Security Issues Project
The Hidden History of the Six-Day War and the Attack on the U.S.S. Liberty
by Ronald Bleier
Part I -- Introduction
Largely through the work of one researcher, BBC documentarian and author Peter Hounam, a shocking new revisionist theory is abroad, opening windows onto the hidden 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, in 2003, 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 points to the inconsistencies in the theory that the attack on the Liberty was a secret, independent Israeli operation. According to this "consensus" theory -- the theory held by Liberty survivors, their families and supporters -- the Israelis intended to attack Syria the next day, outmaneuvering U.S. objections to further Israeli attacks on Arab territory. Key to this secret plan would have been the elimination of the Liberty's eavesdropping on their forthcoming military operation.
However, along with information previously published in the 1980s by author Stephen Green, Hounam reveals that the U.S. had an array of surveillance platforms, making non-essential the Liberty's intelligence collection when it came to Israeli military operations the next day. Hounam insists that the Israelis were well aware of redundant U.S. capabilities, and so had no discernible rationale for their assault on the Liberty.
Hounam's subtitle, Why the Bombing of the USS Liberty Nearly Caused World War III, references the even more incredible and unthinkable element of his theory, namely that only the unlikely survival of the Liberty prevented President Johnson from proceeding with his plan to initiate World War III by deploying a nuclear weapon to destroy the Soviet air base outside of Cairo.
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. Survivors estimate 30 or more sorties were flown over the ship by a minimum of 12 attacking planes.
Israel's thirty-five minute air attack was followed by the arrival of Israeli torpedo boats which fired five torpedoes at the ship, the last one of which struck its target. 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 the order to abandon ship had fortunately been reversed.
Somehow the Liberty -- alone, defenseless -- initially cut off from communications, survived, but it was an extremely close-run thing. The first piece of good fortune was that one of the Liberty's antennae, which had been out of order and so didn't attract Israel's heat-sinking missiles, was repaired under fire within ten minutes. Soon, an SOS reached the nearby Sixth Fleet, despite the 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.
Ordinarily, the torpedo that struck the Liberty should have been sufficient to sink the ship. 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.
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.  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, news of the Liberty's distress had spread widely, making it problematic to attribute culpability to the Egyptians.
The unexpected survival of the Liberty left both the U.S. and the Israeli governments embarrassed. How was such an outrage to be explained? Soon the Israelis officially apologized, contending that they had attacked a U.S. ship in error, mistakenly believing that 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 happen "in error," the U.S. quickly endorsed the Israeli explanation. Both governments continue to maintain the official, friendly-fire narrative to this day.
American witnesses 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. Liberty survivors were admonished to refuse all interviews. Presumably to keep them from conferring on their terrible, shared experience, Liberty's crewmembers 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, Israeli investigations into the incident supported the official account -- as do Israeli and U.S. spokespeople to this day.
The strict blanketing of reliable information was broken about a dozen years later. Survivor, Jim M. Ennes, Jr., the ship's electronic materials officer, managed to publish his 1979 book, Assault on the Liberty despite the gag order still in effect. His account left little doubt that Israel deliberately attacked a ship known to be that of its U.S. ally. Almost singlehandedly, Ennes 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's theory became what could be called the "Ennes consensus theory," which Liberty survivors and their supporters even now uphold. Ennes wrote that Israel intended to go ahead with its plan to attack Syria the next day despite President Johnson's public opposition. To capture Syrian territory, they felt it necessary to eliminate the Liberty's ability to report Israeli battlefield movements to Washington.
A recent restatement of this theory is Philip Geraldi's 2017 opinion piece on the 50th anniversary of the attack in which he summarizes Ennes's view that the Israelis ruthlessly tried to sink his ship. Similarly, 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.”  (Emphasis added)
Undergirding this Ennes-Hart consensus theory is the assumption that the Israelis acted independently and secretly, apparently believing that the Liberty was 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 theory of Israel's motivation appeared until shortly after the turn of the 21st century -- with a 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 the Johnson 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 he "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." 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 included the initial steps Johnson took toward 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.
Notably, Green scooped key elements of the Hounam's theory in his Taking Sides: American's Secret Relations with a Militant Israel, making public new and disquieting evidence of officially unacknowledged U.S. operational involvement in the Six-Day War. Green unearthed detailed testimony by an unnamed participant -- subsequently identified as Airman Gregory Reight-- that in the course of the war, the U.S. provided Israel with tactical air-reconnaissance support. Reight testified that he and other U.S. personnel worked side-by-side with Israeli technicians. The sophisticated photographic equipment required to interpret battlefield film was provided to Israel by the U.S. The unstated but startling implication was that Israel and the U.S. had colluded in month's-long preparation for war.
Green also uncovered U.S. foreknowledge of the attack on the Liberty. Such news should have shocked many of Green's readers but the author kept his discovery hidden in plain sight by limiting it to one sentence. He wrote: "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."
Was Green aware that the U.S. knew a day in advance that the Liberty was to be attacked -- information that Ennes provided in his "Addendum to 2007 Edition of Assault on the Liberty? If Green did know, it's not clear what he could or should have done with the information. Once exposed, it would have been clear that the U.S. could have prevented the attack, but chose not to. Evidently Green preferred not to highlight the Johnson administration's apparent intention to allow the Liberty to be sacrificed, because such treachery was too toxic, too unthinkable, to lay before readers in 1984 -- just as it is today.
Many of Green's readers must have wiped from their awareness Green's single sentence asserting U.S. foreknowledge. But Green's highly detailed ten-page exposé uncovering U.S. air-reconnaissance assistance could not be easily dismissed, even as it conflicted with the common understanding in the west of the Six-Day War as a wholly independent Israeli initiative. Cognitive dissonance must have been the mind-set of many readers unable to reconcile the opposing theories: that the U.S. had no advance knowledge of the war or its opposite: that the U.S. was a key player in the war itself and could have prevented the attack on the Liberty.
Relevant revisionist information appeared on the site of blogger David Martin, (a/k/a, DCDave). There he reviewed Philip F. Nelson's LBJ: From Mastermind to Colossus, Nelson's second book on the crimes of Lyndon Johnson. In this book he included two long chapters on the attack on the Liberty which were in turn based on Philip Hounam's Operation Cyanide: Why the Bombing of the USS Liberty Nearly Caused World War III as well as Hounam's companion documentary Dead in the Water.
Hounam's book -- 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) he presented a great deal of mostly new witness testimony that supported the theory that the U.S. was deeply involved operationally 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 who was operationally involved in Israel's war, Joe Sorrels. Sorrels was a communications expert who helped Israel suppress Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian signals and transmit misleading messages to confuse Arab leaders and commanders.
Hounam traces the background surrounding zealously pro-Israeli President Johnson's decision join Israel's war and to create a sacrificial lamb as a pretext to do so. 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. Hounam's narrative reveals that the question of why Israel attacked the Liberty is really subsidiary to the strategic issue of U.S. initiation of the 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. The U.S. thus made possible maximum Israeli conquest of Arab territory feasible under the circumstances. Fatefully, Johnson also gave Israel the required diplomatic cover to beat back world-wide demands that Israel withdraw from the Arab territories it had conquered, much of which it controls to this day.
From the evidence Hounam presented we can deduce that the Israelis, unsurprisingly, were reluctant co-conspirators in the attack on the Liberty since they had nothing to gain. Their only reason for attempting to sink the Liberty would have been political -- to accede to U.S. demands, since it was clear they were winning the war handily before the end of Day One. Nor did they need the headache of their military personnel understanding that their country had attacked a U.S. ship. Indeed, it seems that one of their pilots refused to follow the orders to attack the Liberty and returned to base. He was duly cashiered.
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 dared to attack the Liberty.
Anomalies and Other Questions
In addition to providing a persuasive answer to the major question surrounding the assault on the Liberty -- why would Israel attack its ally's ship? -- Hounam's research provides coherent answers to many of the anomalies and otherwise unanswered or unaddressed questions surrounding the Israeli attack. For instance:
-- Why was the date the war began moved up ten days from its original intended starting date and how did this affect the Liberty?
-- Why, three weeks before war broke out, was the Liberty rushed to the eastern Mediterranean from its West African station when there was already another spy ship, the U.S.N.S. Private Jose Valdez, already in place?
--What are we to make of an alleged series of misrouted messages to the Liberty that left the Liberty vulnerable?
-- Why did Secretary McNamara and President Johnson recall the rescue jets while the Liberty was under attack?
-- Why were some of the jets sent to come to the aid of the Liberty carrying nuclear weapons?
--Why did the U.S. refuse to provide the Liberty with the armed escort it requested?
-- Why was the U.S. Embassy in Cairo warned that the city (or its environs) would undergo a U.S. retaliatory attack? And why was the attack cancelled?
Lyndon Johnson's Dark Legacy
Even before he died President Johnson's legacy as an effective but irremediably damaged president seemed set in stone. Had it not been for his disastrous Vietnam War policies, his ranking would have been high on the roll of U.S. presidents. Even his detractors will concede that his presidency marked "a peak of modern liberalism" as Wikipedia has it. It has taken right-wing opponents the better part of a century -- and the advent of a Donald Trump -- to find themselves in a position to overturn the great bulk of his Great Society and War on Poverty reforms in civil rights, Medicare, Medicaid, voting rights and more.
The U.S. and the world were particularly unlucky in that Johnson had two formidable allies running critical U.S. government agencies empowered to facilitate his terrible plans: FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover and CIA chief Allen Dulles. Without their indispensible participation in high crimes, LBJ might not have been able to proceed as he did.
Even before books charging Lyndon Johnson with masterminding the assassination of President Kennedy appeared in bookstores in the late 90s, many people had determined by themselves that, besides the murder of JFK, Johnson had also overseen the assassinations of the two other major political figures on his watch, Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy. Observers might have reasoned that since Johnson controlled the investigations into those murders, he must also have directed them.
One of the books pointing to LBJ's bloody hand which appeared with the turn of the century was Barr McClellan’s Blood, Money & Power: How LBJ Killed J.F.K (2003). Its portrait of Johnson, the man and his life and career in Texas, supported evidence of the dark side of his record in Washington as senator and vice-president.
Then, in 2010, Phillip F. Nelson published LBJ, the Mastermind of JFK"s Assassination, the first of his trio of books on the crimes of Lyndon Johnson. Nelson provides in-depth chapter and verse that for Johnson there were no red lines he didn't dare cross when it came to his political ambition; nor did Johnson feel constrained to follow the law when it came to amassing great personal wealth. In Mastermind, Nelson provided the evidence that supported his theme that Johnson was the indispensible actor who had the motive, means and opportunity to put down the men who stood in his way on a national level just as he had done in Texas.
By the turn of the 21st century, due to the work of revisionist investigators and authors, we are beginning to see that Johnson's unshakable determination to prolong the Vietnam War was only one appalling element of his utter ruthlessness. The case can now be made that he was a monster; perhaps the most pernicious and destructive of all U.S. presidents. It's almost too shocking to take in that one man was responsible for the elimination of the leading lights of the progressive movement and the enduring vacuum in the Democratic opposition. It's no surprise that such a vacuum has resulted in the cynicism and alienation of the public from good government. The result has been the remorseless devolution of the U.S. -- well before Donald Trump -- into the dark well it currently resides, seemingly ever moving further and faster from hope of recovery.
Nevertheless, even those open to absorbing Green's and Hounam's evidence of U.S. responsibility for the Six-Day War and the assault on the Liberty are likely to have trouble wrapping their minds around Johnson's apparent intention to employ nuclear weapons and contemplate WWIII, a plan that can be understood as suicidal. The record suggests that, had the Liberty not narrowly escaped its intended fate, President Johnson would have proceeded with a plan that is likely to have cost him his own life -- and as likely as not, civilization as we know it.
It's hard to imagine a more stark difference between John F. Kennedy who stood alone against almost his whole government trying to prevent WWIII and Lyndon Johnson who planned to start it.
Ronald Bleier (email@example.com) is an independent researcher based in NYC where he edits Bleier's Blog and his DESIP website.
Note: Part II of this essay (forthcoming) summarizes the evidence provided by Green, Hounam and Nelson, addressing many of the unanswered questions and anomalies of widely accepted accounts.
It includes sections on:
-- Alternate U.S. Surveillance Platforms
-- The U.S. Operational Role in the Six-Day War
--LBJ Wants the Liberty Sunk
--Liberty Captain McGonagle's Foreknowledge of an Attack on His Ship
 Peter Hounam, Operation Cyanide: Why the Bombing of the USS Liberty Nearly Caused World War III (London, Satin Publications, Ltd., 2003).
 For details on Green's contribution, see below.
 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),
 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.
 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.63.
 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),
 Nelson, LBJ: From Mastermind to "The Colossus," p. 391. Nelson, Remember the Liberty!, p.63.
 Peter Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 268. A long article in the Chicago Tribune on the Israeli attack in the Liberty -- unusual in that it supports Ennes's contention that the attack was deliberate, contends that the Israeli helicopter offered help, not armed commandos. According to Ennes's eyewitness testimony, the Israeli helicopter, about 50 yards away, was close enough so that the commandos in battle dress could be seen and their intent surmised. On board the Liberty the order was heard: "Repel boarders, they've come to finish us off" p. 96.
 The attack began about 1:56 pm local time and ended at 3.12 pm. It did not last for hours as some writers still aver. Ennes, Assault on the Liberty, p. 215.
 Ennes, Assault on the Liberty, p. 212.
 Search for: Philip Giraldi, "Remembering the U.S.S. Liberty," June 6, 2017.
 Alan Hart, "Why Really Was the USS Liberty Attacked by Israel?" 12 June 2010.
 Stephen Green, Taking Sides, American's Secret Relations with a Militant Israel (New York: William Morrow and Co, 1984) p. 180.
 Peter Hounam, Operation Cyanide, p. 214.
 Stephen Green, Taking Sides, pp. 204-209.
 Stephen Green, Taking Sides, p. 241.
 James M. Ennes Jr. PDF, ”Assault on the Liberty: Addendum to the 2007 Edition" (2007)
 David Martin, a/k/a DC Dave, "Lyndon Johnson, Sinister Colossus” a review of Philip F. Nelson's second book on the crimes of Lyndon Johnson: LBJ: From Mastermind of Colossus. Thanks to my editor, Molly Nelson Haber, for pointing me to DC Dave's website.
 Peter Hounam, Operation Cyanide, pp. 214-219.
 Barr McClellan, Blood, Money & Power: How LBJ Killed J.F.K, (Hanover House, N.Y. 2003)
 See for example, Roger Stone’s The Man Who Killed Kennedy: The Case Against LBJ (2013,