WASHINGTON (Jun. 29)
The U.S.S. Liberty received an order to withdraw from the war zone tragically late because the ship was not under Sixth Fleet command owing to its intelligence agency control, high-ranking Naval sources said today in commenting on the findings of an inquiry.
These sources said the Liberty was operating in a clandestine manner owing to its function as an electronic "ferret ship." Instead of receiving its operational guidance from the Sixth Fleet which was familiar with the situation in the area, the Liberty could move only with the authority of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. This order was transmitted in a faulty manner and arrived only after the tragic error was made by Israeli forces.
Reports received in Washington today from Israel quoted highly-placed sources as revealing that the Liberty answered an identification challenge with the same signals used by Egyptian destroyers during the 1956 war. An Israeli torpedo boat asked the Liberty to identify herself. The Liberty signaled back "A-A," meaning "identify yourself first." This was the same signal given by the Egyptian destroyer Ibrahim E1 Awal in 1956 when she tried to bombard Haifa and was captured.
When the Israelis received the Egyptian routine in reply, and were unaware from any U.S. source that an American ship was off the coast, the attack was ordered. It was broken off immediately upon determination that the ship was American. The Naval court of inquiry, which revealed the misrouting of operational orders to the Liberty said the ship’s captain could have moved further out to sea on his own initiative.