204. Editorial Note
On June 8, 1967, at 8:03 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time (1203Z; p.m. local time), the U.S.S. Liberty was attacked and hit by unidentified jet fighters, which made six strafing runs. Twenty minutes later the ship was attacked by three torpedo boats. One torpedo hit the starboard side. At the time, the Liberty was heading northwest in international waters, a little more than 13 nautical miles from the Sinai coast, approximately 25 miles northwest of El Arish. (Proceedings, U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry; Naval Historical Center, Operational Archives Branch, Immediate Office Files of the Chief of Naval Operations, 1969 Files, Box 110, Liberty Incident, 8 June 1967, Court of Inquiry; Chronology of Events, Naval Security Group File on U.S.S. Liberty; Naval Security Group Files, Box 702, CNSG Pre-76 Inactive Files 168, NAVSECGRU File on U.S.S. Liberty) At 1235Z, a message from the U.S.S. Saratoga to the Commander in Chief, U.S. Naval Forces, Europe, repeated to the Commander, Sixth Fleet, relayed a message from the Liberty: "I am under attack. My posit 31.23N 33.25E. I have been hit. Request immed assistance." (Telegram 081235Z from U.S.S. Saratoga to CINCUSNAVEUR, June 8 Naval Historical Center, Operational Archives Branch, U.S.S. Liberty Incident, Message File, Vol. II)
At 1250Z, the Commander, Sixth Fleet, ordered the U.S.S. America to launch four armed A4s, with fighter cover and tankers, which were to proceed to 31-23N 33-25E to defend the Liberty, and the Saratoga to launch four armed A1s with the same mission. (Telegram 081250Z from COMSIXTHFLT to USS Saratoga and USS America, June 8; ibid.) At 1316Z the Commander, Task Force 60, reiterated the order to the America and the Saratoga, adding, "Defense of USS Liberty means exactly that. Destroy or drive off any attackers who are clearly making attacks on Liberty. Remain over international waters. Defend yourself if attacked." (Telegram 081316Z from CTF 60 to USS America and USS Saratoga, June 8; ibid.) At 9:11 a.m. (1311Z), the Commander in Chief, European Command, notified the National Military Command Center by telephone that the Liberty was under attack, had been hit by a torpedo, and was listing to starboard. (See Document 219.)
Information concerning the U.S.S Liberty and its mission is in William D. Gerhard and Henry W. Millington, Attack on a Sigint Collector, the U.S.S. Liberty (National Security Agency/Central Security Service, 1981), in National Security Agency, Center for Cryptologic History Historical Collection, Series VIII, Crisis Files, Box 16. Files of message traffic pertaining to the Liberty are in the Naval Historical Center, Operational Archives Branch, U.S.S. Liberty Incident, Message File; ibid., Immediate Office Files of the Chief of Naval Operations, 1969 Files, Box 113; National Security Agency, Center for Cryptologic History Historical Collection, Series VIII, Crisis Files, Box 16; ibid., NSA Archives, Accession No. 45981, U.S.S. Liberty Correspondence and Messages, 1965-1968; and Naval Security Group Files, Box 896, U.S.S. Liberty Pre-76 Inactive Files, Box 1, USS Liberty 5750/4, Chronological Message File.
205. Memorandum From the President's Special Assistant (Rostow) to President Johnson/1/
Washington, June 8, 1967, 9:50 a.m.
/1/Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, NSC Histories, Middle East Crisis, Vol. 3. No classification marking. A handwritten "L" on the memorandum indicates the President saw it. Rostow telephoned the President at 9:49 a.m. This memorandum apparently confirmed information Rostow had given him in that telephone conversation. At 10 a.m., Johnson telephoned Secretary McNamara. (Johnson Library, President's Daily Diary) No record has been found of either of these conversations.
We have a flash report from the Joint Reconnaissance Center indicating that a U.S. elint (electronics intelligence) ship, the Liberty, has been torpedoed in the Mediterranean. The ship is located 60-100 miles north of Egypt./2/
/2/At 10:15 a.m., National Security Agency Director General Marshall S. Carter telephoned Naval Security Group Director Captain Cook to request that he telephone Secretary McNamara with information about the Liberty and the number of personnel aboard. At 10:30 a.m., Deputy Naval Security Group Director Captain Thomas briefed McNamara by telephone about the Liberty, its mission, its location, and the personnel aboard. McNamara asked whether the Joint Chiefs of Staff had directed the ship's withdrawal to 100 miles from shore. Thomas could not confirm this. (Chronology of Events, Naval Security Group File on U.S.S Liberty, Naval Security Group Files, Box 702, CNSG Pre-76 Inactive Files 168, NAVSECGRU File on USS Liberty)
Reconnaissance aircraft are out from the 6th fleet.
We have no knowledge of the submarine or surface vessel which committed this act.
We shall keep you informed.