations in Attack on American Spy Ship: Veterans, Documents Suggest U.S., Israel Didn't Tell Full Story of Deadly '67 Incident," wrote the following:

"Beginning before dawn on June 8, Israeli aircraft regularly appeared on the horizon and circled the Liberty. The Israeli Air Force had gained control of the skies on the first day of the war by destroying the Egyptian air force on the ground. America was Israel's ally, and the Israelis knew the Americans were there. The ship's mission was to monitor the communications of Israel's Arab enemies and their Soviet advisers, but not Israeli communications. The Liberty felt safe. Then the jets started shooting at the officers and enlisted men stretched out on the deck for a lunch-hour sun bath... At first, crew members below decks had no idea whose planes were shooting at their ship. Thirty-four died that day, including Blue, the only civilian casualty. An additional 171 were wounded in the air and sea assault by Israel, which was about to celebrate an overwhelming victory over the combined armies of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and several other Arab states...

An Israeli military court of inquiry later acknowledged that their naval headquarters knew at least three hours before the attack that the odd-looking ship 13 miles off the Sinai Peninsula, sprouting more than 40 antennas capable of receiving every kind of radio transmission, was 'an electromagnetic audio-surveillance ship of the U.S. Navy,' a floating electronic vacuum cleaner. The Israeli inquiry later concluded that that information had simply gotten lost, never passed along to the ground controllers who directed the air attack nor to the crews of the three Israeli torpedo boats who picked up where the air force left off, strafing the Liberty's decks with their machine guns and launching a torpedo that blew a 39-foot hole in its starboard side...

To a man, the survivors interviewed by the Tribune rejected Israel's explanation. Nor, the survivors said, did they understand why the American 6th Fleet, which included the aircraft carriers America and Saratoga, patrolling 400 miles west of the Liberty, launched and then recalled at least two squadrons of Navy fighter-bombers that might have arrived in time to prevent the torpedo attack -- and save 26 American lives...'

The survivors interviewed by the Tribune uniformly agree that the Liberty was flying the Stars and Stripes before, during and after the attack, except for a brief period in which one flag that had been shot down was replaced with another, larger flag -- the ship's 'holiday colors' -- that measured 13 feet long...

Six thousand miles from Omaha, on the Mediterranean island of Crete, Air Force Capt. Richard Block was commanding an intelligence wing of more than 100 analysts and cryptologists monitoring Middle Eastern communications. The transcripts Block remembered seeing 'were teletypes, way beyond Top Secret. Some of the pilots did not want to attack,' Block said. 'The pilots said, 'This is an American ship. Do you still want us to attack?' 'And ground control came back and said, 'Yes, follow orders.'

Perhaps the most persuasive suggestion that such transcripts existed comes from the Israelis themselves, in a pair of diplomatic cables sent by the Israeli ambassador in Washington, Avraham Harman, to Foreign Minister Abba Eban in Tel Aviv. Five days after the Liberty attack, Harman cabled Eban that a source the Israelis code-named 'Hamlet' was reporting that the Americans had 'clear proof that from a certain stage the pilot discovered the identity of the ship and continued the attack anyway.' Harman repeated the warning three days later, advising Eban, who is now dead, that the White House was 'very angry,' and that 'the reason for this is that the Americans probably have findings showing that our pilots indeed knew that the ship was American.'"

Oct. 2, 2007 - John Crewdson