319. Telegram From the Director of the National Security Agency (Carter) to the White House1

SIGINT Readiness Bravo “Crayon” Report Nr. 2149.

Aftermath of Israeli Attack on USS Liberty, 8 June 1967.

1. General

The following activity is based on Israeli plain language VHF/UHF voice communications intercepted on 8 June 1967 between 1229Z and 1328Z. This activity deals solely with the aftermath of the attack by [Page 542] Israeli jet aircraft and torpedo boats on the USS Liberty (GTR5). There are no COMINT reflections of the actual attack itself.

2. Summary

At 1230Z, two Israeli helicopters 810 and 815, were dispatched by Hatsor to the area of the incident to check for survivors of an unidentified “warship.” Approximately at 1234Z, the air controller at Hatsor clarified the identity of the ship to the two Israeli helicopters by informing them that it had been identified as Egyptian. At 1239Z, Hatsor told the helicopters that it was an Egyptian cargo ship.

At 1307Z, Hatsor told helicopter 815 to take any survivors that spoke Egyptian to El Arish ((31–08N 34–54E)), but if they spoke English to take them to Lod ((31–58N 34–54E)).

At 1312Z, the Israeli helicopter 815 apparently informed Hatsor on a different frequency that it had sighted an American flag on the ship. Hatsor then asked the helicopter to make another pass to check “if this is really an American flag.”

The helicopters and the MTBs were communicating on a UHF frequency whereas the helicopters and the air controller at Hatsor were using VHF throughout. At 1310Z, helicopter 815 informed the MTB using callword “Pagoda” that the ship was not in danger. The same helicopter then reported that G.T.R.–5 was written on the ship and inquired if this meant anything. The MTB replied in the negative.

Throughout this intercept, the USS Liberty is referred to as the “big one” while the three Israeli motor torpedo boats are referred to as the “small ones.” The helicopters used call signs 810 and 815. The air controller at Hatsor Air Base used call word “Tribune.” The MTBs used callwords “Thorn,” “Pagoda,” and “Crisis.” The callword “Jewel” is not identified, but may be Haifa.

3. Details

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Time To From Text
I understand the course from Ashdod ((31–55N 34–39E)) is 215.
Negative ((the course is)) 250.
815 (Tribune) To what altitude are you climbing?
(Tribune) (815) I’m now at 500 feet.
(815) (Tribune)
1230Z Five by.
(815) (Tribune) Pay attention: there was a warship there which we attacked ((1 WD G)), the men jumped from it ((the ship)) into the water, you will try to rescue them.
(Tribune) (815) Roger, I understand it was hit and unable to fire.
(815) (Tribune) No fire was seen from her and those ([less than 1 line of source text not declassified] onboard) did not fire; heavy smoke is rising from her.
(Tribune) (815) Roger.
(Tribune) (815) ([less than 1 line of source text not declassified] crossing the) coast now at a course of 250.
(815) (Tribune) Roger, over. What location ((are you))?
(Tribune) (815) Over Ashdod.
(815) (Tribune) Roger, what’s your altitude?
(Tribune) (815) 500 feet.
(815) (Tribune) Are you able to climb to an altitude of ((1,000 feet))?
(Tribune) (815) Roger, I’m climbing.
(Tribune) (815) Altitude 1 ((1,000)), course 250.
815 (Tribune) Roger.
(815) (Tribune) Are you at sea now?
(Tribune) (815) About 3 or 4 miles.
(815) (Tribune) Roger.
(815) (Tribune) Visual ((radar)) contact with you.
(Tribune) (815) Roger.
(Tribune) (815) ((Calling)) ((repeats)).
(815) (Tribune) At the moment she ((Liberty)) is straight ahead at a distance of about 50 miles.
(Tribune) (815) Roger.
Tribune 810 ((Calling)).
815 (815) Five by, 810 is calling you.
815 Tribune ((Calling)).
(Tribune) (815) Five by.
(815) (Tribune) Pay attention: the ship is now identified as Egyptian, you can return home now.
(Tribune) (815) Roger.
810 (815) Establish communications with you also.
815 (Tribune) Did you receive?
(Tribune) (815) Affirmative, receive, I’m returning.
(815) (Tribune) Roger.
(Tribune) (810) ((Calling)).
(Tribune) 815 ((Calling)).
(Tribune) 810 Am I to return also?
(810) (Tribune) I’ll let you know shortly.
(Tribune) (810) Roger.
Tribune 810 ((Calling)).
(810) (Tribune) Roger, I’ll let you know shortly.
(Tribune) (810) OK.
(Tribune) (8)10 ((Calling)) ((rpts)).
810 (Tribune) You remain meanwhile in communications with me.
(Tribune) (810) Roger, what am I to look for?
(Tribune) 815 ((Calling)).
810 (Tribune) Where are you?
(Tribune) (810) I’m close to Ashdod.
(810) (815) Roger, I’m also close to Ashdod, on the seaward side.
Tribune (810) Did you receive?
(810) (Tribune) What did 815 request?
810 (815) What’s your altitude?
(815) (810) Altitude 500 feet, near Ashdod.
810 (815) Roger, we’re at altitude 1200 feet over Ashdod.
(815) (810) Roger.
810 Tribune ((Calling)).
(Tribune) (810) Five by.
(810) (Tribune) Pay attention: you will continue meanwhile on a course of 250 from Ashdod. The both of you ((1–2 WD G)) will head toward the ship.
815 (Tribune) ((Calling)).
(Tribune) (815) Five by.
(815) (Tribune) Roger, you will continue ((at a course)) of 250 from Ashdod. The both of you will head for the ship, for the time being the both of you will be at altitude 1 ((1000 feet)).
810 (Tribune) Do you see us?
(Tribune) (810) Affirmative, affirmative.
(810) (Tribune) Where are you?
(810) (Tribune) Where are you now?
(Tribune) (810) Ashdod, altitude 1 ((1000)).
(Tribune) (810) Did you receive?
810 Tribune ((Calling)).
(Tribune) (810) Five by.
(Tribune) (810) Altitude is 1 ((1000)), at Ashdod.
(810) (Tribune) Roger.
(Tribune) (810) Going to course 250 together with 815.
(810) (Tribune) Are the two of you together?
(Tribune) (810) Affirmative, we’re together.
(810) (Tribune) Roger.
(810) (Tribune) Pay attention: you ([less than 1 line of source text not declassified] nonetheless) are heading for the ship.
(810) (Tribune) You will try to take the men from the water.
(Tribune) (810) Roger, okay.
(810) (Tribune) For your information: the ship is apparently ([less than 1 line of source text not declassified] burning).
(810) (Tribune) ((1 WD G)) it is an Egyptian cargo ship.
(Tribune) (810) Roger.
(810) (Tribune) Visual ((radar)) contact with both of you.
(Tribune) (810) Roger.
(810) (Tribune) I understand that you ((1–2 WD G)) both of you?
(Tribune) (810) Affirmative.
(810) (Tribune) Roger.
810 Tribune ((Calling)).
(Tribune) (810) Five by.
(810) (Tribune) Take the men to El Arish.
(Tribune) (810) Roger, okay.
(815) (810) Did you receive?
(810) (815) I received, affirmative.
(810) (815) How much fuel do you have?
(815) (810) Two and a half tanks.
(810) (815) I have 1,700 ((liters)).
(815) (810) This isn’t good.
(810) (815) ((1 WD G)) to El Arish.
(815) (810) Roger.
(810) (Tribune) The ship is located now straight ahead at a range of 50 miles.
(Tribune) (810) Roger.
Are you first in line?
Tribune 815 ((2 WD G)) from the coast of El Arish.
Tribune 810 ((Calling)) ((repeats)).
(Tribune) 810 About how many men are there?
815 Tribune ((Calling)).
Tribune 810 How many men are there?
815 Tribune Turn right to ((course)) 260.
(Tribune) (815) Repeat.
(815) (Tribune) Turn right to course 260.
(Tribune) (815) ((Course)), they want to know how many men are there?
(815) (Tribune) At the present time, it still isn’t known, the distance to you is now 33 miles.
(Tribune) (815) Roger.
(Tribune) (815) What is the distance from it ((the Liberty)) to El Arish?
(815) (Tribune) The distance is approximately 30 miles.
(Tribune) (815) Roger.
Tribune 810 ((Calling)).
(810) (Tribune) Five by.
(Tribune) (810) It’s noteworthy that it ((1 WD G)).
(810) (Tribune) Roger.
Tribune 815 ((Calling)).
(815) (Tribune) Five by.
(Tribune) (815) What is the distance?
(815) (Tribune) The distance is now 23 miles.
(Tribune) (815) Roger.
815 (Tribune) Pay attention: call on 86 or on 186 Pagoda.
((Tr Note: 186 and 86 refer to a UHF frequency.))
(Tribune) (815) Roger.
(Tribune) (815) I’m going over to 186.
(815) (Tribune) Roger.
(Tribune) 810 I’m also ((going over to 186)).
(815) Tribune Is someone calling ((me)) Tribune?
(Tribune) (815) Affirmative, I don’t have contact with Pagoda.
(815) (Tribune) Roger, clear, the ship is now at a distance of 19 miles.
(Tribune) (815) Roger, is Pagoda located near ((the Liberty))?
(815) (Tribune) Apparently it’s located near it ((the ship)).
(Tribune) (815) Roger.
815 (Tribune) If you are able, try to call her ((Pagoda)) on 86.
(Tribune) (815) I tried.
(Tribune) (815) I didn’t (C val get anything) ((make contact)).
(815) (Tribune) Roger.
Tribune 815 ((Calling)).
815 Tribune Do you have visual contact? Straight ahead, a distance of 18 miles.
Tribune 815 I have visual contact with ((1 WD G)) smoke or it could be ((1–2 WD G)).
815 Tribune Roger, is there much smoke rising from it?
Tribune 815 Roger.
Tribune 815 I don’t have contact with Pagoda.
815 Tribune Roger.
810 815 ((Calling)).
815 810 Five by.
810 815 Do you have contact with Pagoda?
815 810 Negative.
810 815 Roger, I don’t either.
815 Tribune ((Calling)).
Tribune 815 Five by.
815 Tribune When you begin bringing up the men, clarify by the first man that you bring up, what nationality he is.
815 Tribune And report to me immediately, it’s important to know.
Tribune 815 Roger.
815 TribuneWhat is your altitude now?
Tribune 815 Altitude is 1 ((1000 feet)).
815 Tribune Roger.
Tribune 815 I have ((visual)) contact with a vessel straight ahead ((at a distance of)) 12 ((miles)) a little from the right, smoke isn’t rising; QT the north it isn’t smoking.
815 Tribune The distance is now 13 miles.
Tribune 815 Roger.
815 Tribune Do you see the ship?
Tribune 815 I see the ship, a little to the right of the smoke. The smoke the smoke isn’t rising.
815 Tribune Roger, it’s possible that ((the smoke)) is from one of ours.
Tribune 815 Roger.
Tribune 815 It’s worth clarifying.
815 Tribune Roger.
Tribune 815 Roger, what I see ([less than 1 line of source text not declassified] now) is ours, this is clear.
815 Tribune Roger.
815 Tribune 10 miles is the distance now.
Tribune 815 Roger, I understand at 12 o’clock ((1 WD G)).
815 Tribune Affirmative, a little on the right side.
Tribune 815 Roger.
815 Tribune The distance is now 9 miles.
Tribune 815 I’m going over to 86.
815 Tribune Roger, I request to receive a report, tell me the nationality.
Tribune 815 ((Calling)).
815 Tribune Go ahead.
Tribune 815 Roger, there is a large ship, smoke isn’t rising. At the present time smoke is a little to the right on its left side ((XG)) I see a small vessel.
Tribune 815 Three small vessels.
815 (Tribune) Are you calling me?
Tribune 815 Five by.
815 Tribune Did you call me?
Tribune 815 Affirmative.
815 Tribune Roger, what’s the matter?
Tribune 815 There is a large vessel, near it are 3 small vessels, could this be it, at a distance of a mile from me?
815 Tribune Roger, clear.
815 Tribune Roger, apparently the small vessels are ours.
Tribune 815 Roger.
815 810 ((Calling)).
810 815 Five by.
815 810 What’s the matter?
810 815 Don’t you see it yet?
815 810 I’m behind you, I still don’t see the ship ((1 WD G)) on the right side of us.
810 815 Roger, exactly in front of me, there are the small vessels.
815 810 What’s with them, what’s going on?
810 815 It appears that they are ours.
815 810 On our right side?
810 815 Yes.
815 Tribune All 3 of them are ours.
(Tribune) (815) Roger, the small ones, right?
815 Tribune Affirmative.
Tribune 815 Roger. I’m heading for the big one ((Liberty)).
815 Tribune Are you going for the big one?
(Tribune) (815) Affirmative.
815 Thorn Roger, wait.
Five by.
Roger, transmit.
With you.
((Tr Note: Last 4 transmissions are one way communication—all 4 are from same source—other terminal is on different frequency.))
185 (sic) Thorn We search around and didn’t find anyone.
((Tr Note: It is believed that Thorn made an error and wanted to call 815. The call sign 185 however has been used by an Israeli jet aircraft (either a Mirage or a Mystere). It is of course possible that Thorn had previously been in contact with 185, but if this was the case there are no COMINT reflections of this activity.))
(Thorn) (815) Roger.
(815) (Thorn) The big one ((Liberty)) is not ours.
185 (sic) Thorn How do you read me?
((Tr Note: Again Thorn says 185 vice 815.))
(Thorn) 815 ((Calls)).
815 Thorn We searched around and didn’t find anyone.
Thorn (815) Roger.
Tribune We hear you excellently.
Pagoda 810 ((Calls)).
810 Pagoda Transmit.
(Pagoda) (810) What are you saying?
(810) (Pagoda) Send your report.
(Pagoda) 810 What has to be done here?
Pagoda 810 ((Calls)).
(810) (Pagoda) Search to see if there are men in the water.
(Pagoda) (810) Roger.
(Tribune) I understand and for the big one ((Liberty)).
(Tribune) (Pagoda) Don’t speak on the channel now ((rpts)).
(Pagoda) Five by, it appears to me that I found the men.
Pagoda Affirmative?
(Pagoda) Roger, that’s clear.
(Pagoda) Roger.
(Pagoda) Negative, it’s not men, it’s boats, it’s not men.
Tribune 810 ((Calling)).
810 Tribune Go ahead.
815 810 ((Calling)).
810 815 Five by.
815 810 What’s going on?
810 815 I don’t know anything ((1 WD G)) ((about them)) I’ll try to contact them on 186.
((Tr Note: 815 is trying to get in touch with the 3 small ships on 186 frequency.))
815 810 Are the small ones ours?
815 Tribune ((Calling)).
Tribune 815 Five by.
815 TribunePay attention: if any of them are speaking, and if they are speaking Arabic ((Egyptian)), you take them to el Arish ((31–08N 33–45E)). If they are speaking English, not Egyptian, you take them to Lod (31–58N 34–54E). Is this clear?
Tribune 815 Roger.
815 Tribune Do you see the men?
815 Tribune To whom does the big one ((ship)) belong?
815 810 ((Calling)) ((repeats)).
810 815 Five by.
815 810 Don’t leave the vicinity. If you do leave, report ((to me)).
810 815 I’m not monitoring this channel. I’m speaking on 186 with Thorn. This is the small ones ((sic)).
815 810 Roger, what should be done?
810 815 Search for survivors ([less than 1 line of source text not declassified] whether you find them or not).
Pagoda 815 ((Calls)).
815 Pagoda Transmit.
(815) (810) Roger.
810 Tribune Are you able to go up a little higher in order to see the situation better?
(Tribune) (810) Roger.
810 Tribune ((Calling)). ((Repeats)).
815 Tribune ((Calling)).
815 Tribune Are you over whatever you located?
((Tr Note: It should be noted here that helicopters 810 and 815 are now answering control on another frequency.))
815 Tribune Roger, the first matter to clarify is to find out what their nationality is.
(815) (Tribune) Report to me immediately.
(815) (Tribune) Roger this is clear.
815 Tribune Roger, you watch out for the masts there.
815 Tribune ((Calling)).
(Pagoda) (815) I understand that the ship is not in danger.
(815) Pagoda I am not sure that it ((the Liberty)) is not in danger. Are you suggesting the seriousness of it ((the situation)), by ((saying)) this? ((Tr Note: As heard.))
(Pagoda) (815) Negative, G.T.R.–5 is written (on it).
((Tr Note: Letters G.T.R. sent in English.))
(815) (Pagoda) Roger ((stops)).
(Pagoda) (815) Does this mean something?
(815) (Pagoda) Negative, it doesn’t mean anything.
(Pagoda) (815) From behind it ((Liberty)) several uninflated boats were seen.
(815) (Pagoda) Roger.
815 Tribune You take 810 with you and return home, ([less than 1 line of source text not declassified] bearing) 070, distance of 6 miles.
(815) (Tribune) Five by.
815 Tribune Roger, this is clear, did you clearly identify an American flag?
815 Tribune Thanks, remain meanwhile over the area.
810 815 ((Calling)).
815 Tribune We request that you make another pass and check once more if this is really an American flag.
(Tribune) (815) Roger.
((Tr Note: Do not hear from 815 until 1327Z.))
(Tribune) Five by.
(815) (Tribune) Roger, this is clear, what kind of flag is it?
(815) (Tribune) Roger, this is clear.
(815) (Tribune) Five by, remain meanwhile in waiting, and we’ll report to you immediately.
(815) (Tribune) Is this clear?
(815) (Tribune) Take 810, and return home.
(815) (Tribune) ((Course)) 065, distance of 65 miles.
(815) (Tribune) Roger, this is clear.
(815) (Tribune) Roger, I received, I will notify you immediately as to what to do.
(815) (Tribune) Roger.
(Tribune) Pay attention.
815 Tribune Roger, this is clear. According to the instruction, whoever has the most fuel.
(815) (Tribune) Roger, I’m checking on it.
815 Tribune Pay attention: whoever has the most fuel between you will return home, the one with the least will go to El Arish.
815 Tribune Not at the present time. Apparently the one who is going to El Arish will return later.
(815) (Tribune) Which one of you is going home?
(815) (Tribune) Who is going home?
(815) (Tribune) OK.
[time illegible]
815 Tribune Roger, this is known. I received the notice and it’s known that these orders came from above.
Go over to 170 on the way home.
810 Tribune He says over to 170 on the way home.
(Tribune) (810) Roger.
Jewel 815 ((Calls)) ((Rpts)).
((Tr Note: 815 calls Jewel until 1328Z.))
((End of radio telephone conversation.))

[Page 556]

Comment: This activity had been reported in a condensed version by USA–556 in its 2/J15.[less than 1 line of source text not declassified]/R23–67, 082015Z, and follow-ups.

  1. Source: National Security Agency, NSA Archives, Accession No. 45981, U.S.S. Liberty Correspondence and Messages, 1965–1968. Secret; Savin.