Blood in the Water: How the US and Israel Conspired to Ambush the USS Liberty
Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2018.
Joan Mellen’s Blood in the Water is the most comprehensive account available on the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty, and deserves national recognition. Ms. Mellen, a professor at Temple University, is a poor writer; she repeats herself in several places, and fails to adhere to her organizational structure. Ms. Mellen, no friend to our brand of dissidence, also makes a number of false statements: for example, she refers to Charles Lindbergh as a “Nazi sympathizer” and feels the obligation to rope Charlottesville into the proceedings, slandering President Trump for good measure. Ms. Mellen also gets the occasional trivial detail wrong. Notwithstanding these problems, which do not occur with respect to any of her major claims regarding the Liberty, each of which are supported by what appears to be credible evidence, her work is likely the best we will ever get on the Liberty. The majority of her information comes from sailors who survived the attack and intelligence officers and other American officials who played a role in either observing the attack or participating in the ensuing cover-up. Ms. Mellen also conducted extensive interviews with the family members of some of the key players who have since died, gaining access to much of their personal correspondence and records, and performed laudable document searches through government archives, also utilizing Freedom of Information Act requests.
Where her claims are supported by the testimony of only one or two people, said person has maintained this version of events consistently through the years, and their allegations gel with the rest of the penumbra of events. In this review, I have included only those events which appear to be not only plausible, but well-supported. Indeed, Ms. Mellen’s account is endorsed by dozens of the survivors of the Israeli attack on the Liberty, including the President of the USS Liberty Veterans Association. It has long been known that Israel carried out the attack, which, of a crew of 294, left 34 Americans dead and 174 wounded (the number of wounded, strangely enough, seems to vary by one or two men depending on the source). The great contribution made by Ms. Mellen is her conclusive demonstration that not only was the Israeli attack indisputably intentional, but that it had in fact been carried out with the collusion of officials within our own government, including President Lyndon Johnson himself. These officials later crafted a vast cover-up, of which Ms. Mellen provides disturbing details.
The seeds of the horrific attack on the Liberty were sown within the Eisenhower Administration. Egyptian President Gamal Nasser was a thorn in President Eisenhower’s side, and Eisenhower offhandedly remarked that he wished “the Nasser problem could be eliminated.” Allen Dulles, Director of Central Intelligence, almost immediately began planning with his subordinate, James Angleton, the chief of CIA counterintelligence, to assassinate Nasser. This plan was nurtured through the Kennedy Administration, when it was placed on hold. President Kennedy took a relatively even-handed approach to the Middle East, attempting to deal fairly with Israel and the Arab states. Kennedy was quite concerned with attempting to contain Israel’s nuclear proliferation, a topic which remains taboo to this day; Kennedy’s efforts on this front came to a close with his assassination.
It is unknown at exactly what point Israel developed its first nuclear bomb, but intelligence sources suggest that the nation possessed a quickly-growing stockpile by the late 1950s. These were developed in secret at their Dimona site, under cover of textile production. John Hadden, the CIA station chief at Tel Aviv, believed that Angleton facilitated the smuggling of uranium from the United States Atomic Energy Commission to Israel via NUMEC, a company based in Apollo, Pennsylvania. After an extensive investigation, the reports of which have since vanished, Hadden came to believe that NUMEC had been an Israeli front corporation all along. Hadden was deeply troubled by the Israeli nuclear program, but U.S. Ambassador Walworth Barbour did not share his concerns. Barbour would later say, “I’m here under orders from Johnson, who told me, ‘. . . your job is to keep the Jews off my back.’ Everything I do is designed to keep the Jews off the President’s back, to keep them happy.”
Angleton was implicated in nefarious operations across the globe, including Operation Gladio in Italy, coordinating with organized crime figures. From the inception of the CIA’s “Israeli desk” in 1954 and onward for the next twenty years, Angleton was the exclusive liaison with the Israeli Mossad, with all communication to and from Israel routed through his office. Angleton essentially operated without any supervision, completely compartmentalizing his area from the rest of the CIA. Through him, “virtually every CIA man in the Middle East was working at second-hand for the Israelis”; Meir Amit, director of Mossad, described Angleton as “the biggest Zionist of the lot” and called him “an extraordinary asset for us. We could not have found ourselves a better advocate.” Indeed, Angleton believed that American interests “lay in propping up the Jewish state militarily and economically.” His relentless support for Israel verged on treason. In 1956, Robert Amory, Deputy Director of Central Intelligence, referred to Angleton as a “co-opted Israeli agent.” Angleton diverted millions of dollars to Mossad and had his agents infiltrate a Washington, D.C. trash collector and deliver all trash from the Israeli Embassy to his office. He also gave Mossad great leverage over our nation by organizing numerous joint black operations between the two countries. While President Kennedy worked to institute inspections at Israel’s Dimona site, Angleton actively sabotaged his efforts. At the nuclear site, under Angleton’s direction, “false walls were erected, elevators hidden, and dummy installations built to conceal evidence of the nuclear weapons program.” Colleagues said that Angleton kept a matrix of American officials, ranked in order of their “Jewishness”; he tried to promote Zionists through the ranks. When Angleton learned of a plot by Evron and Dayan to bomb the U.S. Consulate in Cairo and blame Nasser, he was unfazed.
Hadden saw that “America was subordinating its own national interests to those of Israel” and was disturbed by the fact that for all of our Middle Eastern policy, and a large portion of our Soviet policy, “Israeli intelligence is our main source of intelligence, unexamined.” Hadden described Israeli officials as “crazed,” noting that at every meeting with them “he would be subjected to a forty-five-minute diatribe and bombarded by a litany of threats attributed to all those ostensibly endangering Israeli security, challenges to Israel’s existence that required immediate action,” and extraordinary requests for military aid and intelligence. Hadden’s home was bugged by the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, and his Marine guards were regularly solicited with bribes that included women.
Since the 1896 publication of Theodor Herzl’s Der Judenstaat, the Six-Day War was inevitable. Israel was and remains an expansionist state, with grand territorial designs; in their instigated war, Israel doubled its territory and added over one million subjects to its dominion. Israeli fighters ranged into Syria, nearing Damascus, and downed six Syrian planes, successfully provoking Nasser into closing the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, for which Israel had invaded the Sinai in 1956. Israel then massed eleven brigades on the northern border of Egypt, to which Nasser responded by moving one-hundred thousand troops to the area. Amit, whose motto was, “If somebody is in your way you use the greatest firepower you can muster to blow him away,” had concocted his pretext for the land grab cloaked in the garb of preemptive war. Israel, however, especially at that early phase in its history, did not take any action without the at least tacit consent of the United States.
Before we examine this any further, we must briefly note the mutual American and Israeli history of false flag attacks. The sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor was used to agitate for the Spanish-American War, while a fabricated attack on the USS Maddox in the Gulf of Tonkin was exploited to justify further American involvement in Vietnam. Pearl Harbor is perhaps best referred to as a quasi-false flag incident, as the base was attacked by Japan after deliberate provocation by the Roosevelt Administration, which had foreknowledge of the attack and chose to move more men and matériel to the base to worsen the damage. Operation Northwoods, authorized by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Lyman Lemnitzer but aborted by President Kennedy, was a plan to carry out violent terrorist attacks on American civilian and military targets that were to be blamed on Cuba to justify an invasion. The Israeli government planned Operation Susannah, more popularly known as the Lavon Affair, whereby American and British civilians in Cairo would be targeted in a series of assassinations and bombings that were to be pinned on Nasser’s Muslim Brotherhood. The plan, orchestrated by Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, Minister of Defense Moshe Dayan, head of Military Intelligence Benjamin Gibli, and future Prime Minister and President Shimon Peres, was only thwarted because one bomb ignited early. After the plot was exposed, Israel, as it always does, waved the bloody shirt, appealing to “the past persecution and false accusations of Jews in various countries” and referring to the trial of the terrorists as a “pogrom.” The surviving terrorists were awarded by the Israeli government in 2005.
In order to instigate the war that was to double its territory, the Israeli government enlisted American assistance. Amit, arguing that the two nations’ interests were one and the same, had Angleton parrot propaganda about a “grand Soviet design,” contending that Nasser was a proxy for the Soviet Union and that the nuclear site at Dimona had been threatened. Amit said that “the Middle East offers the US a chance to demonstrate its commitment at a much lower price than in Vietnam. In Israel, the US has people on whom it can rely.” In fact, many Zionists today celebrate the war as a “pre-emptive strike for the security of Dimona” that “crowned the achievement of restoring the historical Jewish homeland.” In 1972, Israeli General Mattityahu Peled admitted that “the thesis that the danger of genocide was hanging over us in June 1967 and that Israel was fighting for its physical existence is only bluff which was born and developed after the war.” Future Prime Minister Menachem Begin, founder of Likud Party, would later say much the same.
Though President Johnson told the American public that the United States had not been involved in the war, American RF-4C reconnaissance planes took aerial surveillance photography of Egypt that the Israelis lacked the technical capacity for. The pilots of the mission were lied to about their objective and wore unmarked uniforms, while the planes were painted to disguise their identity. Our government also provided Israel with leaks that revealed Egypt’s radar vulnerabilities, the very spots Israel used to launch its invasion. The very planes used to murder American sailors on the Liberty were diverted to Israel from NATO upon American authorization. In 1966, Johnson had authorized almost one-hundred million dollars in military aid to Israel, and in May 1967 authorized the transfer of heavy military equipment. To date, Israel is the largest cumulative recipient of American foreign aid since World War Two; we have given that nation over 140 billion dollars, unadjusted for inflation. This tap is still pouring to the tune of three billion dollars per year, not including the incalculable value of the other intangible services that we provide to the State of Israel, with no end in sight.
In a meeting with Amit, Hadden said to the Mossad chief, “Help us by giving us a good reason to come in on your side. Get them to fire at something, a ship, for example. . . would provide a US pretext for acting to defend the attacked state.” Ms. Mellen suggests that Hadden, given his sardonic personality, only meant this in jest, though I find it hard to put that spin on this. Johnson had Angleton convey to Deputy Israeli Ambassador Ephraim Evron that we would not intervene in any attack on Egypt. On June 2, less than one week before the attack on the Liberty, Evron visited the White House and asked, “What would you Americans think if there were a probe by an Israeli ship and the Egyptians opened fire and then we had to strike back?” At some point in this meeting, Johnson is reported as saying, “You and I are going to pass another Tonkin resolution.” Angleton conveyed to Johnson that in the coming war, Israel would “win and win big.” Israeli President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi had been heard commenting on “how wonderful it would be if the Egyptians started an offensive war which we could defeat and follow with an invasion.” Ms. Mellen contends that “by conservative estimates, Angleton and Israel had been planning the Six-Day War from at least 1966 on.”
At the dawn of the Six-Day War, the USS Liberty was ordered to the Eastern Mediterranean, twelve-and-a-half miles off the coast of Egypt and six-and-a-half from Israel; essentially, the ship was ordered to a war zone. The 303 Committee of the National Security Council, an executive oversight committee for covert operations often utilized for the purposes of providing the President with plausible deniability, made this order; particularly, Cyrus Vance, a close Johnson confidante who served as Deputy Secretary of Defense. Contrary to future Israeli justifications for the strike, the Liberty was not gathering intelligence on Israel. In fact, the sailors were unnerved by their farcically vague orders to “find out who is doing what to whom.” The Liberty had been hastily built and rushed into service near the end of World War Two, and went on to serve in Korea; she carried no cannon, equipped only with four machine guns mounted on deck, and was “studded with forty-five deck antennas and a giant moon dish sitting on a platform forty feet wide and thirty-five feet high, the only one in existence…so unique that it might have served as an alternate American flag.”
The sailors were slightly uneasy about their presence so near to the war zone, but Liberty Captain William McGonagle reassured them, falsely, that air support was only five to ten minutes away. In reality, the Sixth Fleet aircraft carriers were nearly four-hundred miles away. Vice Admiral William Martin, commander of the Sixth Fleet, issued an order to the entire Sixth Fleet to stay at least one-hundred miles from the coasts of belligerent nations. The Liberty was excluded, never receiving this order; the Department of Defense later claimed that five messages had been sent, all of which were inexplicably lost or misrouted. In retrospect, however, Ms. Mellen argues that “these messages appear to have been inserted into the record after the fact. Better that messages be misrouted than that a ship, wittingly on the part of those in command, have been placed in harm’s way.”
The narrative of the lost messages, along with its inherent assumption that had the messages been received, the attack would not have occurred, is dubious. One surviving communications technician from the ship
believes the messages were sent after the fact because there was no way to send them and have them not arrive but go elsewhere. They would have been put in the circuit for broadcasts destined for the Sixth Fleet and. . . would have been repeated on many frequencies. . . Such a message within the Naval Security Group could not go astray. . . There was no way the message would have gone to any shore station. . . There was no way for the message to travel to the places our message was purported to have gone. . . no such message to move Liberty one hundred miles had been sent prior to the attack via the only channel through which Liberty customarily received messages. The Joint Chiefs had concocted a false story to cover their having placed the ship in harm’s way.
Lieutenant Commander Dave Lewis, the intelligence officer in charge of operations on the Liberty, notes that Israel “has attacked vessels over a hundred miles offshore, so moving the ship would have done no good in any case.”
Lewis requested a destroyer escort from Vice Admiral Martin on June 2. Martin denied the request, citing the Liberty’s American flag, its American hull markings, its presence in neutral international waters, and the (fictitious) air support that was (not) readily available. Martin later spuriously claimed that he did not know the Liberty was under his command until June 7. When, on that date, Admiral David McDonald, Chief of Naval Operations, discovered where the doomed ship had been placed, he was bewildered, writing, “I don’t know why we do something like this now.”
When Israel commenced the Six-Day War on June 5, the National Security Agency asked the Joint Chiefs if any plans had been made to move the Liberty; they replied in the negative.
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