George Ball's Mideast Views Were Muffled by U.S. Media
By Richard H. Curtiss"Mr Ball ... also continued to write articles and books, occasionally stirring controversy with his views on Israel, the Middle East and other subjects."
—New York Times obituary, May 28, 1994
Former Deputy Secretary of State George Ball, who once remarked that "I've become a champion of lost causes," had a disconcerting habit of being right. This longtime adviser to Democratic presidents, who died of abdominal cancer on May 26, one day after checking himself into a New York City hospital for tests, had another habit that was even more disconcerting to the presidents he served. When he believed they were wrong, he told them so.
When he warned President John F. Kennedy in November 1961 that if he committed U.S. troops to Vietnam, "within five years we'll have 300,000 men in the paddies and jungles and never find them," the young president responded: "You're just crazier than hell. That isn't going to happen."
But it did, and as Kennedy's successor took the U.S. deeper into the quagmire, Ball became known as President Lyndon Johnson's "devil's advocate" on Vietnam. His opposition prompted Ball to resign in 1966, but he left on good terms with Johnson and Secretary of State Dean Rusk, an advocate of the Vietnam war.
This was because Ball kept his opposition within government channels, and did not speak out publicly so long as Democrats were in power. In fact, he later wrote, he found it "stupid and unattractive" that the ever-increasing numbers of American anti-war protesters engaged in "self-flagellation, declaring in sanctimonious tones that American policy is thoroughly in the wrong and that we as a nation are as brutal and viciously ambitious as the other side."
Ball's objection to U.S. involvement in an Asian war was based on his own vision of the United States, a unified Europe and the Soviet Union finally reaching a rapprochement that would bring their extraordinarily wasteful military competition to a halt. That, Ball believed, would set in motion a new era of cooperation among northern, industrialized countries to help the poorer nations, ultimately establishing an era of peace and prosperity throughout the world.
Ball had not reached these conclusions, and his role as second man in the State Department during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, from an ivory tower. Born in Iowa in 1909 and raised and educated in Illinois, he first went to Washington, DC in the early days of President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal. He returned to Chicago in 1935 to join a tax law firm, one of whose partners was Adlai E. Stevenson.
During World War II, Stevenson went to Washington and Ball followed him, becoming a lawyer with the Lend-Lease administration in 1942 and serving in London in 1944 and 1945 as director of the U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey. In Europe, he met and became a disciple of Jean Monnet, the French statesman who later became known as "the architect of European Unity."
When Ball returned to Washington, DC after World War II he founded a law firm which represented the European Common Market and the European Coal and Steel Community. When Stevenson, by then governor of Illinois, twice ran unsuccessfully as the Democratic nominee for president in 1952 and again in 1956, Ball was chief of Democratic volunteers in both campaigns. He also served in the successful Kennedy campaign in 1960, which led to his appointment first as number three and then as number two in the State Department.
When he left the State Department, he joined the Lehman Brothers investment banking firm, from which he generally was available to take trouble-shooting assignments for Democratic presidents. He served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations from 1968 to 1969 during the final months of the Johnson administration. Eight years later he served President Jimmy Carter in several short-term advisory positions, including drafting a longrange U.S. policy for the Arab/Persian Gulf. Outspoken as ever, Ball criticized unlimited U.S. arms sales to the Shah of Iran and called instead for formation of a broad coalition government in that increasingly troubled country.
After each period of government service, George Ball would return to Lehman Brothers, from which he continued to write cogent articles on foreign affairs. Although he frequently took original or unpopular positions, he could not be ignored because, as time passed, history was proving not merely right, but invariably right.
Extraordinary PersuasivenessI became aware of the extraordinary persuasiveness of his writing in 1979 during the hysteria that swept the United States after armed student supporters of the Ayatollah Khomeini invaded the American Embassy in Tehran for the second time. This time they refused to leave, but instead held hostage the entire staff, plus Americans who happened into the Embassy that day. Americans who had rushed to Iran's Foreign Ministry that day to complain were held hostage there by Iranian government officials.
Many Americans called for military intervention in Tehran, where the scene was increasingly chaotic, with Khomeini supporters gradually edging out of power all other elements in the broad popular coalition that had forced the shah to flee the country. George Ball, undoubtedly with the help of his historian son, Douglas, wrote a scathing yet calming article in The New York Times. It described an incident two and a half millennia earlier when Greeks killed emissaries from the Persian emperor.
Urged by his courtiers to retaliate against some Greeks who happened to be within his boundaries, the Persian emperor instead freed them, declaring that barbarians seized and murdered hostages, but Persians did not. Ball's point was that Muslim Iran had fallen into the hands of barbarians whose conduct was not condoned by either Islamic law or Persian traditions. Therefore it was senseless to make war on a people who would eventually get their own house in order. He helped Americans regain their perspective and generally support the patience that extracted the American hostages alive, and left Iran isolated in world opinion.
With his retirement in 1982 from Lehman Brothers, where he had become senior managing director, George Ball had more time to write and speak out on Middle East matters, including the extraordinary cost to U.S. interests in the Middle East and the world of what he described as America's "passionate attachment" to Israel. The phrase was taken from George Washington's warning in his farewell address in 1796 against such emotional attachments between any group of Americans and any foreign power.
At that time, because French support for the American revolution against Britain had made them so popular, French diplomats were boasting that they had more power in the United States than the American government itself. The dénouement, Ball pointed out, was that French-backed candidates lost disastrously in the U.S. elections of 1798, and U.S.-French relations rapidly degenerated into a state of undeclared war.
Ball's Mideast views were anathema to Israel's powerful U.S. lobby, and its many allies in the mainstream U.S. media. They attracted a great deal of support, however, among Arab Americans, and the so-called "Arabists" among serving and retired U.S. foreign affairs specialists, including the writer. They made pilgrimages to his charming New Jersey retirement home and attached office only blocks from the Princeton University campus. All were received courteously, but cautiously. Although Ball accepted many speaking engagements to discuss his Middle East views, and continued to write articles commissioned by the media (usually on topics not directly related to the Middle East), he did not accept formal advisory and policy-making positions with advocacy organizations.
His explanation was simple. He and his son were engaged in writing a book on the entire U.S.-Israeli relationship and its unfortunate consequences for U.S. policy. Diversions would only postpone work on the book, which his visitors desperately wanted to see completed.
I sensed, however, that there was another aspect to his independence. He was cognizant of and freely discussed the obstacles faced by advocates of evenhanded U.S. policies in the Middle East in airing their views in the mainstream U.S. media. But in his heart he believed that if he avoided premature identification with advocacy groups, his completed book would succeed, where others had not, in breaching the wall of media silence surrounding the disastrous consequences of the U.S.-Israeli relationship.
Fearful ConsequencesSo certain was he that he was given to worrying, in the company of those of us who shared his views, of the consequences to American Jews when the American public finally learned the true moral, geopolitical and financial cost of the "passionate attachment' 'to the Jewish state over the past two generations. Instead of merely cutting the financial ties that have made Israeli excesses possible, and belatedly seeking to compensate the Palestinians for the unspeakable injustices they have suffered, he feared Americans would experience a wave of anti-Semitism comparable to that manifested in Europe in the 1930s and '40s, and which remains, barely visible but hardly abated there, half a century later
I worried that the book would never be completed. On my arrival for a visit to his home, he was preparing introductory remarks for his role as moderator at a Mideast-related seminar, and he had accepted that morning a request from The New York Times for an "op-ed" piece on an unrelated subject by the end of the day. His secretary and his son and collaborator, Douglas, were available to help with those and other projects, but George Ball personally wrote all drafts published under his name. When, I wondered, did he and his son find time to work on the book?
Clearly, he worried about this too. After Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, he called to say he was considering publishing as a separate book a long chapter on Lebanon from the uncompleted manuscript of The Passionate Attachment. He wanted to get that chapter into print in time to influence further U.S. decisions on Lebanon. He assumed, correctly, that since the American Educational Trust, with which I am affiliated, publishes a monthly magazine as well as books, we could produce the book in a matter of days or weeks rather than the months a commercial publisher would require. The chapter already was in Washington, he explained, because he had sent a copy to the late Merle Thorpe, a lawyer who had founded a non-profit group supporting Middle East peace efforts. Assuming that Thorpe was vetting the manuscript for potential libel or other legal problems, I called him to ask if he would send it to me when he had finished with it. After a pause, he said he would send it right away.
An hour or two later, however, he called back. He said he was surprised at my request because he had been planning to publish the manuscript as a book himself, but had not yet informed George Ball. I assured him that in that case there would be no need for me to read the manuscript, but we would be happy to help him market the book after it was published. The book came out a month or two later and we purchased and sold hundreds of copies. After the first heavy run of sales, however, Thorpe made a point of keeping us supplied with copies, many of them at no charge, so long as the book remained in print.
The whole affair left me awed at the smooth way in which George Ball had forced a quick decision from a publisher, without threatening or alienating anyone. It helped me understand how the Johnson administration's "devil's advocate" had been able to leave Vietnam hawk Dean Rusk's State Department without making enemies of those whose policies he could no longer support. For me it was a preview of the diplomatic skills which Ball planned to wield to get his book through or around the media roadblocks that had kept other critical examinations of America's relationship with Israel out of the public eye.
The Passionate Attachment was published in late 1992 by W.W. Norton & Company. By the spring of 1993, among major U.S. daily newspapers only The Washington Post had deigned to acknowledge its existence. To review it, however, the Post selected Walter Laqueur, an historian who has made a career of defending Israel and denigrating the Palestinians Laqueur's brief review was devoted to criticizing George and Douglas Ball, implying that the sheer number of their complaints about Israel somehow discredited the motives or the judgment of the authors. No hint of the nature of those complaints found its way into the review.
When a lengthy review by Ambassador Andrew Killgore appeared in the February 1993 issue of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, George Ball ruefully noted that it was hardly a compliment to say it was the "best" review he had read, since up to then it was almost the only one. Nevertheless, the book remained the best seller for the magazine's affiliated book club for the following 12 months, illustrating how many tens of thousands of Americans would buy the book if the mainstream media stopped obscuring its existence.
There is no doubt that George Ball was stunned a this curtain of silence. He or his son have spoken at dozens of conventions, banquet and seminars sponsored by Arab-American, Muslim-American and Middle East peace groups. But there has been little press coverage, and virtually no mention of the book or its views in such coverage.
To date, therefore, too few Americans have read the Balls' shocking exposure of the racist nature of Israeli "democracy," the crippling influence of Israel's bigoted religious fundamentalists on every aspect of its national life, and the pervasive corruption in Israel that now has infected the Jewish state's vast international fund-raising apparatus.
Nor will most Americans read the Balls' prescient depiction of the hopelessness of the Israeli "colonialist adventure" to absorb the occupied territories, the tragic consequences of the cycle of Arab-Israeli terror and reprisal that only Israel, as the militarily stronger party, could have ended, and the alarming and ultimately self-defeating rise of the Israel lobby as perhaps the most prominent special interest group corrupting the Congress and American political life.
The Balls estimate that 85 percent of Israel's support in Congress is based upon fear and political expedience rather than conviction. That support, the Balls charge, provided $62 billion in direct U.S. taxpayer support for Israel between 1948 and 1991. Indirect costs, such as losses to the U.S. economy from the Arab oil embargo in 1973 and 1974 and Arab purchases shifted from U.S. to European and Japanese manufacturers for political reasons, added another $107 billion, the Balls believe. Less conservative estimates, they note, would surely add another $100 billion to the total.
The end result, they wrote, is that Israel has cost the U.S. $250 billion. That's $1,000 for every American living today, or $50,000 for every Jewish man, woman and child living in Israel today. Geopolitical losses such as additional deployments of U.S. military forces in areas where Israel, not the United States, is threatened, not to mention the outright theft by Israelis of U.S. strategic secrets and military technology and the sale of both to other countries, are additional but impossible to quantify costs to the U.S. of its "passionate attachment" to Israel.
At the time of George Ball's death, studied mainstream media indifference had kept these facts, and the very existence of the book recounting them, largely unknown to the American public. That curtain of silence has been maintained even in his obituaries. Though lengthy in most U.S. dailies, they have left the public in total ignorance of his Middle East views.
In a New York Times obituary filling 50 column inches, the only reference to Ball's Middle East views was the single sentence quoted at the beginning of this article. In its 29-inch obituary, The Washington Post made no mention of them at all, other than listing the titles of the two Middle East-related books among the five he had written. The Washington Times and Baltimore Sun, like many other newspapers across the U.S., published parts of an Associated Press obituary which included one relevant paragraph:
"Long a critic of Israeli policies toward its Arab neighbors, Mr. Ball co-authored The Passionate Attachment with his son, Douglas. The 1992 book argued that American support for Israel has been morally, politically and financially costly."
That's all that readers in the national capital, and most other parts of the United States, learned about his Middle East views on the day after this statesman's death was announced. However, the record demonstrates that George Ball's views are ignored at America's peril, because history inexorably proves him right. Instead of gloating over the suppression of his Middle East views, Israel's American apologists might better recall that George Ball was convinced that the American public, sooner or later, would learn the truth about the disastrous consequences of their country's "passionate attachment' ' in the Middle East.
He hoped that when that happens the U.S. will simply change its Mideast policies and move on. He feared, however, that if the change is too long delayed, the consequences for American civic comity, and its Jewish community, could be fearful indeed. In seeking to ameliorate the consequences by speeding the change, he was a far better defender of America's pro-Israel community than its own self-appointed leaders and media apologists, who worked so assiduously to muffle his views. ❑
Richard H. Curtiss is the executive editor of the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.
Most Popular Articles in this Issue
Quotes by Contemporary Experts on the USS LibertyA 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].