Sunday, June 21, 2009


Adam Larson / Caustic Logic
[USS Liberty series]
First posted June 20 2009
Major re-write 7/12/09

Note: This article has been re-written since my original copy of the Jerusalem Post transcript was fraudulent I had previously made a central point of discrepancies between this and Cristol’s version, but the actual article from its original source does not have the same differences. The altered re-post and its contradictory implications are covered at another post now.

As parts one and two covered, memories from the American side of the event have perhaps exclusively stated the air attack on the Liberty revealed reports of the American flag flying over the ship. Some cite the attack commencing despite this, some called off due to it. I’ve mentioned how Israeli military sources insist this was not the case at all, with no mention of the flag until well after both the air attack and torpedo assault were finished. The American claims are based on intercepts passed through Air Force intelligence channels, but no one has been able to show a recording or transcript to back up their memories. The Israelis, on the other hand, have produced both recordings and transcripts of (at least part of) the attack.

The tapes they’ve got are apparently normal procedural recordings of conversations between air units and their ground controllers. For decades these were held tightly in military circles, used in official investigations, sometimes quoted in these reports, and therefore present as hints in other works. Accident advocate Aharon Jay Cristol (a Florida judge) explains how England’s Thames TV produced a documentary in 1986, first talking with the survivors, then speaking with IDF personnel, expecting the standard “no comment.” Instead, a few there, including Lt. Col. Matti Greenberg, achieved a PR coup by sharing some of their records, including “transcriptions and translations of audiotape of the attack.” This decision, as Cristol writes, unexpectedly changed the whole approach of the film from critical over to neutral-leaning-to-accident. [Cristol pp 175-76]

A select few people outside the military loop have been allowed to actually hear the tapes, as well as getting transcripts. Judge Cristol was among these, sitting in on a June 1990 session that included several Hebrew linguists and original air controllers. He repeated the privilege on September 7 2001, in a similar session. He published his transcript and notes in 2002 as appendix 2 in The Liberty Incident [pp 209-223]. The tape he listened to ran nearly eight hours, from 13:43 until 21:30, with the last entry dealing with the Liberty at 18:57. I’ll cover the details of what it says below.

By the time Cristol’s version was published, James Bamford had re-invigorated the controversy with new evidence in Body of Secrets, released in 2001. Bamford’s charges that the flag was seen and the attack continued anyway snowballed over the following years, and the IDF again looked for a coup, offering paper copies and a listen to Jerusalem Post writer Arieh O’Sullivan. His article featuring another much shorter version of the transcript was published in the Post in June 2004. (full re-post here) It was accompanied by supporting thoughts and a controversial interview with lead attack pilot Yiftah Specter, in which he accused the survivors of (perhaps) being anti-Semitic, and being pretty dishonest considering they should be dead.

This widely-read version only runs from 13:50 up to 14:14 and the calling-off of the air attack. The transcript was compiled in this case anyway from two tapes, one air-to-ground (pilots and controllers), and the other ground-to-ground (chief and regional air controllers). The audiotapes themselves were not released,” he wrote, but only “a mix of the two tapes into one transcript, which explains the time overlaps.”

For reference, the parties on the tapes are chief air controllers at Air Control South, Air Control Central, and at General HQ in Tel Aviv (“Menachem,” “Robert,” and “Kislev”) Other regular players include deputies for these men and the attacking forces; lead Mirage jets commanded by Specter and code-named “Kursa,” and the second wave napalm-carrying jets designated “Royal.” A planned third wave with iron bombs is oddly tagged “Nixon,” mentioned but not in the discussion. The Motor Torpedo Boats are even represented with one boat in communication with Kursa – this shows as “Migdal” in the transcript.

Between all these, in twenty-four minutes, there is no mention of a flag, except in the negative (no flag reported at attack's end). There is a peculiarly high number of random mentions of the word “American” or “Americans,’ but these could not have been triggered by flag reports unless those came in on another line or were edited out.

The first of these pops out of nowhere at 13:54, about two minutes before the shooting started, when weapons system officer Lazar Karni (L.K.) injects as his only line “what is this, Americans?” This is fairly well agreed on by both transcripts for time and content. As I wrote earlier, with no flag in sight, O’Sullivan explains this was “a hunch”, and Cristol cites the man’s testimony as making a valid logic point worthy of blurting and then of being “immediately retracted.” The “American” lines following this begin immediately:





L.K.: What is that? Americans?

LK What is this? Americans?


Shimon: What Americans?

Shimon: Where are Americans?


Kislev: Robert, what did you say?

KISLEV Robert, what are you saying?


[No one answers]

(quickly disregarding the comment, Kislev moves on)

O’Sullivan noted how at some point “suddenly, in the middle of the attack, an unknown voice cuts in from the side: "What is this? What about the Americans?" The similar line attributed to “Shimon” is neither unknown nor “in the middle of the attack.” Was this line left out of the paper version? 

We know that not every transmission was heard; at 1400 and 1401 at least Cristol notes (presumably mundane) transmissions from Royal flight missed or blocked and not present in the audio. Others were left out due to being on the non-included channel 19; right before the 1357 mark “Shimon” asks “Robert” to have Royal call in on channel 19. The conversation they have is not included in the tapes or transcripts. Cristol noted: “At this time Royal […] is arguing with his controller about the fact that he is carrying napalm, not iron bombs.” [p 213] It’s not clear how he knows that’s what the argument was about – but I already noted no flag reports unless they were on another line. And here is just such a moment, about a minute into the air attack when the pilots first got up close.

The next point of interest is where the Post version ends, with a slight time offset between the two versions and a slight translation difference as well but no substantial disagreement.





Menachem: Kislev, what country?



Kislev: Possibly American



X[no 1414]X


MENACHEM: Kislev, what country?


X[no 1414]X

KISLEV: Apparently American


Shimon: Kislev, maybe you know which countries are around here. …

X[ends 1414]X


This itself is an odd statement, as no one is supposed to have reported a flag, nor to have understood the hull number to be anything other than non-Arab (or an Arab ruse?). Some discrepancy in tape mixing or transcription is most likely reason for the one-minute maximum time difference, but Cristol’s 14:14 slot being empty could suggest no dialogue there, for at least a minute, and certainly no shouting. This is interesting because a later slot cryptically refers to someone’s "theory” I’m now curious about:
Unknownn: Robert, did you hear my theory? Just when the navy saw we’re getting them off, they began shouting.
Robert: Kiselv shouted “Americans.” [It was Kislev at 1414].

The brackets are Cristol’s notes – it would seem likely he’s referring to the earlier “possibly” line and this means nothing but citing the wrong minute. It may also be a case of the transcripts not matching the tapes he heard. The 1413 line was apparently not a shout, but witnesses told Cristol that shortly after hearing the hull number at 1412, Kislev had blurted out “damnit! The navy has f---ed us again.” [p 47] This line is definitely not in either transcript, so perhaps his shout included both this and the word “Americans.”

At any rate, Cristol notes “Kislev remembers that, at 1412, he concluded that the target of Kursa and Royal Flights was American. It is clear, however, from the recordings that during the remainder of that afternoon, as the tragedy was unfolding and he was listening to the radio traffic on his headset, he changed his mind several times, still thinking that the ship might be Egyptian.” [p 47] Indeed, as the torpedo boats re-identified and attacked the Liberty at 14:35 and machine gunned it for some minutes after, Kislev was apparently done with shouting about the damn navy fucking them over the American ID. My own impression is he seems unconvinced, but going with the flow as “Robert” and “Shimon” at Air Control central lead them all back to Egyptian ID, which isn’t fully abandoned for another half-hour, until it’s quite clear the navy had failed to sink it anyway.

That the transcripts are incomplete relative to the tapes may be taken to indicate the tapes themselves are complete and unaltered. There’s nothing in there proving that at all, and the fact that they contain none of the flag reports mentioned by American listeners is evidence in fact that they aren’t complete. One of the attack-the-flag transcript witnesses commented on O’Sullivan’s version "There is simply no way that [is] the same as what I saw. […] The fact that the Israeli pilots clearly identified the ship as American and asked for further instructions from ground control appears to be a missing part of that Jerusalem Post article." [Crewdson]

Taking his source seriously, John Crewdson wrote in his Chicago Tribune article how O’Sullivan “said the Israeli Air Force tapes he listened to contained blank spaces,” and that “he assumed those blank spaces occurred while Israeli pilots were conducting their strafing runs and had nothing to communicate.” [Crewdson] Perhaps this was an unjustified assumption, but to be fair, O’Sullivan also had the advantage of hearing the gaps. But then, realistic gaps can be created in a professional remix operation. What to conclude?

- Cristol, A. Jay. The Liberty Incident” The 1967 Israeli Attack on the U.S. Navy Spy Ship. Brassey's Inc. 2002.
- O’Sullivan, Arieh. “Liberty Revisited: The Attack." Jerusalem Post. June 4, 2004. Features, page 20. Verified by JPost archive, 7/11/09.
- Crewdson, John. "New revelations in attack on American spy ship." Chicago Tribune. October 2 2007. (Additional material published Dec 2). Page 4.,0,1050179.story?page=4

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