Israel's 1967 attack on U.S. ship deliberate, book says
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A new book quotes U.S. officials around during the 1967 Israeli attack on a U.S. surveillance ship as saying the attack was not an accident -- as Israel has always claimed -- but deliberate.
The attack, in which 34 American sailors died, was carried out to prevent the United States from eavesdropping on Israeli military activities, author James Bamford writes.
The USS Liberty was attacked during the Six Day War on June 8 by air and sea forces off the Sinai coast. Israel said the ship was mistaken for an Egyptian one and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson then accepted the explanation.
Israel later paid modest reparations to the families of the 34 Americans killed, and to the 171 others who were injured.
What the Israelis did not know, according to "Body of Secrets" -- published by Doubleday and scheduled for release Tuesday -- is that the U.S. National Security Agency had a surveillance plane flying above the Liberty.
The book quotes by name a Hebrew-English translator on that U.S. plane as saying the Israeli pilots talked about completing an attack. He said "they mentioned an American flag" -- suggesting the Israelis knew they were attacking a U.S. ship.
Bamford's other named sources include a former top N.S.A. official who conducted a review of the attack and an Air Force major general.
Israeli officials have not responded to CNN calls seeking comment.
Bamford writes that National Security Agency intercepts of the Israeli pilots and sailors remain secret to this day, although his sources say the communications would clearly show the Israelis attacked the U.S. ship deliberately.
As for motive, Bamford speculates in the book that the Israelis may not have wanted the United States to know that "at that same moment, a scant dozen or so miles away, Israeli soldiers were butchering civilians and bound prisoners by the hundreds, a fact that the entire Israeli army leadership knew about and condoned, according to the army's own historian."
Survivors of the attack on the USS Liberty have long argued that the Israelis had to know they were attacking an American ship, since the ship was circled repeatedly at a low altitude by Israeli aircraft before the attack and the ship was flying U.S. flags.
Bamford is an intelligence specialist and the author of a previous best-selling book about the NSA called "The Puzzle Palace."
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