Survivor of Israeli Attack on USS Liberty: It Could Not Have Been a Mistake (2/2)
TRNN speaks to survivor Sgt. Bryce Lockwood and former CIA analyst Ray McGovern about the 1967 Israeli attack on the USS Liberty
PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay. This is part two of our discussion with one of the survivors of the attack, Israeli attack, on the U.S.S. Liberty. This is the 48th anniversary of that attack. Sgt. Bryce Lockwood joins us from Stratford, Missouri. He served for 13 years in the Marine Corps as a staff sergeant, remains the only surviving Marine from the attack on the U.S.S Liberty. As a Marine he received the Silver Star for heroism. Also joining us from Arlington, Virginia is Ray McGovern. Ray is a former CIA analyst who was employed under seven U.S. presidents for 27 years.
Thanks very much for joining us.
So first of all, if you haven’t watched part one, you really should. Because we’re continuing the conversation, and it’ll make a heck of a lot more sense if you watch part one before you watch part two. So we’re going to kind of just pick up the conversation.
But a very quick summation of what the evidence certainly points to, and there seems to be pretty clear evidence. First of all, there is no argument from anyone that Israelis, the Israelis attacked an American ship, the U.S.S. Liberty, during the six day–1967 six day war. There in fact, the Israeli government has paid compensation, has acknowledged that they attacked the boat. But the official version, official Israeli version, the official American version, is this was all done in error. They thought it was an Egyptian boat. And even though the attack went on for 75 minutes, even though there are many eyewitness reports that the American flag was clearly visible, as Bryce said in part one, there was clearly–the boat was marked. The markings on the boat clearly said it was a, you know, points to the fact that it’s a U.S. ship, it was a very modern spy ship, it wasn’t some old Egyptian Navy ship, and so on. This, the evidence clearly points to the fact that the Israelis had to know what they were hitting.
In part one we also quoted John Crewdson, is a Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist who has several quotes from survivors and also from people that were in on the intelligence gathering that day that not only did the Israelis know what they were hitting but that the mission was to sink the boat. The mission was no survivors.
So gentlemen, the–it seems if they had succeeded in that mission that there were no survivors then they could have, I guess anything could have been made up afterwards as to who hit that boat. If, Bryce says in part one that the planes were not marked, and so on. It wouldn’t have been very difficult, I guess, to make up the story that this was in fact the Egyptian navy that did all this.
I know we’re trying to be very careful about speculation and fact, but one can’t not ask the question, why would the Israelis want to do this? And the Americans were fully on board with the Israelis in the six day war, were they not? Why would such a false flag operation be necessary?
SGT. BRYCE LOCKWOOD: I’ve been asked that question several times, in fact. Some three years ago I was supposed to have a Skype interview with Israel television. They had discussed it with me over the phone. Come the day that we’re supposed to do it live on Israel television suddenly they said they were having technical problems. They would call back in half an hour. The half an hour was up and they never came back.
I believe that there were some–at least three reasons why the Israelis did this. Number one, there was a tacit agreement between the Johnson administration and the Israeli government not to attack Golan Heights. I can understand the Israelis wanting to take the Golan Heights. Syria was in control of Golan Heights at the time. Syria was being supplied militarily and with advisors from the Soviet Union. For Israel to attack Golan Heights would have probably involved Soviet troops and could very well have invited Soviet intervention. So there was a tacit agreement between the Johnson administration and Israeli government not to do so.
The Israelis desperately wanted Golan Heights. That was one of their primary objectives of the six days war, and I could understand that. The Syrians would trot out their artillery pieces and their mortars and pound Israeli kibbutzes and several civilians were being killed and wounded. So the Israelis wanted the Golan Heights.
The Israelis captured had captured an entire Egyptian brigade. And the world knew about that. Somewhere in excess of 850 Egyptian troops, they had pretty well surrendered to the Israelis. That was el–at El Arish, on the Sinai peninsula. On the 8th of June. The Israelis needed those troops to attack Golan Heights, and they had planned on attacking the Golan Heights on the 8th of June, but here’s the U.S.S. Liberty out there, 13 and a half miles off in international waters.
Those troops, 850 of them or more, were ordered to dig their own graves and then brutally murdered by the Israelis.
JAY: How do we know this is true?
LOCKWOOD: As a matter of fact, about 20 years ago two Israeli reporters, one from Israeli television and a news reporter, put that out to the public. That they had found the evidence that had taken place.
JAY: Ray, do you know where the citations are, Ray? Do you know this?
RAY MCGOVERN: Yeah. Yeah, there are also a lot of the Israeli soldiers that had their consciences get to them and confess that they either participated or watched this happen. There’s a historian, I think his name is–let’s say, I have it here, Arie [ye tze kai] of Bar Ilan University. He’s been very careful to tell Israeli radio and as, as sarge says, was 20 years ago now that this all came out. And this is when the Israeli soldiers corroborated this.
So it’s, it’s very well corroborated–corroborated. And Jim Bamford in his excellent book Body of Secrets tells chapter and verse about this.
JAY: Okay. So we’re not saying there’s evidence that connects this attack to these events, but there’s evidence these events took place at this time, and then people can draw their own conclusions from that.
If my memory is correct, at the beginning of the six day war the Israeli air force took out the entire Egyptian air force in a matter of minutes. And this was all supposed to be because the Israelis said they had intelligence that the Egyptians were about to attack Israel. This all turned out to be false, that there was no evidence that the Egyptians planned to attack Israel. The Egyptians, from what I understand of the story, were in a defensive position.
But one of the reasons it came out later that the Egyptians were not about to attack Israel, and this came out, this has been discussed in the Israeli press and it’s not, it’s no big secret in the last few years that this in fact was the history. But it was partly American intelligence-gathering that had, that led, that makes people now understand that in fact Egypt was not about to attack the United States. So that’s another thing that was going on at that time.
Ray, what can you add to this?
MCGOVERN: Well, just to supplement what you just said, Paul, Menachem Begin in the New York Times is quoted as saying, the Egyptians were not about to attack us. We attacked them, and we blamed it on the Egyptians. So you have the Prime Minister of Israel admitting that.
Now, as far as U.S. intelligence capabilities are concerned, the U.S. could easily detect if the Israelis were going [up in] the Golan Heights on that fourth or fifth day of the war because they had no capability–that is, the Israelis could not communicate without using the kind of communications that could easily be intercepted by the Liberty. They didn’t want that. And this is the explanation that Admiral Moorer favors. Namely, the Israelis very much favor asking not for permission but for, for penance or for forgiveness. So they didn’t want the U.S. ambassador storming into the defense ministry saying, we know you’re about to go out on the Golan Heights. Don’t do it. We told you five times now, here’s six. Don’t do it. They much preferred to do it anyway.
The other thing is that these two are not unrelated. El Arish was a real problem for the Israelis. They had come down in excess of three columns. And they collected all kinds of Egyptian forces who surrendered. Now, those people have to be watered. They have to drink water, they have to be taken care of, as sarge says, under the conventions, international conventions. They were a real headache for the Israelis. And besides that, those troops were needed on the Golan. So these things were all kind of connected. They’re not mutually exclusive.
But again, I have to say, the speculation–nobody’s asked the Israelis why they did it. The fact that they did it has to remain inviolate. They did do it. They did do it deliberately, and the United States covered up for them. Why they did it, you know, it’s–it’s incredible that they did it, so it’s really hard to piece together why they would–.
JAY: Well as I say, we’re saying there’s certain things that were happening in the context of the moment. There are, as we understand it, there is verifiable fact that these Egyptian soldiers were killed. We certainly know now that the Israeli accusation that Egypt was about to attack Israel is not the case, the Israelis say so themselves.
There’s certainly been the accusation, I don’t know the topic well enough if this has been verified. Perhaps you gentlemen do. There’s certainly the accusation that when the Israelis took out the Egyptian air force they used American intelligence to know exactly where and how to do it. I’m not sure that really was necessary, because the planes are kind of all out on the runway, I think.
But if the Americans are implicated in essentially a preemptive strike and the Egyptians were not about to launch war, then this all leads to, I guess, the elephant in the room here, which is what did Johnson know and when did he know it? Lyndon Johnson apparently orders back these planes, that could have rescued or prevented the attack or stopped it earlier. So you know, we’re to understand that the Israelis have a plan to sink this boat, so there’ll be no survivors. When Johnson calls back the planes, he must understand he’s facilitating in all likelihood the sinking of this boat.
So why would–just, not to embarrass an ally seems not enough of a reason here. But so far that’s what we know about it.
MCGOVERN: I’d suggest two things, Paul. One is that our intelligence was good enough to know what was going on there before the SOS went up. So it is possible that LBJ learned about this, the White House knew about the attack, when it began. Not when the SOS went up.
The other thing is a more sinister explanation, and that is that in some sources, LBJ is quoted as saying, I don’t–I don’t care about a shipload of U.S. sailors if it means damaging our relations with an ally. That is incredibly cynical, but you know, cynicism I’ve learned is very prevalent in Washington, especially during wartime.
JAY: Well, it’s also not just about–I would think, if, I’m trying to–. Of course, let me just say again, we are all speculating, and we’re trying to say this is speculation, this is hypothesizing. Over here is evidence. But if you’re sitting there as U.S. president at the beginning of the six day war, you are very worried about how the entire Arab world, and the whole world, is going to see the U.S. role in what Israel has just done. And they just wiped out the Egyptian air force, they’re just starting to expand the Israeli border significantly. It’s an offensive assault, it’s not a defensive position, is the truth of it. But the whole storyline is, it’s defensive.
So in that moment, if the sinking of the Liberty can be dressed up as an Egyptian attack on an American boat, that certainly helps the narrative. The narrative being, we are under attack by these Arabs, and we and the Israelis all got to band together and fight.
MCGOVERN: I would have to say that the intelligence was good enough to prevent any American official from believing that version. It just would be incredible that the Egyptians could have done this kind of thing.
JAY: I’m not suggesting they believed any of this, I’m saying it’s part of a propaganda war.
MCGOVERN: Yeah. Well, it seems unlikely to me. The major concern was how the Soviet Union would react. And we know that U.S. forces were put on high alert, DEFCON 4, I believe, because of some of the threatening gestures, speeches, and military moves done by the Soviet Union at that time.
So it was pretty dicey stuff, and what LBJ is concerned about is the Soviet Union coming in on the side of the Arabs. In that sense everything was very dicey, and he made these decisions rather quickly, and he wasn’t about to put up with another irritant here where his allies the Israelis would be totally discredited before the world.
LOCKWOOD: That’s very plausible. But it’s also, the reason why the Israelis did it, that raises a very big question. The whole thing about Soviet involvement is another big question. Our language section was tasked with, when we went in to the Eastern Mediterranean, I was a voice section intercept supervisor. And we were not even tasked against the Israelis. I was told that if we identified any voice target as being Israeli we were to make a notation and drop it. Our primary area of responsibility was the Soviets, which were located at Alexandria.
There were five Soviet Tu-95 Bear aircraft there. And the Soviets had told the world that they had been given to the United Arab Republic. But the truth of the matter was none of the Egyptians were allowed anywhere near those aircraft. They were all manned by Soviet troops wearing Egyptian army uniforms. And my task was to nail down those Soviets, locate them, and find out what they were doing via voice intercept. The reason that sarge was seconded to the Liberty and put on there was because he was a Russian linguist. So that was–.
JAY: You’re saying sarge. You mean Bryce.
MCGOVERN: Yeah, I call him sarge. Sergeant Lockwood, Bryce. The reason he was put on there was because of his Russian language capabilities, and he was guiding the collection of those things.
JAY: So just to sum up, we don’t know for certain what the Israeli intent was, but both of you have no doubt that the Israeli deliberately tried to sink the Liberty and killed these sailors with intent. Yes? This is a summation of where we’re at.
And number two, you are both saying that the evidence says that Lyndon Johnson at some point, whether it’s before or during the attack, makes a decision not to defend the Liberty. Right?
JAY: Now, how come in 48 years there’s never been an inquiry to answer these questions?
MCGOVERN: Well, the answer is that this is a very delicate political problem. And the current relevance, Paul, I would suggest is that the Israelis are capable of doing this kind of thing when they see their supreme national interests at stake. When I say current, I mean the negotiation that is near conclusion on the Iranian nuclear problem. I fully expect that Israeli policy-makers and planners are considering some kind of provocation to prevent that treaty or that arrangement from being concluded.
Now, what could they do? False flag attack. They could do what they did in 2009 and attack and kill five Iranian Revolutionary Guards generals, so put the kibosh on a really good start back in October of 2009. There are limitless things that they could do. And I’m very worried that during the next two weeks we’re going to see one of them. Remember where you heard it first.
JAY: Bryce, you’ve been dealing with your own personal consequences of all this, and many of your comrades of that day that survived, it was a traumatic attack. I assume you’ve been making these demands for some kind of inquiry over this whole period. What kind of answers have you had why there’s not been an inquiry?
LOCKWOOD: I was in my congressman’s office in Springfield, MI just two months ago. I was in there visiting with his Veterans’ Administration representative. And as I was planning, getting ready to leave the office, this young lady said to me, what would you like the Congressman to do? And I said I would like a Congressional investigation, a full Congressional investigation into the attack on the U.S.S. Liberty, which is required by the U.S. Constitution. And she said to me, that is probably not going to happen. It has just been too many years.
JAY: You would think after this many years the documents would all be declassified, and that’s precisely why there could be an inquiry now.
And of course it has enormous importance. Because as Ray just suggested, if this clearly was a false flag operation then why couldn’t it happen again. Thank you both for joining us.
LOCKWOOD: Most welcome.
JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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