Thursday, May 28, 2009


Adam Larson / Caustic Logic
[USS Liberty series]
May 28 2009

Part one of this series listed the witnesses to secret attack-the-flag transcripts of the USS Liberty attack - translated copies of American (NSA) intercepts of the IDF communications proving the Israeli intent to attack a known American ship, for whatever reason. Therefore, perhaps the most informed witnesses would be the guys who made these recordings, apparently stationed on a US Navy controlled EC-121 aircraft circling 15,000 feet over the general war zone.

The plane was on a NSA SIGINT mission, and staffed to effectively spy on both sides. This plane contained the normal retinue of Russian and Arabic linguists, as well as three trained Hebrew Linguists (called “special Arabic” at the time). [1] Relative newcomers to the world of public scrutiny, two of the three NSA Jew-spying-spooks listening in from above have been named.

Dr. Marvin Nowicki is the more famous one of the two, starting with an e-mail to NSA’s nom d’plume James Bamford in March 2000, as he was assembling his magnum opus Body of Secrets. The insider enclosed five documents, including Assault on the Liberty: The untold Story from SIGINT, which explained their presence above the Liberty and what they heard there. This became the kernel of Bamford’s chapter on the attack, which came out highly critical of the IDF and supportive of the crew’s views. That Nowicki’s account was seamlessly worked into supporting this meant distortion was afoot, and he complained publicly in a letter to the Wall Street Journal:
“My position, which is opposite of Mr. Bamford's, is that the attack, though terrible and tragic especially to the crew members and their families on that ill-fated day in June 1967, was a gross error.” [2]

Accident advocate Judge Cristol took up Nowicki’s case, re-publishing this letter and all the materials sent to Bamford, who “claims the Nowicki letter told him that the tapes establish that the Israelis knew they were attacking a US ship,” Cristol explains. “Dr. Nowicki did not agree with Bamford's interpretation.” [3] The judge points to the e-mail and its five enclosures, which collectively offer a cogent and well-researched Cristol-light attempted absolution. He felt the attack on an ally was a mistake, and ironically that was from hearing and re-examining the same transmissions several others had said proved, once in print, that it was a purposeful decision. And his familiarity with the material didn’t end when he handed it over to the NSA’s analysts.
“[T]he next time I saw those voice tapes […]completely re-transcribed […] was over a year later when I was ordered to NSA for duty in 1968. […] Up to this point, I always felt the evidence we collected showed the Israelis attacked the Liberty by mistake in the heat of battle. All my conversations with colleagues in G643 and reading of the voice transcript confirmed as much to me.” [4]

The NSA had the audio, but decided against admitting it, or even acknowledging the plane was there. James Ennes’ 1979 book was written in complete ignorance of the flight, and it remained secret for another two decades past that. Nowicki’s second attachment explained his efforts to have it all publicized to quell the rumors.
"Several months before I retired in 1979, I even wrote a personal letter to the Commander of the Naval Security Group, Rear Admiral Eugene Ince, saying I thought it was time to make the information public. Admiral Ince surely knew about the VQ-2 tapes because he was the senior NSG officer on the staff of CINCUSNAVEUR in 1967 during the attack on the Liberty. I received no reply from him.” [5]

Nowicki points only to one phase of attack halting as evidence of mistake theory, which fails to explain why it was brutally resumed minutes later. Apparently the tapes would make it all clear once publicized. By 2000 this had still not happened, and we had only the chief’s account to Bamford, the case it was woven into for Body of Secrets, and the rebuttals.

It’s true that Nowicki told Bamford up-front that “our intercepts, never before made public, showed the attack to be an accident on the part of the Israelis.” [6] The author could have mentioned this sentiment in the book but failed to. Otherwise I see no misrepresentation. He simply used the words to support a general picture already painted by plenty of other people and evidence. His account is high-quality, detailed and well-assembled, and of clear historical significance. Some key quotes mined from the various sources [emph mine throughout], with comparative notes added:
"After a couple of hours of hard work, I received a heated call on the secure intercom from Hebrew linguist [deleted]. [deleted] excitedly proclaimed something to the effect, "Hey, Chief, I've got really odd activity on UHF. They mentioned an American flag. I don't know what's going on." I asked him for the frequency and rolled up to it. Sure, as the devil, Israeli aircraft were completing an attack on some object. I alerted the Eval, giving him sparse details, adding that we had no idea what was taking place. The activity subsided." [7]
By this, the chief missed some of the audio, including the flag report, before getting the phones on to hear the end of an air attack. Such a report is not in the IDF’s tapes at all, with no flag mentioned (except once in the negative – “there is no flag on her!”). Air Force recordings, as now available, make no mention of a US flag at all until the rescue helicopters arrive, shortly after 15:00 – a half hour after the attack was finally called off, and nearly an hour after the attacking jets left the area.
"After some time passed, Petty Officer [deleted] called me again. He told me about new activity and that the American flag is being mentioned again. I had the frequency but for some strange reason, despite seeing it on my spectrum analyzer, couldn't hear it on my receiver, so I left my position to join him to listen at his position. I heard a couple of references to the flag during an apparent attack. The attackers weren't aircraft; they had to be surface units (we later found out at USA-512J it was the Israeli motor torpedo boats attacking the Liberty). […] Despite replaying portions of the tapes, we still did not have a complete understanding of what transpired except for the likelihood that a ship flying the American flag was being attacked by Israeli air and surface forces." [8]

There’s a time delay after the chatter subsides, maybe correlating to the air-MTB intermission of about ten minutes. Then the flag was mentioned again, multiple times during the renewed attack by torpedo boats. This is a new twist the other witnesses didn’t catch. He feels it’s this flag report that finally has the attack called off. If they said U.S. flag multiple times and the EC-121 heard it, that’s interesting since any such report during this time failed to make it into either the MTB or Navy logs.
“My personal recollection remains after 34 years that the aircraft and MTBs prosecuted the Liberty until their operators had an opportunity to get close-in and see the flag, hence the references to the flag.” [9]
"Although the attackers never gave a name or a hull number, the ship was identified as flying an American flag." [10]
This is just about dead backwards from the IDF’s tapes of their communications. As I’ve found, their records show it was not a flag, but rather the hull number GTR-5, and perhaps the name Liberty, that had the attack called off twice. The second time it was said these indicated a Soviet ship.
“We have no idea what time any […] information about the American flag was made available in the war room. I think it was probably during the MTB attack because the torpedo boats halted their attacks when they could have finished off the Liberty.” [11]

We know now what time they claim anyway – 1512 local time. Torpedo hit was at 1435.
“[O]ur intercepts […] showed the attack to be an accident on the part of the Israelis.” [12]
“Our intercepts further showed that perhaps the attack was a mistake.” [13]

Just how? The fact that the "flag" stopped it? That's not the reason the IDF settled on. This dangerously aberrant version has direct knowledge of American ID running openly throughout the attack, rather than concealed in double-talk as it seems from the available sources. Any report of a flag failed to make it into the IDF air control tapes and failed to prevent the ridiculous re-identification as El Quseir leading to the deadly torpedo assault [see above link]. The recollection he shares does seem vague enough that it’s open to interpretation – in the same data one person might see intent, the other confusion. Both see the stars and stripes specifically failing to stop the attack, in direct contradiction of the IDF's documentation.

The “teammate” cited by Chief Nowicki, the one excited about "something crazy on UHF," is apparently Petty Officer Michael Prostinak. He did not talk to and remained unnamed by Bamford, but did come out in his chief’s wake and spoke to John Crewdson for his 2007 Chicago Tribune article. Since those days intercepting war chatter, Prostinak had settled down in a small North Carolina town to be chief of police and later a town administrator. He told the paper "everyone we were listening to was excited. You know, it was an actual attack. […] We copied it until we got completely out of range. We got a great deal of it." Although this accounts is much thinner, at least once edited into the article, it verifies Nowicki’s recollection of flag reports at this time: “During the attack was when mention of the American flag was made." Crewdson explains how “[Prostinak’s] Hebrew was not good enough to understand every word being said, but that after the mention of the American flag "the attack did continue.”” [14]

Again, Crewdson was able to “twist” this into fitting with the shoot-the-flag transcript reports. It wasn’t difficult, since it has more attacking after the identification, just like Nowicki’s account. Both the linguists’ stories differ from what other witnesses in some key ways - the flag is not apparently not reported before either phase of assault, and they mention no pilots protesting or resisting their orders. So far however, all knowledgeable American sources agree that the flag was reported by the attacking forces and this somehow failed to halt the attack. Prostinak does not say that it was an intentional mistake – for all we know, he feels it’s just a mix-up in communications. Nowicki specifically says it was accidental, but many others from a wider field reached the opposite conclusion on seeing it in print. Nowicki summed up the answer to the dilemma as well as the other side might:

”How can I prove [my version]? I can't unless the transcripts/tapes are found and released to the public. I last saw them in a desk drawer at NSA in the late 1970s before I left the service.” [15]

Apparently spurred by the Bamford/Nowicki revalations, Judge Cristol filed a FOIA lawsuit against NSA in April 2001 to get the tapes. Not far from his home turf, Cristol wrangled with the Florida district court system and NSA’s lawyers for release of any transmissions to or from USS Liberty, USS Amberjack (submarine, long story), or the EC-121 everyone was talking about [16]. The lawsuit would eventually yield results, but this would take years to unfold, and one more post, part three, before I can use that to close up this story line with a final twist in part four.

[1] Bamford, Body of Secrets p. 205
[2], [15] Nowicki, Mavin. Letter to The Wall Street Journal. Published May 16, 2001, page A-23.
[3] Cristol. Nowicki Documents.
[4], [5] Nowicki, Marvin. Postscript to the attack on the Liberty. 2000?
[6] Nowicki, Marvin to James Bamford. E-mail, March 3, 2000.
[14] Crewdson, John. "New revelations in attack on American spy ship." Chicago Tribune. October 2 2007. (Additional material published Dec 2). Page 6.,0,1050179.story?page=6
[16]A. Jay Cristol, Pro Se, Plaintiff, v. National Security Agency, Defendant. U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida. Case No. 03-20123. Various documents.

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