On the Brink of Armageddon: LBJ, the Six-Day War, and the Attack on the U.S.S. Liberty

Part I – The Exposé

Largely through the work of one researcher, BBC documentarian and author Peter Hounam, a disquieting revisionist theory has been abroad, opening windows onto the history of the 1967 Arab-Israel war (a/k/a, the Six-Day War) as well as on the Israeli attack on the U.S.S. Liberty, a spy ship. Hounam published his exposé, Operation Cyanide: Why the Bombing of the USS Liberty Nearly Caused World War III in 2003,[1] asserting that the U.S. and Israel colluded to provoke the war and to sink the Liberty in a false-flag attack, blaming it on Egypt. The sinking of the Liberty was to serve as President Johnson's pretext to publicly join Israel's war and to strike a Cold War blow against U.S.S.R. support for Israel's Arab neighbors.

Hounam's book revises our understanding of Israel’s otherwise inexplicable attack on its ally’s ship. Even more than a decade later, many, especially in the West, believe that Israel’s motivation for trying to sink the Liberty was to suppress its eavesdropping capabilities so as to outmaneuver U.S. objections to its planned attack on Syria the next day, the fifth day of the war. But Hounam reveals that besides the Liberty, the U.S. had alternate surveillance platforms monitoring the battlefield, making the Liberty's intelligence collection essentially redundant when it came to controlling Israel’s military movements. Furthermore Hounam insists that the Israelis were aware of U.S. surveillance capabilities, and so had no discernible rationale for its attack.

Hounam’s revelation of President Johnson’s crucial role in conceiving of the war itself and his plan to openly join Israel’s war via the attack on the Liberty, overturns the popular understanding that both were secret, independent Israeli initiatives. Hounam reprises previously unearthed testimony from an American whistleblower who played a significant operational role in the war. In addition, Hounam uncovers a second operative who details his operational involvement on Israel’s behalf. From these testimonies, and others, and the from the wealth of circumstantial evidence Hounam lays out, it’s clear that the war was the result of long-planned U.S.-Israeli collusion and thus must have been masterminded by President Johnson, who propelled it. Only President Johnson, in complete control of his government’s military and diplomatic apparatus, had the motive, the means and the opportunity to plan such a war and execute the U.S.’s role in it.

Fatefully it was also Johnson’s decision to shield Israel from international pressure to withdraw from captured Arab territory, which opened the door to the ongoing tragedy of more than five decades of Israeli military rule over millions of Palestinians. President Lyndon Johnson thus may be seen as the father of all the terrible ramifications, especially for the Palestinians and for the U.S., of the Greater Israel that he made possible.

Hounam's subtitle, Why the Bombing of the USS Liberty Nearly Caused World War III, references the even more inconceivable element of his theory, namely that only the unanticipated survival of the Liberty prevented President Johnson from proceeding with his plan to initiate World War III by employing nuclear weaponry to attack Egypt.  

The Attack on the U.S.S. Liberty

In the early afternoon of June 8, 1967, the fourth day of the Six-Day War, several off-duty crewmembers of the USS Liberty were on deck, enjoying the bright sun, and calm seas as the ship plied its slow, five-knot progress, to and fro, off the Egyptian coast, not far from the Gaza border. Although the Liberty was in a war zone without the military escort they had requested, crewmembers were reassured by sightings of the more than half-dozen Israeli overflights beginning in the early morning hours. There was no doubt in the minds of Liberty crewmembers that the Israelis had identified their ship as American.

Shortly before 2 p.m. local time, Israeli Mirage III jets appeared on the Liberty's radar screen.  Moments later, all hell broke loose and the Liberty was ferociously attacked with napalm canisters, 30 mm cannon and rockets aiming to take out the ship's bridge, the fore and aft gun mounts, and especially the Liberty's antennae.[2] Survivors estimate 30 or more sorties were flown over the ship by a minimum of 12 attacking planes.[3]

Israel's thirty-five minute air attack was followed by the arrival of Israeli torpedo boats (MTBs) which fired five torpedoes at the ship, the last one of which struck its target.[4] That explosion was responsible for most of the Liberty's 34 deaths and 171 injuries, a 70 percent casualty rate out of the 294 men aboard.

After the torpedo attack, Israeli gunboats shot at crewmembers who were dousing the fires. Contrary to international rules of engagement, the Israelis also shot up the Liberty's lifeboats, some of which had already been deployed -- though none had yet been boarded, as Captain McGonagle’s order to abandon ship had fortunately been reversed.

Somehow the Liberty survived -- alone, defenseless -- initially cut off from communications, but it was an extremely close-run thing. The first piece of good fortune was that one of the Liberty's forty-five antennae, which had been out of order and therefore didn't attract Israel's heat-sinking missiles, was repaired under fire within ten minutes. Soon, the Liberty’s SOS reached the nearby Sixth Fleet, despite Israeli jamming of the Liberty's radio channels by the attacking jets. Fortunately Liberty's radiomen found that the blocked channels were momentarily open while the barrage of the jets' rockets was airborne.[5]

Ordinarily, the torpedo that struck the Liberty should have been sufficient to sink it.  But, by good fortune, the starboard side remained above the waterline since the ship listed on the side opposite the thirty-nine foot hole blown open by the torpedo. A second piece of luck was that the torpedo struck one of the ship's I-beams, allowing the interior bulkhead walls to remain intact, keeping seawater restricted to a few forward compartments. Had the seawater penetrated to the hot boilers, the resultant explosion would have sunk the ship within minutes.[6]

Just as an approaching Israeli helicopter, packed with armed commandos, hove into the Liberty's view, about to deliver the coup de grâce, the attack was called off.[7] Evidently, it was the Liberty's SOS, which saved the ship probably because, after the last shots had been fired, about an hour and fifteen minutes after the aerial attack began,[8] news of the Liberty's distress had spread widely, making it problematic to attribute culpability to the Egyptians. Nelson prefers the theory that the attack was called off when Russian ships appeared, frustrating the apparent Israeli purpose to kill survivors and to set explosives to sink the ship. Nelson cites no documentation to support the arrival of Russian ships, however.[9]

The unexpected survival of the Liberty left both the U.S. and the Israeli governments embarrassed. How was such an outrage to be explained? Once it was clear that the attack and the attacker could not be suppressed, the Israelis were soon forced to offer an official apology, claiming that they had attacked a U.S. ship in error. They contended that the Israeli high command believed they had been under threat from an Egyptian destroyer.

Although few, if any, senior members in either the U.S. or the Israeli governments believed that such an attack could have happened "in error," the U.S. quickly endorsed the Israeli explanation. To this day, both governments continue to maintain the official, friendly-fire narrative. .

Liberty crewmembers who could testify that the Israeli attack was no mistake were silenced by the U.S. government's airtight gag order, which largely succeeded in squelching contrary information. They were admonished to refuse all interviews, and presumably to keep them from conferring on the attack, they were soon separated into various naval commands. The hasty and superficial U.S. investigation that immediately followed, conducted by the Navy Board of Inquiry, produced a predetermined whitewash. Similarly, official Israeli investigations into the incident supported the cover-up.

The strict blanket over the facts of the case was broken about a dozen years later when Jim M. Ennes, Jr., the ship's electronic materials officer, managed to publish his 1979 book, Assault on the Liberty, despite the gag order. His account left little doubt that Israel deliberately attacked a ship it knew to be that of its U.S. ally. His book almost singlehandedly succeeded in reviving "the conversation" about what really happened.

Ennes also made a point of addressing the obvious question: Why would Israel deliberately try to sink a U.S. ship? Ennes believed that Israel intended to go ahead with its plan to attack Syria the next day despite President Johnson's public opposition. Ennes's theory was immediately taken up by Liberty survivors and their supporters and continues to be the dominant “consensus theory” even now.  A typical example of how common is this consensus view, is Philip Geraldi's opinion piece on the 50th anniversary of the attack in which he summarizes Ennes's evidence that the Israelis ruthlessly tried to sink his ship.[10] 

Previously, a 2010 talk by British writer, Alan Hart, a critic of Zionism, offered key supporting details. Hart emphasized President Johnson's warning to Israel to limit its war aims. According to Hart, "Johnson gave Israel’s generals a conditional green light for war with Egypt. But Johnson warned that on no account was Israel to widen the war for the purpose of grabbing Jordanian or Syrian territory." Hart spelled out what he believed was the Liberty's mission.
The idea behind the Liberty’s deployment was that if it picked up messages indicating that Israel was re-deploying from the Sinai to launch major offensives in the north, and against Syria in particular, the evidence of Israeli intent and duplicity would be passed to Johnson, and that he would then pick up the phone to [Israeli] Prime Minister [Levi] Eshkol and say something like: “We know what your generals are up to. You must order them to stop, and if you don’t or can’t, I will.” [11] (Emphasis added)
 Undergirding this Ennes -- and now Hart -- consensus theory is the assumption that the Israelis acted independently and secretly, apparently believing that the Liberty was the critical, if not the sole source of U.S. real-time battlefield information.  Secondly, Hart assumes that the U.S. was opposed to allowing Israel to attack Syria the next day. Thirdly it takes for granted what is still widely believed, that the Six-Day War was a wholly independent Israeli operation, not necessarily welcomed, or even suspected by the U.S.

The Hounam-Green theory debunks all these assumptions.

Stephen Green's Contribution

Little new information that would have countered Ennes's consensus theory appeared until shortly after the turn of the 21st century -- with one notable exception. In the 1980s, as noted above, Stephen Green published two books on U.S. Middle East policy, motivated by what he saw as President Johnson's dramatic departure from the policy of his three predecessors, Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy. According to Green, until Johnson’s administration, U.S. Mideast policy had prioritized maintaining peace between Israel and its neighbors.

Green was distressed by what he believed to be the Johnson administration's turn away from the U.S.'s "principled objectivity" in dealing with Israel's conflicts, which Johnson "transformed into unreserved support of one side" --Israel's. "This departure in American Middle East policy occurred during and immediately after the Six-Day War in 1967."[12] Green emphasizes Johnson's most dramatic and destructive policies which forfeited, at least temporarily, its previous role as "primary mediator" of the Arab-Israeli conflict. These radical changes in policy included the initial steps Johnson took toward the U.S. becoming Israel's major arms supplier as well as supporting Israel's nuclear program, ignoring the U.S.'s long-standing nuclear non-proliferation policy.[13]

Notably, Green provided strong evidence of U.S.-Israeli pre-planning for the 1967 war -- preceding by almost two decades key elements of Hounam's findings -- when he uncovered disquieting evidence of still unacknowledged critical and pervasive U.S. operational involvement. Green lays out the detailed testimony by an unnamed participant -- subsequently identified by Hounam as Airman Gregory Reight[14]-- who participated in providing the  crucial tactical air-reconnaissance support that enabled Israel to win the war so swiftly. Reight and other U.S. personnel worked side-by-side with Israeli technicians and the U.S. provided Israel with the sophisticated photographic equipment required to interpret battlefield film.[15] The implication was that war-planning must have been ongoing for many months.

Green Exposes U.S. Foreknowledge

Green also makes three brief references to U.S. foreknowledge of the attack on the Liberty. First, he cites a U.S. intelligence warning from Tel Aviv, on June 7, that the Israelis intend to attack the Liberty unless it moves out to sea.[16] Green's second reference, his most striking claim of U.S. foreknowledge, is hidden in plain sight since the author limits it to one sentence: "The Joint Chiefs of Staff knew about the planned attack by Israel on the U.S.S. Liberty before it occurred, and presumably informed the White House."[17]

Green's final reference is in the concluding paragraph of his chapter where he claims U.S. foreknowledge has been "established [by] testimony in executive session from Congressmen and congressional staffers." He ends with the forlorn hope that both the U.S. and Israeli governments will change policy and focus on their "individual and collective responsibility for this unspeakably squalid operation."[18]

While Green doesn’t go near the theory that the Liberty was deliberately sent to the war zone in order to be attacked, nevertheless he hints at skepticism about how dozens of "misrouted" messages containing orders to move the Liberty out of harm’s way were never received or if received by the Liberty they were never acted upon. Green leaves little doubt that he shares the incredulity hinted at in the House Armed Services report four years later which labeled the snafu "one of the most incredible failures of communications in the history of the Department of Defense."[19]

Green cites Ennes's testimony regarding the recall of the rescue jets which were sent "reflexively"[20] by the commanders of the nearby Sixth Fleet as soon as they learned the Liberty was under attack. It was absolutely clear to Liberty crewmembers that the refusal of the U.S. to come to the aid of the Liberty must be the single most damning evidence of U.S. government bad faith. Yet neither Ennes nor Green openly accuses the Johnson administration of downright treachery. Whatever their private views might have been, even by the 1980s, neither Ennes nor Green publicly charged the U.S. government with the deliberate intent to sacrifice the Liberty.

After Green’s work in the 1980s, significant revisionist information regarding the attack on the Liberty did not appear until the 21st century.  In 2014, readers of the website of blogger David Martin (a/k/a DCDave) found a review of Philip F. Nelson's LBJ: From Mastermind to Colossus (2010), Nelson's second book on the crimes of Lyndon Johnson.[21]  In this book Nelson included two long chapters on the attack on the Liberty which were in turn based on Philip Hounam's Operation Cyanide (2003) and, in the same year, Hounam's BBC companion documentary, Dead in the Water.

Operation Cyanide -- published in Britain but not the U.S. -- wholly supported the implications suggested by Green's findings, and much more. In addition to repeating the testimony of Gregory Reight (though Hounam doesn't mention or credit Green) Hounam presented a great deal of mostly new witness testimony that supported the theory that the U.S. was operationally deeply involved in the Six-Day War and that the war was a U.S.-- not an Israeli -- initiative. Hounam also took detailed testimony from another whistleblower, Joe Sorrels, a communications expert who helped Israel suppress enemy transmissions and resend misleading messages to confuse Arab leaders and commanders.[22]

Hounam traces the background surrounding President Johnson's decision to order the attack on the Liberty as his pretext to join Israel's war. In the context of rising domestic opposition to his Vietnam War policies, the president's motivation was to gain U.S. Zionist support for his 1968 re-election campaign and to score a Cold War victory against Egypt's Soviet allies. The implication of Hounam's narrative is that the question of why Israel attacked the Liberty is really subsidiary to the overriding issue of U.S. initiation of the war, a war which would not have otherwise broken out.

Hounam recounts much of the information available from public sources -- though generally downplayed at the time -- that President Johnson, working through his pro-Zionist ambassador to the U.N., Arthur Goldberg, acted to delay a cease-fire -- which the world body had been attempting to secure from Day Two of the war, by which time it was clear that Israel was handily winning. By allowing Israel more battlefield time, the U.S. made possible the maximum feasible Israeli conquest of Arab territory. In addition, fatefully, the Johnson administration provided the required diplomatic cover to block demands for Israeli withdrawal from the territory it had conquered in the war.

From the evidence Hounam presents it's fair to conclude that unsurprisingly the Israelis were reluctant co-conspirators in the attack on the Liberty since they had nothing to gain by sinking their ally's ship. Their only reason for their assault would have been to accede to White House demands. Nor did they need the headache of unsanctioned Israeli military personnel witnessing their country’s attack on a U.S. ship. Indeed, some of the confused Israeli pilots questioned their orders on this account, and one of them, Evan Toni, refused to attack the Liberty. Instead, he returned to base, where he was immediately arrested. [23]

Hounam's book goes a long way toward discrediting the illusion of Israel as a lone David, striking down the mighty Goliath. Hounam's evidence suggests that an independent Israel would not, and could not have undertaken such a war against its Arab neighbors in 1967; and would certainly not have independently attacked the Liberty.

Part II --The Evidence

In August 1964 President Johnson used a fabricated naval attack on a U.S. destroyer in the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of North Vietnam to gain Congressional support to wage the Vietnam War. Ten days before the outbreak of the Six-Day War, President Johnson assured Eppie Evron, then deputy to the Israeli Ambassador to Washington that he was "going to get Congress to approve another Tonkin resolution."[24] Apparently Johnson had the sacrifice of the Liberty in mind, to be blamed on Egypt.  The shock and awe of a successful sinking of the Liberty, seems to have been envisioned as the dramatic element Johnson required that would have allowed the U.S. to achieve the goal of publicly joining Israel’s war. Johnson’s evident motivation was to gain Jewish and Zionist support for his 1968 re-election campaign in the face of rising protests against his escalation and continuation of the Vietnam War.

LBJ --Rogue in Chief

An important nuance to Hounam's theory is that U.S.-Israeli planning for war was undertaken by rogue operators, keeping senior policy-makers on both sides in the dark. On the U.S. side, ironically, the chief rogues were President Lyndon Johnson, National Security Adviser, Walt Rostow, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and selected military commanders. Together they kept top State and Defense Department officials in the dark about the plan to sacrifice the Liberty and start a war against the Arabs.

Israeli Rogues

On the Israeli side, it appears that more than a year of U.S.-Israeli collusion was kept secret from Levi Eshkol, the "moderate" Israeli prime minister who was trying to avoid war. The Israeli rogue operators were senior military men, such as generals Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin, and Ezer Weitzman. Just before war broke out, Prime Minister Eshkol was confronted with near-mutiny into accepting into his government these men who had been planning the war. Also joining the government at this time were such hawks as future Prime Ministers Menachem Begin, and Shimon Peres.[25]

Redundant U.S. intelligence platforms

As we have seen, the Ennes-Hart consensus theory insists that Israel tried to sink the Liberty fearing U.S. surveillance would block its plans to capture Syrian territory the next day. But Hounam and Green offer evidence that the U.S. had alternative surveillance platforms making the Liberty’s cutting-edge spying equipment, largely redundant. The theory that the Israelis were not aware of the U.S.'s multiple intelligence resources "does not hold water," insists Hounam.

Dayan had spent weeks in Vietnam the previous year as the guest of the United States military. He would have known … that the Liberty was one of many spying platforms deployed by the US to monitor trouble-spots. Removing it would have made no decisive difference.[26]

One of the important U.S. listening posts -- surely known to the Israelis -- was a "highly sophisticated communications center" maintained by the U.S. embassy in Beirut, Lebanon, which was "capable of listening in on everything going on in the area."

The surveillance was so effective that the U.S. Ambassador in Lebanon at the time, Dwight Porter, was able to monitor Israeli communications in real time. For example, he learned that the official Israeli explanation that the attack on the Liberty was the result of a mistake "was a sham.[27]

Ambassador Porter's real-time knowledge that Israel knowingly intended to attack a U.S. ship was picked up by the U.S. mainstream media in 1991. According to Ambassador Porter,

we heard the pilot of an Israeli aircraft say to his ground control: 'But Sir, it's an American ship: I can see the flag.' And we heard the ground control respond: "Never mind; hit it!'  There was no case of mistaken identity….Porter evidently repeated this story to U.S. journalist Rowland Evans, who published the story in a syndicated newspaper column co-written with Robert Novak on 6 November 1991.[28]

The U.S. had at least two types of surveillance aircraft monitoring the war zone. One was a C-130 reconnaissance aircraft, recounts witness Richard Block, an Air Force Captain who served in Crete as the Operations Duty Officer in the Air Force Security Group. Block said he listened to "Israeli ground-to-air communications when the U.S.S. Liberty was attacked."

"The Israeli pilot clearly identified the ship as a U.S. intelligence collections vessel [and] asked the ground controller for guidance. [Block] sent a CRITIC [Critical Intelligence Information -- the highest priority] message to President Johnson over the incident.' …. Block said Lyndon Johnson must have known about the attack, and the identity of the attackers, as soon as it began."[29]

James Bamford's Body of Secrets (2001) details a second type of surveillance aircraft monitoring the war zone -- the EC -121 Ferret spy plane --which helped to prompt renewed interest in the Liberty incident. Bamford wrote that the Ferret spy plane picked up Israeli jets attacking an unknown object. The captured signal noted that an American flag was visible on the object, and that there were two surface units later identified as Israeli motorized torpedo boats, attacking the Liberty. [30]

One of Hounam's anonymous informants, Steve, an NSA analyst with the 544th Reconnaissance Unit at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska, dismisses the Ennes theory that the Israelis attacked the Liberty because they feared U.S. eavesdropping.

People say the Liberty was attacked because it was picking up signals showing Israel was planning to attack Syria and [it] could …confirm the offensive nature of Israeli actions. In fact we received very little from those ships comparatively; we got much more from other platforms and sources. Removing the Liberty would not have meant we would have not learned what Israel was up to.[31]

Years earlier, Stephen Green revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) had "a very complete picture of the progress of the war and the countries that might be violating one or another UN cease-fire."[32] The U.S. had "ground-based intercept stations…as far away... as Scotland and as near as Ethiopia and Iran," enabling it to "listen in on the many forms of wireless communication that accompany military operations." In addition to the EC-121 Warning Star, a radar surveillance aircraft, Green also mentions the EA-3B Skywarrior, a tactical reconnaissance aircraft, which "flew regularly out of Athens, in June 1967, crisscrossing the eastern Mediterranean," helping give the U.S. "a good idea of what all parties and observers … were doing."[33]

Steve, the NSA analyst in Nebraska, explained that the U.S. had close to real time information that Israel was winning the war from day one and that on the fourth day of the war the Israelis knowingly attacked a U.S. ship. At Offutt, teletype machines received raw data from all over the world, and often in foreign languages which had to be translated. So Steve received very close to real time information. [34]

On day one of the war Steve could see that Israel had begun the conflict and that the Egyptians were routed.  On June 8th, Steve  learned that the attack on the Liberty] was a deliberate act. [35]

[W]e began receiving transmissions translated from Hebrew from planes that had been sent by the Israeli command center to attack an American ship [which he later learned was the Liberty] and that it was imperative it be sunk quickly before it could alert American forces and get help.…There was no mistaken identity: they knew exactly who they were attacking and it was deliberately planned and executed.

[The Israeli] ground station was obviously frustrated and reiterated that it was imperative that the ship be sunk immediately.…The attack was supposed to sink the ship in the first few minutes and it was taking far too long. That was their only concern -- that the ship was staying afloat.[36]

Greg Reight's Testimony

The basis of Hounam's exposé is the testimony of two men, Greg Reight and Joe Sorrels, both of whom directly participated in Israel's war, contradicting the official record and public pronouncements. Greg Reight was the same anonymous U.S.  serviceman who gave his testimony to Stephen Green almost 20 years earlier and later allowed his name to be used.  Reight told Hounam that he spoke out because he felt it was important to expose the U.S.'s direct role in the war. He deeply resented that the U.S. had put his life at risk, secretly, on behalf of another country.[37]

Two days before the war broke out, June 3, 1967, U.S. Airman Greg Reight and eight other photo technicians assigned to the 17th Tactical Reconnaissance Unit, along with U.S. pilots from the 38th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron based in Germany, were flown to a base in Moron, Spain. There both groups learned they would be going to Israel's Negev Desert on a top-secret mission to provide tactical reconnaissance support for the Israeli military (IDF) against the Arabs.[38]

When war broke out on June 5th, U.S. pilots began flying 8-10 sorties per day, shooting 500 feet of film per sortie. According to author Joan Mellen, “the destruction of the Egyptian air force on the first day of the war would not have been possible” without the participation of these unmarked reconnaissance planes.[39] 

The first three days of the war Reight and his colleagues  spent mostly on daylight damage assessment, "overflying bombed and burning air bases in Egypt, Syria and Jordan." Afterwards the operation's mission changed to night sorties, "ferreting out Arab movements, to permit devastatingly accurate Israeli air attacks the next morning." At the time, Israel had no such night reconnaissance capability.[40]

Precautions were taken to maintain the top -secret nature of the operation. For example, on the third or fourth day, in case the exercise was detected or overrun, phosphorus grenades were installed so that the photos could be quickly destroyed.[41] In another precaution, the U.S. RF-4C military reconnaissance planes were painted over with Star of David markings and were given new tail numbers.[42]

When the war was over the pilots and technicians were flown back to Spain, special de-briefers made sure the participants understood "never under any circumstances to reveal what they had been doing the previous week." On their initial stopover in Spain the men had discarded all personal effects and were issued unmarked fatigues. On their return they dropped all their battlefield effects, their clothing, manuals and the like on one side of the hangar and walked naked to the other side where they retrieved their uniforms, and personal effects. "Nothing but nothing was brought out of Israel … [N]o souvenirs. Nothing."[43]

An example of the critical tactical benefits provided by U.S. air reconnaissance support was that it allowed Israel to move its troops out of the Suez before Day Four of the war to the Syrian border, secure in the knowledge that they would not be required in Egypt. The Israelis themselves provided considerable indirect confirmation of U.S. operational assistance after the war when the Israelis provided Time magazine with “pin sharp images” of damaged Egyptian planes. These images were taken with U.S. equipment and U.S. technicians as Israel did not then have the resources.[44]

Joe Sorrels' Mission -- Operation Cyanide

Hounam found a second whistleblower, Joe Sorrels, a special operative who worked for the U.S. and Britain in the sixties. Sorrels said that in 1966-1967 he participated in a mission called Operation Cyanide, "a joint plan by elements of military intelligence in Israel and the United States to engineer a war with Egypt and depose its leader Gamal Abdul Nasser, who the U.S. believed, was a dangerous puppet of Moscow."[45]

Sorrels's expertise was in communications and he had a gift for languages. He was sent to Tel Aviv in August 1966 as an adviser to the Israeli army where he met other secret operatives from Britain and Australia working on the same mission. He understood that he was "part of an extensive, covert, foreign military presence."[46] 

Using state-of- the art communications equipment, Sorrels taught Israeli technicians how to silence and distort signals. In addition to suppressing signals coming from Cairo, Sorrels, with the help of an Israeli who could imitate voices from the Egyptian High Command, was able to send misleading messages to Egyptian field units in the Sinai, and to Egypt's allied forces in Jordan.[47]

Sorrels's mission was first uncovered by investigative journalist Andrew Pearson who had published two long articles about the Liberty and the Six-Day War in 1976 in Penthouse magazine.[48] Pearson found that the Israelis had broken the Arab codes and from the first moments of the war were tuned into Arab communications. Pearson was the first to inform readers that the Israelis could alter -- "cook" -- incoming transmissions and pass them on without a break.[49]  Hounam finds Pearson's exposé to be accurate except for attributing to Israel its superior battlefield intelligence rather than to U.S. expertise and technology.[50]     

Hounam cites an anonymous informant, "a U.S. intelligence agent who had made a point of studying the Liberty attack" and who believed the U.S. intended to join Israel’s war "from Day One, beginning with an amphibious invasion by marines supporting the Israeli forces."[51]  The date the war was to begin was originally scheduled for June 15, 1967, indicating the numbers in its codename: “Frontlet 615.” Hounam speculates that the reason Israel decided to begin the war 10 days early, on June 5, 1967, was because they feared Nasser’s diplomatic efforts would succeed and there would be no war.[52] Hounam's informant explained that "Frontlet 615 was the secret political agreement in 1966 by which Israel and the U.S. had vowed to destroy Nasser. Operation Cyanide … was the military name for putting it into effect."[53]

The testimony of Reight and Sorrels reveals close, year-long, U.S.-Israeli planning for war, and sheds light on the extensive U.S. resources devoted to the operation. These revelations overturn long-held notions that the war was an Israeli initiative undertaken largely if not wholly independent from the U.S. When Israel began the war, striking Egyptian airfields at dawn on June 5th with a surprise preemptive air attack, wiping out virtually the entire Egyptian air force, much of the Western public believed that Israel was acting on its own out of fear for its existential danger.

The implication of Hounam's revelations is that there would have been no such war in 1967 without U.S. collusion and without the resources provided by the U.S. and, to a lesser extent, also Great Britain. According to Sorrels, "Israel was not the prime mover," -- noting that at one point during the planning, the Israelis complained that they "were led to believe they were going to have a lot more assistance from other people, including [the U.S.] than was actually given."[54]

Parker's Pushback

Green's exposé of U.S. operational involvement is noted on Wikipedia's "Controversies of the Six-Day War" page, but it is immediately followed with the disclaimer that that Richard Parker concluded that the testimony of Green's informant (later revealed to be Gregory Reight) perpetrated a "hoax" supported only "by the testimony of a single man."[55] 

Hounam met Parker, the political consul in the U.S.'s Cairo Embassy during the Six-Day War and sized him up as someone who undertook his investigation in good faith. However, since the only challenges to Green's information that Parker records came from former or current U.S. and Israeli officials, it's not clear why such testimony should not be regarded as self-serving.

In his book, Green anticipated challenges to his exposé and went to some length to validate it. Green insisted that he

verified [Greg Reight's] story circumstantially; that is, by checking Air Force unit histories, commanders' names, technical details, and so forth. Furthermore, certain of the details provided by the source would have been very difficult to learn other than by participation in such a mission in Israel.[56]

Green's further attempts to confirm his account with senior officials in the White House, State, and Defense Departments were (unsurprisingly) "unavailing." Green also found that during the time he attempted to check his narrative -- from July through September 1983 -- "key participants [were reminded] of their obligations to maintain silence on any previous intelligence missions in which they may have been involved."[57]

Four years later, in his second book on U.S. Mideast policy, Living by the Sword, Green identified the CIA as the U.S. agency that had conducted secret American participation in the 1967 War. Green wrote that he had "received two additional independent confirmations of the [air-reconnaissance] operation, which was mounted and managed by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency." One of Green's sources was with the Defense Intelligence Agency and the other was also a Pentagon official.[58]

The Problematic Premises of the Ennes-Hart Consensus Theory

With the Hounam exposé in mind, it's easier to see that the underlying premise of the Ennes- Hart-consensus theory -- that Israel acted secretly in attempting to eliminate the Liberty -- is dubious at best. Even if we (incorrectly) assume that the Israelis were acting without U.S. foreknowledge, and were unaware of alternate U.S. battlefield surveillance, nevertheless the Israeli high command would surely have understood that a secret attack on the Liberty would trigger an immediate and intense U.S. investigation, exposing Israeli responsibility. Since Israel didn't plan to attack Syria until the next morning,  at least fourteen hours after the Liberty was attacked at 2 p.m., it would have been clear to Israeli officials that the U.S. would have had  ample time to block its campaign against Syria had it so wished.

Decades later, James Bamford’s findings in Body of Secrets, may also be seen as chipping away at the consensus theory by offering an alternative (minority?) theory for Israel’s motivation to attempt to sink the Liberty. He implies that Israel tried to sink the Liberty in order to keep secret its egregious war crimes in the Sinai.

Bamford points to Israel's "criminal slaughter" of perhaps 1,000 mostly Egyptian POWS, but also some civilians and, in one case, several unarmed Indian UN observers.[59]  In one instance, on the morning of June 8th, the Liberty was close enough to land to see the spires of the mosque at El Arish, near the Egyptian Gaza border, and thus was "trespass[ing] on… Israel's private horror"-- a war crime known to Israeli leadership that they tried to conceal. Near the mosque sixty unarmed prisoners were machine gunned; other prisoners were forced to bury the dead in mass graves. The Israelis turned the town into a "slaughterhouse systematically butchering their prisoners." [60]

In another incident not far away, another thirty prisoners were shot to death; some Bedouins were ordered to cover them in the sand.[61] Bamford cites Israeli military historian Aryeh Yitzhaki for the figure of as many as 1,000 POWs killed, including four hundred near El Arish.[62]  Bamford also quotes from an article by American naval historian, Richard K. Smith, who believed the Israelis were ruthless in suppressing their "lies about the Egyptian threat, lies to the American president, lies to the UN, lies to the public." Of these lies, Smith wrote that "any instrument which sought to penetrate [Israel's] smoke screen so carefully thrown around the normal 'fog of war' would have to be frustrated"—once again implying that Israel intended to squelch reports of these crimes by sinking the Liberty.[63]

Since Bamford makes no mention of the more popular Hart- Ennes-consensus theory, it would seem he prefers to discount it, perhaps because he’s uncomfortable with the same problematic fourteen-hour interval between the attack on the Liberty and Israel's Syria offensive the next day, as suggested above. Bamford's preference for the "minority" theory – that the Israeli assault on the Liberty was an attempt to cover up the Sinai massacres -- suggests that he rejects the Ennes-consensus rationale.

In any event, Bamford's readers will find virtually no suggestion that the U.S. knew in advance that the Liberty would be attacked. Despite the evidence produced by Green in the 1980s, he allows no hint of U.S. –Israeli collusion in planning the Six-Day War. Bamford's focus is rather on emphasizing Israel's sole criminal responsibility for the attack on the Liberty, limiting U.S. responsibility only to the cover up.

Another important supposition of the consensus theory is that the U.S. was a neutral party to the war, not supporting either side, and that Washington was opposed to the Israeli capture of the Syrian Golan Heights. But Hounam points out that this was merely the public American position. In reality the "attitude of the Johnson White House was a different matter. Giving another Soviet-backed regime a bloody nose, provided it did not go too far, was what Johnson and his closest advisors appeared to relish."[64]

That the U.S. could have prevented the Israelis from attacking Syria on the fifth day of the war had Johnson so wished, can be inferred from an incident from the last day of the war, June 10, 1967. In the course of that day's Israeli attack on Syria, President Johnson was warned via a hot-line message from Premier Alexei Kosygin, that the Soviets would attack Israel if Israel continued its march to Damascus. At that point Johnson "stopped this advance in its tracks."[65]   The evident ability of the U.S. in 1967 to halt Israel’s march in real time is another circumstantial element discrediting the Hart-Ennes consensus theory.

Evidence That LBJ Planned a Nuclear Attack

Between them, Hounam and author Joan Mellen -- Professor Emerita at Temple University and author of more than 20 books -- in her chapter on LBJ and the Liberty in her 2016 book Faustian Bargains,[66] a critical biography of Lyndon Johnson -- provide the testimonies of at least ten noteworthy informants in support of the theory that the U.S. planned an attack on Egypt that could have led to nuclear war.

-- Admiral Geis, commander of Sixth Fleet carriers, confided to wounded Liberty survivor Lieutenant Commander David E. Lewis, in the U.S.S. America sickbay, that he (Admiral Geis) twice sent rescue jets in aid of the Liberty. Both times the jets were recalled by Washington. After the first mission was recalled, Geis ordered a second group of jets airborne with their nuclear payloads removed, suspecting that Washington recalled the jets because of the A-4 Skyhawks' nuclear payload.[67]

-- Testimony that nuclear armed A-4 Skyhawks were launched also came from Mike Ratigan, a center-deck catapult operator on the U.S.S. America. At the time, Ratigan was in position to see four jets take off which he later learned were prompted by the attack on the Liberty. After the first two F-4 Phantoms were sent, the "ship went into Condition November," a special procedure employed when nuclear weapons were involved. Ratigan remembered seeing "a large bomb slung under the center [of an A-4 Skyhawk] with a gold-colored tip" -- apparently a nuclear bomb. Marine guards escorted the A-4, "a very unusual experience … definitely not a drill." Ratigan said that he assumed that the U.S. was launching 'nuclear weapons in anger against the Soviets. … We thought, "This is it."  Crewmembers thought "we were about to begin World War Three."[68]

-- Jay Goralski, a reporter on the bridge with America's captain, Donald Engen, was told that the planes, presumably including the nuclear armed A-4 Skyhawks sent to rescue the Liberty, "were recalled "at the last moment, just before they would have lost radio contact."[69]

-- Another witness, Harry Stathos, a correspondent for UPI, said nuclear armed planes were launched. He was told by crew members that the planes had been targeted against Cairo. He "agreed not to report what he had learned."[70]

-- Charles 'Chuck' Rowley, a CT and also the ship's photographer, said he had talked with a pilot on the U.S.S. America who had told him he had flown one of the jets launched that day. The pilot said he had been carrying nuclear weapons and had been ordered to target Cairo.[71]

-- Joe Meadors, a Liberty crew member who had been seriously wounded, was evacuated to Crete where U.S. ground crew members told him they had "earlier handled the refueling of a U.S. fighter jet which, to their amazement, had an atomic bomb underneath. They said it had been launched from the America to bomb Cairo as a result of the Liberty's distress call," and had been diverted to a land-based airstrip for its landing. Hounam adds: "It 'appears … that a very serious reprisal attack had begun against Egypt and then aborted.”[72]

-- An "impeccable source that Cairo was to be bombed" is David Nes, the chargé d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo who was already doing his best to cope with rising anti-U.S. sentiment in response to the alarming military defeat Egypt was undergoing. On the afternoon of June 8, he received notice that the Liberty had been attacked and that that the U.S.S. Saratoga had launched bombers for a retaliatory raid on Egypt. Nes was not told that nuclear weapons were to be used, but he realized any U.S. attack would put Americans in Cairo in great danger from enraged Egyptians who (correctly) believed that the U.S. had been supporting Israel's war against them [73]

-- Moe Shafer, a Liberty CT who had been wounded and flown to the U.S.S. Davis, the Sixth Fleet flagship, told Hounam that the day after the Liberty was attacked, Admiral William Morris approached him "on his bunk with two or three other injured men," with information about the attack that he seemed to want to impart before he would surely be "obliged to clam up." Sixth Fleet Commander Vice-Admiral William Martin said that after it was learned that the Liberty was under attack, four rescue jets were sent with conventional weapons but were soon recalled. In addition, "four [jets] were on their way to Cairo loaded with nuclear weapons. He stated that we were three minutes away from bombing [the Egyptians]." Since the jets armed with nuclear weapons could not return to the carrier because of their payload, they had to be directed to land in Athens.[74]

-- Hounam begins his book with an incident recounted to him by retired B-52 pilot Jim Nanjo. On June 8, 1967, the day the Liberty was attacked, Nanjo and several other bomber pilots were on standby at Beale Air Force Base in California when they were awakened in the early morning hours and ordered to their jets between 2 and 4 a.m. California time, one to three hours before Israeli jets first struck the Liberty. Nanjo and his fellow pilots remained on alert for several hours. Their bombers were equipped with Mark 28(R) version thermonuclear weapons which would allow them to be dropped by a low-flying bomber.

While they waited for hours on the runway for the signal to proceed with their mission they understood that this was not a practice drill, it was the real thing, a “World War Three situation.” Among other things, he and four or five other pilots who were revving up had to break open the seal into certain codes which they never had to do during drills. He and his fellow pilots were told to move their aircraft to the end of the runway and keep their engines running.[75]

After several hours, Nanjo and his fellow pilots were stood down. Later they learned from news reports that the Liberty had been attacked and deduced they had been activated as part of a retaliatory effort. Nanjo said he understood that other air units in Britain, Spain as well as others in the U.S., were also activated.[76]  Nelson opines that Nanjo's nuclear-equipped bombers "would have been destined for either Cairo or Moscow if the Liberty had sunk."[77]

Both Hounam and Nelson raise the obvious question: How was the U.S. able to anticipate -- one to three hours before the Liberty was attacked -- the need for a follow up nuclear attack on Caro and Moscow?[78]

The Sixth Fleet Responds
Professor Mellen writes that when the Sixth Fleet received the SOS from the Liberty, they responded immediately, alerting the White House and the Pentagon via Criticom, the Critical Intelligence Communications network. Admiral Martin immediately ordered rescue jets in support of the Liberty.[79]  Mellen cites the testimony of NSA technician, Tony Hart who was listening in at Port Lyautey, the naval station in Morocco. [80]

At the same time, Captain Donald D. Engen of the U.S.S. America dispatched two “ready” jets. “Ready” was the term used for jets carrying relatively small, nuclear- tipped weapons. Engen told survivors of the attack at one of their annual reunions that Cairo was the target of these jets.[81]  These jets were recalled when they were seven minutes from Cairo because the attack was cancelled when it was clear that the Liberty did not sink. [82] Mellen points to a nuclear drill –- the Single Integrated Operational Plan -- undertaken  at the very moment of the attack on the Liberty , as  proof that there were nuclear bombs on the U.S.S. America.[83]

--In more testimony supporting the nuclear component of Operation Cyanide, Navy aviator Brad Knickerbocker was about to take off from Cairo from the U.S.S. Saratoga when his mission was scrubbed. Knickerbocker had been briefed with large maps of Egypt, highlighting “surface-to-air missile sites, antiaircraft emplacements, port facilities, and other military targets.” In an article published on June 4, 1982, in the Christian Science Monitor he explained: “My flight did not launch.” [84]

LBJ Wants the Liberty Sunk

"President Johnson is not going to go to war or embarrass an American ally (sic) over a few sailors."
                          Robert McNamara to Admiral Lawrence Geis[85]

On June 8, 1967, at 8:09 a.m. Washington time, about ten minutes [86] after the first heat- sinking missiles disabled the Liberty's communication systems, the Liberty crew managed to jury-rig an antenna and send the following SOS:

"Any station, this is Rockstar [codename for the Liberty]]. We are under attack by unidentified jet aircraft and require immediate assistance." [87]

Responding to this message, Admiral Geis, Commander of the Sixth Fleet aircraft carriers,[88] on station near Crete, immediately ordered  a squadron of twelve fighter bombers and four tankers  to rescue the Liberty, about 500 miles away near the Egyptian border at El Arish.[89] The relief squadron was airborne in less than 15 minutes. A minute later, at 8:24 a.m., the rescue jets were recalled on orders from Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara.[90] At first Admiral Geis thought the planes were recalled because some carried nuclear weapons. Upon the squadron's return, he ordered the nuclear weapons removed and the jets re-launched. Once again they were re-called by Washington.  

Outraged at orders preventing him from assisting an American ship under fire, Admiral Geis requested confirmation from higher authority. President Lyndon Johnson got on the line and confirmed the recall. Nelson cites Admiral Geis who believed that

Johnson did not care if every man drowned and the ship sank, but that he would not embarrass his allies when he screamed, "I want that goddamn ship going to the bottom. No help. Recall the wings."[91]
Hounam corroborates this story via wounded Liberty survivor, Lieutenant Commander David E. Lewis, who claims that Geis told him that he had requested corroboration of McNamara's order to recall the rescue jets.  Geis said he received confirmation from President Johnson himself. Lewis said that Geis asked him to keep the story of Johnson's reply confidential which he did until after Geis died twenty years later in 1987.[92] 

 As it happened, there was a third recall of the rescue jets. After the second recall, the captain of the U.S.S. Saratoga, Joe Tully, was told that he could launch the planes again at 9:50 a.m. Washington time. Accordingly, a half hour after the last shots were fired at the Liberty, U.S. rescue jets were duly airborne and once again they were recalled by Washington.[93]

In the end, no American relief reached the Liberty crew for almost seventeen hours when they were met and assisted by two U.S. destroyers. Finally they were able to transfer some of the wounded and take on much needed supplies.[94] At this point they expected that their nearly "totaled" ship would be allowed to limp its way to Crete, a day's passage. But the crew was soon "stunned" to learn that they were ordered not to Crete, but to Malta, a six-day journey of 540 miles over rough seas.

The crew got the message: As survivor, Phil Tourney, Petty Officer Third Class, put it, there was "method to the madness" of those orders. "We were forced to take a treacherous journey across the deepest, choppiest waters in the Mediterranean, apparently because 'someone' was hoping we would sink along the way."[95] When it became senior officer Golden’s duty to inform the crew of the bitter news, he resorted to understatement. "[G]et ready for a little bit of a ride."[96]

Another, marginally less ruthless, rationale for the White House order to enforce a dangerous journey on the traumatized survivors may have been to delay Liberty's arrival in port until an airtight gag order could be insured. Rear Admiral Kidd was helicoptered to Malta, apparently with orders to intimidate the crew into silence. After pretending to be sympathetic and getting their detailed accounts, he warned them never to repeat to anyone --especially the media -- what they had just recounted. If they did, he said, they would "end up in PRISON or WORSE."  Nelson wonders what Admiral Kidd had in mind that might be worse than prison.[97]

Covering LBJ's Tracks

Since there was apparent treason to be covered up, it's no surprise that the official record of LBJ's movements on June 8, 1967, has been massaged to hide his participation in the operation. The day before the Liberty was attacked, June 7, 1967, the third day of the war, Johnson was up early enough to make a call to the Situation Room, at 6:49 a.m., evidently to get the latest briefing.[98] There is no such entry in the log for the next day, when we would expect maximum LBJ interest in information about the war and especially about activities related to the Liberty.[99] 

According to White House logs, LBJ only learned of the attack on the Liberty more than a half an hour after the last shots were fired, at 9:49 a.m. Washington time, when Walt Rostow, his senior counsel called to tell him that the Liberty was struck by a torpedo. In this conversation LBJ was not told the details of the half hour air attack that preceded the torpedo strike.[100] But an hour earlier McNamara and Johnson had recalled the rescue jets evidently to prevent any U.S. interference with the attack on the Liberty.

Another discrepancy that appears in the official White House log indicates that President Johnson did not appear in the Situation Room -- a few yards away from the Oval Office -- until 11:06 a.m. three hours after the Liberty was attacked.[101]

When LBJ officially first learned at 9:50 a.m. that the Liberty had been attacked, he pretended ignorance and grave concern in the presence of his press secretary, George Christian. Years later Christian wrote to James Ennes that LBJs "first thought was that the Russians had done it; [Johnson] said something like: ‘If they did it, we're in a war.' When he [Johnson] found out later in the morning it was the Israelis, he was visibly relieved: 'Thank God it wasn't the Russians.’"[102] 

Ten minutes after officially learning that the Liberty had been torpedoed Johnson was not in the Situation Room, trying to learn who the attacker(s) might have been -- surely they could only be Egyptian or Russian. Instead, Johnson made a call to McNamara; ten minutes after that he called his secretary,  giving her orders  regarding his re-election campaign. "Get me in 20 minutes how many States I have been in since I became President, broken down by years." Hounam reports that the "answer was back in 15 minutes."[103]

Another indication that Johnson foresaw events of special moment that were to occur on June 8: the president arranged for his counsel and trusted friend, Clark Clifford to be roused early, without explanation, to come to the White House at 6 a.m. that day --two hours before the Liberty was attacked.[104] (From his comments in the aftermath, it would seem that Clifford was not party to the conspiracy.)

Ennes and LBJ

In Assault on the Liberty Ennes expressed his outrage and confusion at the refusal of the U.S. to provide timely aid to the Liberty; yet he chose to bury these remarks in an appendix. As we have seen, by the time they arrived in Malta, Ennes and the rest of the crew understood that the U.S. shared responsibility in some way for the attack on their ship. In his 1979 book, Ennes limits his indictment to Israel, and makes excuses for the U.S. Nevertheless, there is enough between the lines to sense Ennes’s awareness of U.S. treachery.

Ennes goes as far as wondering why, after the nearby Sixth Fleet commander learned of the attack on the Liberty within ten minutes, it took more than three hours to send conventionally armed aircraft to their rescue. Ennes insists that the 400 mile trip could have been made within thirty minutes and he details the speed of the A-4 Skyhawk at 600 mph and the speed of the F-4 Phantom at 900 mph.  

At worst, carrier aircraft should have arrived in time to catch the [Israeli] motor torpedo boats in the act of machine-gunning Liberty's life rafts. Promptly sent [U.S. jets] might have arrived in time to prevent the torpedo attack." [105]

Ennes learned that McNamara personally ordered the recall of the first rescue squadron. Wondering why such a counterintuitive order should not be the subject of a proper investigation, Ennes answers his own question concluding that "the failure of the fleet to respond promptly with conventionally armed aircraft are among the reasons the story of the attack has been covered up."[106]

Ennes offers two possible explanations for U.S. inaction. He supposes McNamara recalled the planes the first time because there were nuclear weapons aboard. The second recall, he guesses, was because, by then, the U.S. had learned that Israel had attacked the Liberty "in error…. No other sequence of events explains the elements that we know to be true, such as the complete failure of the United States Navy to send help to an American ship within easy range."[107]

Nelson points to another incriminating aspect of the White House’s recall of the rescue jets. The excuse Johnson gave when pressed was that he didn’t want to embarrass an ally. But this raises the question: How did the president and McNamara know that the attackers were allies? "This alone should be sufficient to show that [they] knew all about what had happened … And that also explains why B-52s loaded with nuclear bombs were already on alert in California.”[108]

The Liberty Crew Learn of a Conspiracy Theory

Understandably, Liberty crewmembers concluded that the absence of U.S. support was clear evidence of their government's treachery. Senior enlisted man, Ron Kukal, insists that since the U.S. didn't come to the aid of his ship while under fire nor for seventeen hours afterwards, his country must have been colluding with the Israeli attackers. 

I don't blame the Sixth Fleet at all, since I know there were men wanting to help us, but it wasn't going to happen if LBJ had anything to do with it, and I think he did. He had the help we needed in the planes that were coming to our rescue, and he had them turned around, because he had already decided to abandon us. [We] were meant to go to the bottom with all hands on board.[109]

In his interview with Hounam, George Golden, the Liberty's chief engineer, who took over command of the ship when Captain McGonagle was disabled, said that the "crew all feel that McNamara and Johnson were looking for an excuse to jump in and help Israel." When the Liberty reached Malta, Golden was told by persons who preferred not to be named that the Israelis intended to sink the ship as part of a U.S.-Israeli plan.  

We were hearing that we were the guinea pigs, to get shot up, to make it look like Egypt was doing this so the United States could step in. …We were told that the attack was supposed to have looked like it was the Egyptians, and that was going to give our country an excuse to get in there [i.e. to join the war] to help Israel." Golden said he was informed of this after the ship was docked in Valetta [Malta].[110]

Golden also said that in Malta he met "a 'four-striper' (a senior U.S. Navy Captain with four stripes on his cuff) who, to his astonishment, had been in the Israeli war room in Tel Aviv during the attack. … What makes [the incident] stand out to me more than anything else was the fact that [the Navy Captain] said they should have sunk the whole ship, they had the power to do it, and the Liberty should not have gotten away. It was to me, like he was on somebody else's side, not America's side when they were shooting up our ship."[111]

Golden "was also told [in Malta] that the various messages allegedly sent to order the Liberty away from the danger zone before the attack were deliberately blocked, and not accidentally misrouted."[112]

Since it was Golden who took charge when Captain McGonagle was wounded after the attack, he received secret documents intended for the captain and afterwards he retained many of them.[113] After Golden returned to the U.S. he met with the chairman of the Armed Services Committee and brought him a dossier "six or seven inches thick." The Chairman gave Golden (and his three companions) three hours of his time, promising to follow up with the full Committee. But "nothing happened.” Afterwards, Golden regretted that he and his colleagues had not made copies of at least some of the documents."[114]

Nevertheless it seems that the authorities correctly suspected that Golden had kept some documents; he was pressured by the CIA to hand them over but he never did. Hounam asked if Golden would release them to the media. Golden said he had discussed this with his wife; in the end they decided to order their attorney to destroy all of them. "The worry has been just too great."[115]

The Liberty Is Rushed to the Future War Zone

The events that determined how, why and when the Liberty arrived in the war zone support evidence of a U.S.- Israeli conspiracy. On May 22, 1967, three weeks before Israel started the war, the Liberty was two days into a routine, four-day stopover in the West African port of Abidjan when it received rush orders to proceed with all possible speed to the Eastern Mediterranean. Why were such orders issued?

The answer supports the Hounam-Nelson theory that the U.S. and Israel had been planning the Six-Day War for months. An essential part of the war plan required Israel to heighten tensions with Egypt and Syria.[116] At the time, Egypt and Syria were in a confederation called the United Arab Republic (UAR) initiated in 1958 to present a united front against perceived Israeli aggression.  In April and May 1967, according to plan, the Israelis increased its pressure campaign by bombing Syrian military installations, leading to tank clashes and aerial dogfights.[117]  

Israeli bullying succeeded all too well, but with a twist unforeseen by the conspirators. Since the Israelis were better trained and equipped, the clashes initiated by Tel Aviv typically resulted in high profile Israeli victories, effecting a climax of Arab humiliation on April 7, 1967, when six Syrian jets were shot down near Damascus. The outraged Arab public demanded help from Egypt,  the stronger military power, but President Nasser procrastinated, well aware of Israel's military might, delaying retaliatory moves as long as he could.

Finally, a month later, on May 16, amidst continuing military skirmishes, Nasser responded to the public outcry by ordering 40,000 Egyptian troops to the Sinai. Three days later, he followed up with a demand that the United Nations withdraw its peacekeeping troops from the Sinai -Israeli border -- hoping, many observers believed, his demand would be rejected by UN Secretary General, U Thant, so as to keep a lid on war fever.

Evidently Nasser felt he had to do more, and he followed up with a fateful May 22nd order to close the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping. This provocative move gave the Israelis the pretext they could only have dreamed of since they could now complain that Egypt had embarked upon an act of war, blocking their southern port of Eilat. Israel decided to take this opportunity to move up the date of the war by ten days, to June 5th from June 15th. Hounam surmises that the Israelis may have calculated that if they delayed, "Nasser would successfully sue for peace and the war plan would have to be abandoned."[118] 

The difficulty for President Johnson was that Liberty would not be in its intended position on June 5th, since on May 22nd, it was thousands of nautical miles away in port in West Africa.[119] Nelson shrewdly teases out the underlying warning to Israel in LBJ’s obscure counsel to Israel's Foreign Minister Abba Eban. Johnson said: "Israel will not be alone unless it decides to go alone."[120] But Johnson’s warning not to move up the date of the war – if that’s what it was -- went unheeded and the Liberty was not in its intended position on day one of the war. The Israelis may indeed have hoped that the accelerated war timetable would convince Johnson to rescind his order to attack the Liberty.

The U.S.N.S. Private Jose Valdez Jr.

As the Liberty made its way to its rendezvous point in the Mediterranean, the crew passed its sister spy ship, the U.S.N.S. Private Jose Valdez, Jr., sailing in the opposite direction. Ennes was at one with the rest of the crew who wished they could also be heading home since everyone aboard understood that they were heading into a warzone, unarmed and unprotected.[121] Washington had denied Captain McGonagle's request for destroyer escort, with the rationale that the belligerents would have no difficulty identifying the Liberty as a neutral American vessel.[122]

Why was the Liberty sent to substitute for the Jose Valdez? If the plan was to sacrifice a U.S. ship, why not the Valdez, which had been in place since the start of the fighting and was safely collecting intelligence a hundred miles away from the Gaza border? Nelson guesses that the decision may have been based on the technicality that the Liberty was designated as a U.S.S. ship while the Valdez was a U.S. Navy Ship (U.S.N.S). The key difference is that the Valdez was an unarmed support ship as opposed to the U.S.S. Liberty which was technically armed since it possessed four 50-caliber machine guns (intended only as protection against pirates). The critical factor, Nelson opines, is that according to international admiralty law, attacking an "armed" ship is considered a war crime and would thus legally provide the U.S. with the necessary pretext to retaliate against the purported Egyptian attackers.[123]

A Staged Strafing Attack on the Liberty

One of the strangest and creepiest aspects of the Liberty incident is that it appears  Captain McGonagle was warned beforehand that his ship would be attacked. According to a U.S. intelligence agent, "McGonagle was briefed to expect a superficial strafing attack" which would be used as a pretext for going to war against Egypt. According to this theory, McGonagle understood that his ship had been sent to the war zone "as part of a deception plan."[124]

Years later Golden also surmised that McGonagle was told beforehand that the Liberty might be a target. Captain McGonagle

knew something that none of the rest of us knew. I know that the [U.S.] Ambassador, before we left the Ivory Coast had called him over. [In their interview Hounam asked Golden] if McGonagle had been told he was going to be a sitting duck. 'In my heart, I feel he did know," said Golden. "I really believe that."[125]

Indirect evidence that Captain McGonagle tried to prepare his crew for an attack was his unusual insistence on an inordinate number of drills. Ennes writes that the captain was a "true believer in drills and training," to the point where "some of the officers thought he was a nut on the subject." The crew agreed that McGonagle "was a bit daffy about training."  Ennes credits McGonagle's leadership and his demanding insistence on training for the survival of most of his men.[126]

Clearly McGonagle was placed in an impossible position. By following orders and allowing his ship to undergo "a light strafing attack," McGonagle knew he would be putting his men (and himself) in danger. (As it happened, the captain was so seriously wounded in the attack he had to relinquish command.) Could McGonagle have refused such orders?  Had he refused, he would have jeopardized his career – or worse -- and, in all likelihood, his crew would have been left to the mercy of a replacement commander.  

At the Naval Board of Inquiry, hastily convened when the crew arrived in Malta, McGonagle once again followed orders from above and participated in the cover-up by reinforcing the U.S.-Israeli official friendly-fire narrative. Beloved as he was by his crew, they were at best confused by the evidence he gave; evidence which was flagrantly at odds with the ferocity of the Israeli attack. Frustrated crewmembers were "convinced their captain was under pressure to distort his story and collaborate in a rigged outcome to the inquiry."[127]  

The discrepancies between McGonagle's testimony and that of his crew were not trivial. For example, the crew thought there were at least eight Israeli overflights in the hours before the attack. McGonagle testified there were only three.

More striking, McGonagle said the Israeli observation planes were several miles away and never approached the ship. Writing from his hospital bed, Ennes testified that the Israeli planes flew so closely overhead that at one point he could see the pilot and that it had a Star of David under one wing. In the course of one overflight, Ennes and the captain were together on the bridge and McGonagle said, "If you see those bomb bay doors start to open, order an immediate hard right turn." When asked directly by the Court to explain why there was testimony that the Israeli observation aircraft flew very close to the Liberty, McGonagle said he could not. [128]  McGonagle's testimony went unchallenged by the court; Ennes was never officially advised of his captain's contradictory statement.[129]

McGonagle also played down the duration of the attack. He said the aerial attack lasted only five minutes, whereas other crewmen insisted that it lasted about 25 minutes. With regard to the Israeli MTB attack, McGonagle said that after the torpedo struck the boat at 2:25 p.m., the Israeli boats ceased fire and moved away. Crewmembers insisted that the boats attacked the ship with cannon and machine guns for fifty minutes, from 2.25 to 3:15 p.m.[130]

Evidently, the White House was sufficiently satisfied with McGonagle's cooperation to award him the Congressional Medal of Honor. However, instead of hosting him at the traditional White House venue with the president presiding, the ceremony was shunted to the Washington Navy Yard with the presentation made instead by the Secretary of the Navy. This "backhanded slap" enraged Admiral Thomas Moorer, who speculated that the administration played down the incident, fearing the reaction of the Israel lobby.[131]

As far as is known, McGonagle never admitted that he had foreknowledge that his ship would be attacked, although he eventually made clear that he understood that the U.S. had colluded  with Israel. When the Liberty made it safely to Malta, George Golden, who had taken over during the attack when the captain became delirious through loss of blood, closely conferred with him on official business. In his interview with Hounam, Golden reported that during this period the captain couldn’t contain his emotions.

 “When I'd go up to fill him in with what was going on with the ship, he cried quite a bit. He'd start to say something, then he'd stop and cry. This was right after the attack."[132]

The friendship between the two grew years later when they lived near each other in Virginia Beach. Not long before McGonagle died in 1999, he confided to Golden his understanding that the U.S. was responsible for what happened to the Liberty.

"Those SOBs really did us in, George," said McGonagle.
"What are you talking about?" [asked Golden].
McGonagle said that it was "the President and McNamara" who set up the Liberty to be attacked. McGonagle said "that that he had straight information, through Fort Meade, that when they sent us up from over in Africa, we were there to have this happen."[133]

Operational Jamming

Circumstantial evidence that the U.S. and Israel were colluding to sink the Liberty also comes from the jamming of the both the Liberty's five radio frequencies and the international distress frequency used for Mayday messages. Nelson believes that the jamming of frequencies used by the U.S. shows that Israel must have known they were attacking a U.S. ship.[134] The jammers must have had "prior knowledge from shore based receivers" which indicates such prior knowledge must have come from the U.S government.[135]

Hounam also relates second-hand testimony that the jammed Mayday messages "came from a United States signals unit secreted in support of Operation Cyanide on the mainland not far away."[136]  Hounam's informant was Robert "Bob' Douglas -- evidently a member of either the U.S. Air Force or Signals Corps -- who, in a conversation in a bar in Huntsville, Alabama,  said he was part of a U.S. jamming group whose mission was to jam Egyptian military units during the Six- Day War. Douglas later learned that his unit also jammed the Liberty, though they didn't know at the time it was the Liberty. When a local journalist, Jack Hartsfield, later followed up with Douglas, he "turned visibly pale … and said he knew whom he had told that story to, but that he was drunk … and should not have … talked so much."[137]

U.S. Surveillance Submarines

"If anyone finds out about this [Operation Cyanide], we might as well be dead." -- A CIA Official[138]

There is persuasive eyewitness testimony that several submarines were deployed in the vicinity of the assault on the Liberty and that at least one U.S. submarine videotaped the attack and sent the videotape to Washington. Although U.S. submarine presence in the area has never been officially acknowledged, Jim Ennes reported in 1979 that an unidentified blip on the radar screen -- which he labeled Contact X -- was tracking the Liberty's progress as it made its way in the Mediterranean. When he inquired, he was told that Contact X was "some sort of compartmented project" which he wasn’t read into.[139]  Ennes nevertheless understood that since there was no surface ship in sight, the blip on radar must have been a submarine. After the last shots were fired, Liberty crewmembers exchanged theories about the periscope they had seen when the attack began.[140]

Later, Ennes also heard reports that the attack on the Liberty had been filmed in real time. He pointed to the frustration of submarine crewmembers whose orders prevented them from coming to the aid of the Liberty.

American submariners watched wave after wave of jet airplanes attacking Liberty. Strict orders prevented any action that might reveal their presence. They could not help us, and they could not break radio silence to send for help. Frustrated and angry, the commanding officer activated a periscope camera that recorded Liberty's trauma on movie film."[141]

Ennes added that three persons "have confirmed that a submarine operated near the Liberty but no credible person has confirmed that a photograph has been taken."[142]  Decades later, Hounam produced testimony that video(s) of the attack were indeed taken by one or more U.S. submarines.[143]

One such witness was Petty Officer Joe C. Lentini, who was badly injured in the attack, and was eventually flown to Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Virginia. A submariner at the hospital spotted Lentini as a Liberty veteran and recounted his experience. "We were there. … We saw the whole thing. We took pictures. Then we sent an officer back to the Pentagon to deliver them." Lentini was so astonished by the revelation that he didn't think to get the man's name or the name of his ship.[144]

Hounam quotes a Liberty CT (Cryptologic/Communications Technician) named Jeffrey Carpenter: "Oh, I knew there was a U.S. submarine near us, but they hauled ass; they bailed out as soon as we got hit. … Other naval officers, described by Ennes as being in key positions, said there were three submarines in the war zone."[145]

Charles "Chuck" Rowley, another CT, was on the bridge of the Liberty with Ennes when the ship was attacked. Unlike Ennes he had been cleared for a "secret submarine project under codename Cyanide."[146]  Another informant, Commander Lewis, confirmed that when he joined the Liberty "towards the end of 1966 … he and his section chief were handed secret sealed orders to do with Operation Cyanide."[147]

The U.S.S. Andrew Jackson

Was the nuclear-armed Polaris submarine, the U.S.S. Andrew Jackson, Contact X? Anthony Pearson, an Australian investigator, published two long articles on the Liberty attack in Penthouse magazine in which he asserted that the submarine that filmed the attack was the Andrew Jackson.[148]  Pearson learned from his contact, Steven McKenna, that after the fighting was over, a Lieutenant Commander from the Andrew Jackson had been put ashore at Rota [Spain] on June 12, 1967, and dispatched to Washington carrying a canister of film believed to relate to Liberty.[149]

Following up on Pearson's findings, Hounam writes that, over the years, stories circulated that at Pentagon briefings, pictures were shown of the attack on the Liberty that were  taken  from a submarine.[150] Ennes learned from Commander Bender Tansill about a talk given by a military man called Paul Forsyth to military officers who were

members of a U.S. organization called Military Orders of the World Wars. [Forsyth told the group] that a U.S. naval commander and two majors had piloted Israeli aircraft and had participated in the attack against the Liberty. Tansill had named another U.S. Navy commander in intelligence who claimed to have seen the film of the attack taken from a submarine, and Forsyth had said the films were taken from the U.S.S. Andrew Jackson. When Forsyth was later contacted he agreed he gave a talk, but denied this version of what he said."[151]

More evidence that the Andrew Jackson was in the area Liberty came from Ray Sharer, an operator in the nuclear propulsion plant who said that the Andrew Jackson did a tour of the Mediterranean in April, May, and June 1967.[152]

If the nuclear-armed Andrew Jackson actually accompanied the Liberty it might indicate that the U.S. feared a serious threat from the Soviet Union, or, speculates Hounam, even from Israel, which at the time was believed to have two atom bombs. Perhaps, suggests Hounam, the Andrew Jackson was in place just in case of trouble: a "doomsday scenario.”[153]

The U.S.S. Amberjack -- A Cover-Up Exposed?

The mission of the U.S.S. Amberjack as it relates to the attack on the Liberty continues to be shrouded in mystery and apparent cover-up. In 1997 Ennes learned of testimony from an anonymous "submariner who claimed to have been near the Liberty" watching the attack through the periscope. "He said pictures had been taken through cameras coupled to the optics, as the attack continued for more than an hour. He said his boat was the USS Amberjack SS522." Ennes subsequently tracked down other Amberjack crewmembers who claimed they were so close underwater to the Liberty while it was under attack that "they thought they were under depth charge attack."[154] 

Amberjack's captain, August Hubal, "emphatically" denied that his submarine was in Liberty's vicinity but he did admit his ship was near the Egyptian coast, about a hundred miles away. He refused to give any other details.[155]

Countering Hubal's denial, Giraldi found that the "ship’s log … confirms that it was indeed in the area." Giraldi reports that Hubal was an "obsessive…'by the rules' officer" who would never question an order and who later warned his crew of "consequences" if they revealed details pointing to Amberjack's role in the attack on the Liberty.[156]  

Giraldi also reports testimony from Larry Bryant, an Amberjack crewmember, who subsequently refused to go on record. According to Bryant's off-the-record phone conversations, the periscope that was spotted by Liberty crewmembers was the Amberjack's. Bryant said that the Amberjack viewed the attack "as it unfolded" through its periscope which "had been equipped with a platform for the mounting of a video camera … and filmed and photographed the entire incident." Some Amberjack crewmen said they observed the large American flag the Liberty was flying.[157]

Claim: A U.S. Torpedo Struck the Liberty

In what Nelson terms an "unsubstantiated rumor," Liberty survivor, Larry Weaver, a boatswain's mate, makes the sensational claim that he learned from two sailors on the Amberjack that the torpedo which struck his ship came not from the Israeli MTBs, but from the Amberjack on direct orders from President Johnson after the Israelis missed with their four torpedoes.  In a thirty-five-minute video available on the internet, Weaver claims that his two informants from the Amberjack "stepped up" and testified on tape. According to Weaver, President Johnson gave the order in "a fit of blind rage" when he learned that the Israelis had run out of torpedoes.[158]

Weaver explains that one of his two informants "got the order to arm the torpedo" and the second was the one "in charge of pushing the red button on the bridge that fired the torpedo." Weaver continues: "And that's the torpedo that hit the U.S.S. Liberty. Our own American ship fired upon us when [the Israelis] missed with all [four of] their torpedoes. And Johnson wanted us on the bottom. That's why."[159]

Nelson emphasizes that there is no "direct corroboration for this account, nor does [Weaver] any longer have access to the tapes made by the Amberjack seamen."[160]  Weaver gave the tapes for safekeeping to a private investigator who evidently was later forced to surrender them to U.S. agents. Weaver’s loss of control of the tapes seems to be indirectly connected to the serious injuries that he suffered during the attack on the Liberty, which required, over the years, thirty-four operations. To this day he continues to suffer from his wounds. 

At one point Weaver learned that his records had been fudged and no longer reflected his service on the Liberty. He decided to hire an investigator at his own expense to prove he was eligible for disability benefits.[161] Presumably Weaver gave the tapes for safekeeping to this same investigator. The U.S.'s motive for changing his medical records may very well have been part of its attempt to induce Weaver to shut down his Liberty inquires and his activism.

Although unsubstantiated, Weaver's shocking claim that LBJ ordered the Amberjack to torpedo the Liberty has the ring of truth, not least since it dovetails with evidence and testimony that President Johnson was the mastermind of the Six-Day War and the plan to sacrifice the Liberty. Weaver's allegation also adds weight to doubts concerning the truthfulness of Amberjack Captain Hubal's denials that his submarine was in the vicinity of the Liberty when it was attacked.

The Liberty, a Submarine and the 303 Committee

A search request of government archives at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Library in Austin, Texas, turned up a "SECRET -- EYES ONLY" document dated 7 April 1967 among papers dealing with the Liberty.[162]  Dated just a month before the war, the document associates the Liberty with a submarine and suggests a U.S. connection to both the Six-Day War and to the attack on the Liberty. The secret document shows "only one item number" from the minutes of a group called the 303 Committee but has a notation mentioning submarines.[163]

The meeting was chaired by Walt Rostow, LBJ's national security adviser, and attended by one representative each from the CIA, and the Departments of State and Defense.[164] For the one item listed, the attendees were briefed by General Ralph D. Steakley regarding a "sensitive DOD project known as Frontlet 615." The item was encircled by pen with a note evidently explaining the mission's main military aim. The note says: “Submarine within UAR [Egypt and Syria] waters."[165]

The secretive 303 Committee was established to review and authorize covert operations. Its name kept changing to maintain secrecy whenever its existence was uncovered. Later in 1967 it was called the Forty Committee and afterwards, the Special Group.[166]  In a 2002 interview, former CIA Director Richard Helms (1966-1973), said the 303 Committee "was simply a device for examining covert operations of any kind … on behalf of the President, so he wouldn't be nailed with the thing if it failed."[167]

The “615” of the codename evidently signified June 15th as the date that the war was to begin. Frontlet 615 “was the secret political agreement by which Israel and the U.S. had vowed to destroy Nasser [while] Operation Cyanide …. was the military name for putting it into effect."[168]  Hounam writes that Operation Cyanide was "the type of matter the CIA could not initiate without the higher authority of the National Security Council or this delegation offshoot [the 303 Committee]. It was 'off the books' because it reeked of political or military jeopardy."[169]

Vance Resigns, McNamara's Lips Are Sealed

In what Hounam terms "an extraordinary action in the midst of a Middle East crisis,"[170] Assistant Secretary of Defense, Cyrus Vance resigned from the Johnson administration (but not from the Defense Department), the day after the attack on the Liberty.  Even though he had learned of  Operation Cyanide at the 303 Committee meeting he attended two months before the war, Vance's abrupt resignation  on June 9, 1967, may very well signal his bitter disillusionment if he learned or suspected U.S. treachery for the attack. He may have discovered, for example, that the rescue jets were recalled and/or that the Liberty received no help for seventeen hours.  

Defense Secretary Robert McNamara also resigned prematurely, but not until months later in November 1967. His departure may well have been prompted by his understanding that he was working for a man culpable of treason. In any event, McNamara’s lips were sealed when it came to the Six-Day War when he sat for an eight-minute interview for Hounam’s book. 

In his interview, McNamara was understandably close-lipped since it was clear he might be charged for complicity with President Johnson in a treasonous conspiracy. He strongly denied that the Six-Day War was a product of U.S.–Israeli planning and that President Johnson encouraged Israel to make war, thereby refuting Israeli Mossad Chief Meir Amit’s admission that Israel had received Johnson’s "green light."[171]  McNamara also denied that he had recalled the planes that had been sent to rescue the Liberty.

At the end of the interview, when asked again about the Liberty, McNamara seemed to concede that he knew more than he was willing to say. "As I say, I have nothing to say on the Liberty," he said. "I don't recall it … well, I'm not going to go further. I'm not going to say anything on the Liberty." When Hounam persisted, asking whether McNamara would support demands for a Congressional investigation into the attack, McNamara was visibly annoyed. "I am not saying anything about the Liberty, period."

The reason I don’t … You've got to deal with me fairly on this now. Don't have any of this -- anything about the Liberty -- on the tape -- because I don't know what the hell happened and I haven't taken time to find out. There are all these claims that we sent planes, that planes were going out and we turned them around and that we intentionally allowed the Israelis to sink the Liberty. I know nothing about it. I don't want to say I didn't at the time, but today I have no knowledge about it.[172]

Nasser Knows

Well before war broke out in 1967 Nasser understood that his regime had become a target of the Johnson administration, which had had cut off vital food aid to Egypt for at least two years. Even the U.S. Embassy in Cairo was "baffled at the way Washington seemed to be pushing the Egyptian leader into Moscow's arms and provoking his antagonism."[173]

Three months before Israel struck, in another signal difficult for Nasser to mistake, and delayed replacing him until just days before the war began. Nasser was "convinced the U.S. had been planning the war in collaboration with Israel for months."[174] By the fourth day of the war, the State Department was forced to respond to media inquiries regarding claims by both Nasser and Jordan's King Hussein, that U.S. and Britain were "directly aiding" Israel's war. They (correctly) alleged that aircraft from both countries were taking part and that the U.S. was providing secret reconnaissance assistance to Israel.[175]

Did LBJ Intend to Provoke WWIII?

The most difficult element of the Hounam-Nelson theory to credit is President Johnson's apparent intention not merely to risk but to provoke a Third World War. According to one of Hounam's informants, the U.S. intention was to ”obliterate Cairo West military airport, outside the city's main population center where the Soviets' nuclear capable 'Bear' bombers were based."[176]

Hounam writes that the Sixth Fleet's nuclear-armed jets targeting West Cairo were airborne and only three minutes away from their targets, just before they would have been beyond radio recall.[177] It may very well be that the A-4 Skyhawks were recalled because the Liberty managed to get prompt word out that it was under attack. Had the Liberty been sunk as planned, the first U.S. nuclear weapon blast would apparently have been followed up by a pre-emptive nuclear strike on Moscow.

Trying to explain President Johnson's demented logic in embarking on nuclear war, Hounam suggests that he might have reasoned that, "given the right spin … the nuclear response has a sort of crazy equivalence" if it were widely believed that Egypt and the Soviet Union were responsible for sinking the Liberty.[178]

Nelson might agree with Hounam's adjective "crazy." In Nelson's view, LBJ's plan was "clearly an appallingly treasonous, unthinkably cruel, abhorrently immoral, transparently illegal, and brazenly executed criminal action; [it was the product] of a hardened sociopath [a] tortured and demented mind.[179] 

The Rabin Breakdown

What did the Israelis know about the nuclear element in President Johnson's plans for a Middle East war and the not-unlikely eventuality that it would lead to an attack on the Soviet Union? Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin's two-day breakdown  (May 21-23), about three weeks before the war began, may be an indication of Israeli foreknowledge of Johnson's nuclear plans.

Rabin's collapse occurred after he confided his fears to retired Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. Instead of the anticipated pat- on-the- back for a well-thought-out plan, Rabin received a severe dressing down which shook him to the core. "You made a mistake," the older man said, referring to the mobilization of Israel's military reserves. "You have led the state into a grave situation. We must not go to war. We are isolated."[180]

In this leak of a private conversation, naturally there is no mention of the U.S. stratagem to enter the war on the first day. But if Rabin knew of LBJ's plan to use nuclear weapons, it's more than likely he shared this with Ben-Gurion. Rabin said Ben Gurion's "words struck me like hammer blows." The verbal thrashing Rabin received from Ben-Gurion incapacitated him and he immediately asked to be replaced. He told his colleague, General Ezer Weizman, Israel's main war planner, "Due to a series of mistakes, I've led Israel into an entanglement, on the eve of the greatest and hardest war the state has ever experienced."[181]

What did Rabin mean by "entanglement?" The timing of his breakdown and his allusion to “a series of mistakes,” suggests that Rabin might have just recently learned of LBJ's intention to use a nuclear weapon. Ben Gurion’s warning of Israel’s entanglement in big power conflict may have sharpened Rabin’s mind to the distinct possibility that Israel would be a target of Moscow's retaliation, which is what Joan Mellen suggests would have eventuated.[182]

Lyndon Johnson's Middle East policy

“JFK’s assassination marked the end of the republic that was once America.”
                                          Philip F. Nelson, Remember the Liberty

From the time Lyndon Johnson arrived in Washington from Texas, he was an unwavering supporter of the Jewish state, ignoring national interest, regional destabilization and the human rights implications of Israel's aggression against millions of Arabs. As soon as he became president, Johnson planned to reverse U.S. Middle East policy. At JFK's funeral, the 6-foot 3-inch president bent over Israel's Golda Meier, to whisper: "With me in the White House there will be no repeat of the Eisenhower incident of 1956" -- when the U.S. forced Israel to withdraw from the Egyptian territory it had conquered in the 1956 War.[183] Again, within days of taking office, Johnson made a point of telling an Israeli diplomat: "You have lost a very great friend [with the assassination of JFK] but you have found a better one."[184] 

An incident shortly after the Six-Day War exposed the cynicism and transactional nature of Johnson's pro-Israeli politics. Spotting aide and speechwriter Larry Levinson leaving a nearby office, LBJ rushed over and shouted: "You Zionist dupe! You and Wattenberg are Zionist dupes in the White House! Why can't you see I'm doing all I can for Israel. That's what you should be telling people when they ask for a message from the president for their rally."[185]

Nelson quotes historian David Neff: "Up to Johnson's presidency, no administration had been as completely pro-Israel and anti-Arab as his." Nelson adds: "Before the end of his presidency, he would out-Zion his most jealously Zionist advisors, practically giving Israel everything they asked for, even in some cases more than they dared to dream."[186]

From the revelations of James Ennes, Stephen Green, Peter Hounam and Philip Nelson, it’s evident that by 1966 or even earlier, Johnson colluded with Israeli hawks to stage the Six-Day War, a venture that would not otherwise have been contemplated by Israel, if only for lack of resources. Unlike Johnson’s Vietnam War policy which was essentially circumscribed by the war’s end in 1974, Johnson’s reversal of U.S. Mideast policy has led to an enormously powerful Greater Israel and an unprecedented, world-dominant de facto U.S.-Israeli alliance, a colossus intended to ensure Israeli area dominance while furthering the U.S. imperial objective of permanent war.

Had it not been for the presidency of Lyndon Johnson -- in a counterfactual world -- Israel might have been forced to set internationally recognized borders, and its aggression might have been constrained. Instead of the 1967 War and the Israeli-Arab wars that followed, a kind of peace might have been established that would have made it possible to address some of the region’s and the world's most pressing issues.

World War Three?

What are we to make of Hounam's finding that Johnson was determined to embark on World War Three by joining Israel’s war with a nuclear attack against Egypt? The evidence suggests that had the Liberty not narrowly escaped its intended fate, President Johnson seemed intent on proceeding with a plan that may very well have put an end to civilization as we know it.

Joan Mellen lists the steps that led to our hairsbreadth deliverance.

Had Lyndon Johnson’s order that no rescue planes be dispatched achieved its intended result, the sinking of Liberty; had Egypt (with Soviet assistance) been blamed for the attack, as was also intended; had the United States then retaliated by bombing Cairo with those nuclear weapons at the ready on the U.S.S. America; had the Soviets then responded with a nuclear retaliation on Israel, as a Soviet submarine commander has testified that they were prepared to do; and had the Strategic Air Command then further retaliated with its  hydrogen bombs, raising the ante, Lyndon Johnson’s legacy would have been World War Three. He came close. [187]

It's hard to imagine a more stark difference between John F. Kennedy, who stood virtually alone against his government, trying to prevent World War Three in the course of the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, and Lyndon Johnson who, five years later, planned to start the conflagration.

The End
Ronald Bleier 
December 2018
15, 730 words  

[1] Peter Hounam, Operation Cyanide: Why the Bombing of the USS Liberty Nearly Caused World War III (London, Satin Publications, Ltd., 2003).
[2] Phillip F. Nelson, LBJ: From Mastermind to "The Colossus," The Lies, Treachery and Treason Continue (Skyhorse Publishing, 2014), p. 382. See Stephen Green, Living By the Sword: America and Israel in the Middle East (Battleboro, Vermont: Amana Books,1988),
 pp. 228-229.
[3] Phillip F. Nelson, Remember the Liberty !Almost Sunk by Treason on the High Seas, With Ernest Al Gallo, Ronald G. Kukal; and Phillip F. Tourney (Trine Day LLC, Oregon, 2017) p. iv.
[4] Phillip F. Nelson, Remember the Liberty! p.63. See below for survivor Larry Weaver’s claim that the fifth torpedo came from the U.S. Amberjack on orders from President Johnson: Nelson, Remember the Liberty! p.181.
[5] James M. Ennes Jr., Assault on the Liberty: The True Story of the Israeli Attack on an American Intelligence Ship (New York: Random House, 1979)
[6] Nelson, LBJ: From Mastermind to "The Colossus," p. 391. Nelson, Remember the Liberty!, p.63.
[7] Peter Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 268. A long article in the Chicago Tribune on the Israeli attack on the Liberty mentions the approaching Israeli helicopter but it contends that it was there to offer help! (John Crewdson, “New Revelations in attack on American Spy Ship,” Baltimore Sun, October 2, 2007.
According to Ennes, the commandos in battle dress could be seen and their deadly intent surmised. The order to “repel boarders” was announced, followed by, “they've come to finish us off." (James M. Ennes Jr. Assault on the Liberty, p. 96). Petty Officer Third Class Philip F. Tourney offers his chilling account of the moments when he locked eyes with “one of my would-be assassins.” (Phillip F. Nelson, Remember the Liberty! p. 74).
[8] According to Ennes’s timeline, the attack took about an hour and a quarter. It began about 1:56 pm local time and the last shots were fired at 3.12 pm. (James Ennes, Assault on the Liberty, p. 215). It's not clear exactly when the helicopter with the armed Israeli commanders approached the Liberty and when they left; nor when the Israeli MTBs, which stood off some distance and for a period of time, remained in the ship's vicinity. It seems that before 4 pm local time, the last of the “enemy” departed. So from top to bottom, it seems the hostilities lasted about two hours, from 2-4 pm.
[9] Phillip F. Nelson, Remember the Liberty, p. 191.
[10] Search for: Philip Giraldi, "Remembering the U.S.S. Liberty," June 6, 2017.
[12] Stephen Green, Living by the Sword: America and Israel in the Middle East (Battleboro, Vermont, Amana Books,1988) p. 2.
[13] Stephen Green, Taking Sides, American's Secret Relations with a Militant Israel (New York: William Morrow and Co, 1984), p.180.
[14] Peter Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 214.
[15] Stephen Green, Taking Sides, pp. 204-209. Hounam, Operation Cyanide, pp. 214-220.
[16] Stephen Green, Taking Sides, p. 215.
[17] Stephen Green, Taking Sides, p. 241.
[18] Stephen Green, Taking Sides, p. 242.
[19] Stephen Green, Taking Sides, p. 217. Green cites “Report of the Armed Services Investigating Subcommittee of the Committee on Armed Services,” May 10, 1971.
[20] Stephen Green, Taking Sides, p. 241.
[21] David Martin, a/k/a DC Dave, "Lyndon Johnson, Sinister  ColossusThanks to my editor, Molly Nelson Haber, for pointing me to DC Dave's website.
[22] Peter Hounam, Operation Cyanide, pp. 214-219.
[23] Remember the Liberty! Almost Sunk by Treason on the High Seas, With Ernest Al Gallo, Ronald G. Kukal and Phillip F. Tourney (Trine Day LLC, Oregon, 2017), p. iii.
"Forward," by Ray McGovern; p. 133.
[24] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, pp. 266-267.
[25] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, pp. 84, 86-88, 250.
[26] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 169.
[27] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 156.
[28] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 156.
[29] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 162-163.
[30] James Bamford, Body of Secrets: Anatomy of the Ultra-Secret National Security Agency, (New York Doubleday, 2001), p. 213. See also Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p.158.
[31] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, pp. 161-162. Steve evidently preferred to remain anonymous.
[32] Stephen Green in his Taking Sides: American's Secret Relations with a Militant Israel, pp. 223-224.
[33] Green, Taking Sides, p. 224.
[34] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 160.
[35] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 159.
[36] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, pp. 160-161
[37] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 220. As the endnotes indicate, for Greg Reight's testimony, I have used Stephen Green's text rather than Hounam's similar account. See Green, Taking Sides, pp. 214-220.
[38] Green, Taking Sides, p. 204-205. As indicated above, Hounam, not Green, identifies his informant.
[39] Joan Mellen, Faustian Bargains: Lyndon Johnson and Mac Wallace in the Robber Baron Culture of Texas (New York: Bloomsbury, 2016), p. 194. See also Joan Mellen, Blood in the Water: How the U.S. and Israel Conspired to Ambush the U.S.S. Liberty (New York, Prometheus Books, 2018)
[40] Green, Taking Sides, p. 208.
[41] Green, Taking Sides, p. 207-208.
[42]  Green, Taking Sides, p. 206.
[43] Green, Taking Sides,  p. 209
[44] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 220.
[45]Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 196.
[46] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 197.
[47] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 198.
[48] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p.125. Pearson also published Conspiracy of Silence (1979) on the subject.
[49] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, po, 194-195.
[50] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 196.
[51] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p.270.
[52] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 271.
[53]  Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 270.
[54] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 199.
[55] Richard B. Parker,  "USAF in the Sinai in the 1967 War: Fact or Fiction" (PDF). Journal of Palestine Studies. (August 1997). XXVII (1): 67–75.
[56] Green, Taking Sides, footnote, pp. 209-210.
[57] Green, Taking Sides, footnote, pp. 209-210.
[58]Stephen Green, Living By the Sword: America and Israel in the Middle East (Battleboro, Vermont, Amana Books,1988), p. 235.
[59] Bamford, Body of Secrets p. 201.
[60] Bamford, Body of Secrets p. 201.
[61] Bamford, Body of Secrets pp. 201-202.
[62] Bamford , Body of Secrets p. 202.
[63] Bamford , Body of Secrets p. 203.
[64] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 169.
[65] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 264.
[66] Joan Mellen, Faustian Bargain, op. cit.
[67] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 180.
[68]  Hounam, Operation Cyanide,  pp. 181-182.
[69]  Hounam, Operation Cyanide,  p. 182.
[70]  Hounam, Operation Cyanide,  pp. 182-183.
[71]  Hounam, Operation Cyanide,  p. 183.
[72] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p.183.
[73] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 184.
[74] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 221.
[75] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, pp. 8, 12.
[76] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 12.
[77] Nelson, LBJ: From Mastermind to "The Colossus," p. 388
[78] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p, 13. Hounam' asks: “How were the American military and their commander in chief, Lyndon Johnson, able to anticipate the attack, and yet apparently not know the Israelis were behind it?" See also Nelson, LBJ: From Mastermind to "The Colossus," p. 387.
[79] Mellen, Faustian Bargains, p. 201.
[80] Joan Mellen, Faustian Bargains, p. 201. See also Hounam, Operation Cyanide, pp. 94, 256.
[81] Mellen, Faustian Bargains, p. 203.
[82] Note above Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 221, Moe Shaffer’s testimony that the jets bound for Cairo were only three minutes from their target when they were recalled.
[83] Joan Mellen, Faustian Bargains, p. 204.
[84] Joan Mellen, Faustian Bargains, p. 203.
[85] Phillip F. Nelson, Remember the Liberty! Almost Sunk by Treason on the High Seas, With Ernest Al Gallo, Ronald G. Kukal and Phillip F. Tourney (Trine Day LLC, Oregon, 2017), p. iii,
"Forward," by Ray McGovern (2017). Chief Petty Officer J. Q. "Tony Hart" monitored the conversation between McNamara and Real Admiral Lawrence Geis.
[86] Ennes, Assault on the Liberty, p. 238. Ennes's timeline gives the time of transmission as 8:09 a.m. Washington time; Local time was 1409, 2:09 p.m.
[87]. Nelson, LBJ: From Mastermind to "The Colossus," p. 385.
[88] Hounam Operation Cyanide, p. 91. Geis was the Commander of the Sixth Fleet carriers and Admiral Martin was overall Commander of the Sixth Fleet.
[89] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 91; p. 221. Ennes writes that the Sixth Fleet was 400 miles away, Assault on the Liberty, p. 240.
[90] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 91. Nelson, 386. The rescue planes were recalled "almost immediately after they took off."
[91] Nelson, LBJ: From Mastermind to "The Colossus," p. 406. Nelson cites two youtube videos as his sources.
[92] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 175,
[93] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 91.
[94] James M. Ennes Jr. Assault on the Liberty, p. 119; Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p.246.
[95] Phil Tourney, "After the Attack: The Survivors Story," in Nelson, Remember the Liberty! p.94.
[96] Nelson, Remember the Liberty! p. 93.
[97] Nelson, Remember the Liberty! pp. 89, 106.
[98] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 89.
[99] Oddly in the audio version of Bamford's Body of Secrets, he notes that LBJ was up at 4 a.m. Washington time on June 8th, but I could not find this reference in his book.
[100] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 90.
[101] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 92.
[102] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 94.
[103] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 92.
[104] Nelson, LBJ: From Mastermind to "The Colossus," p. 386.
[105] Ennes Assault on the Liberty, p. 240.
[106] Ennes Assault on the Liberty, p. 241.
[107] Ennes Assault on the Liberty, p. 241.
[108] Nelson, Remember the Liberty! p.80. 
[109] Ron Kukal, "On Board the USS. Liberty: Survivors Recall the Attack," in Nelson, Remember the Liberty!, p. 67.
[110] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 240.
[111] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 241-242.
[112] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, pp. 240- 241.
[113] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, pp. 239-240.
[114] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 242.
[115] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p.243.
[116] Nelson, Remember the Liberty! p.182.
[117] Nelson, Remember the Liberty! p.34. 
[118] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 271.
[119] Abidjan is 4,200 miles away from the Gaza border as the crow flies, 2700 nautical miles. Nelson likes 6,000 miles. Timeanddate.com gives the figure 2714 nautical miles from Abidjan to Israel.
[120] Nelson, Remember the Liberty! pp. 39-40. Nelson cites one historian, William Quant, as an example of those who misread LBJ's quote, viewing it in the light of Johnson's public statements, expressing hope for a peaceful resolution of area tensions.
[121] Ennes Assault on the Liberty, pp. 41-42.  
[122] Green, Taking Sides, p. 223. See also, Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 189; Nelson, LBJ: From Mastermind to "The Colossus," p. 379.
[123] Nelson From Mastermind to "The Colossus," p. 380.
[124] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p.270.
[125] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 242.
[126] Ennes  Assault on the Liberty, fn., p. 153.
[127] Hounam Operation Cyanide, p. 51.
[128] Hounam, Operation Cyanide,  p. 50.
[129] John E. Borne, The USS Liberty: Dissenting History vs. Official History, A Dissertation presented at New York University. (Reconsideration Press, 1993), p. 79.
[130] Borne, The USS Liberty, pp. 79-80
[131] Nelson, LBJ: From Mastermind to "The Colossus," p. 432.
[132] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 242.
[133] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 242.
[134] Nelson, LBJ: From Mastermind to "The Colossus," p. 382.
[135] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p.265, p. 29.
[136] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 252.
[137] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, pp. 213.214.
[138] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, epigraph, p.188.
[139] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p.110.
[140] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 111.
[141] Ennes, Assault on the Liberty, p. 64
[142] Ennes, Assault on the Liberty, p. 64.
[143] See Hounam, Operation Cyanide pp. 112-127.
[144] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 112. 
[145] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 112. 
[146] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 112-113.
[147] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 114.
[148]. Anthony Pearson, "MAYDAY! MAYDAY! --The Attack on the Liberty," Penthouse Magazine, May and June 1976. Cited in Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 126.
[149] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 126.
[150] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, pp. 126-127.
[151] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 127.
[152] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 127.
[153] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 127.
[154] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, pp. 112-113.
[155] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 113.
[156] Philip Giraldi, "Sinking Liberty"
[157] Philip Giraldi, "Sinking Liberty" quoted in Nelson, Remember the Liberty!, p. 85.
[158] Two internet sites where Weaver's video is available are: USS  Liberty The Unmentioned Parts - Survivor Richard Larry Weaver"  and USS Liberty Survivor Says a US Submarine Filmed Israel’s Attack & Torpedoed The Ship  Cited in Nelson Remember the Liberty! pp. 180-181.
[159] Weaver's video at 1.40 -4:55.
[160] Nelson, Remember the Liberty! p.181.
[161] Nelson, Remember the Liberty! pp. 76-77.
[162] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 115. Nelson attributes this find to Ennes. Remember the Liberty! pp. 33, 239-240.
[163] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 115.
[164] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 115. Foy Kohler represented the State Department, Cyrus Vance for the Defense Department, and Admiral Rufus Taylor, CIA.
[165] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 115.
[166] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 122.
[167] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 122.
[168] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 270.
[169] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, pp. 123-124.   
[170] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 265.
[171] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, pp. 226, 236.
[172] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, pp. 237-238.
[173] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p.98.
[174] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p 101.
[175] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, pp. 96, 202-203, 237.
[176] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 256, see also p. 271.
[177] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, pp. 221, 254.
[178] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 271.
[179] Nelson, LBJ: From Mastermind to "The Colossus," p. 429.
[180] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 73.
[181] Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 73.
[182] See final section below. Mellen, Faustian Bargains p. 214.:
[183] Nelson, Remember the Liberty! p. 117.
[184] Nelson, Remember the Liberty! p.18.
[185] Nelson, Remember the Liberty! p. 60. Mellen offers a slightly different version whereby Levinson suggested that Johnson address a mass rally held in Lafayette Park on June 8, to express solidarity with Israel, at which point an enraged LBJ blew up. Mellen, Faustian Bargains, pp. 209-210.
[186] Nelson, Remember the Liberty! p. 117.
[187] Mellen, Faustian Bargains, p. 214.