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Reporters Accuse Johnson Administration of Misleading Public on Liberty Incident

May 31, 1968
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The Johnson Administration was accused today of misleading the American public on the facts of the accidental Israeli attack on the USS Liberty during the Six-Day War. The charges were contained in a book, “Anything But The Truth,” offered as an expose of “The Credibility Gap,” by White House correspondents William McGaffin and Erwin Knoll.

According to the writers, “When Congressmen, responding to letters from relatives of the dead sailors, demanded to know why the ship had been so close to the Israeli shore, the Pentagon offered an explanation…nothing short of ludicrous. It said the position was required so that the Liberty could use the moon as a passive reflector for its communications…One Defense Department official, who winced at his Department’s claim, quipped that the Liberty — to keep up with the changing position of the moon — would have had to sail right across the sands of Sinai.”

McGaffin and Knoll said “the truth, which leaked out soon enough, was that the ship was a spy vessel, equipped with elaborate electronic surveillance gear and assigned by the National Security Agency, which specializes in breaking the military codes of other nations. Presumably, the Liberty was monitoring Israeli and Arab battlefield communications.”

Israel paid the U. S. $3,323,500 in compensation this week to the families of 34 Americans killed on the Liberty last June 8. The Liberty was hit by jets and torpedo boats while in international waters 15.5 nautical miles off the Sinai coast. Israel explained later that the attack resulted from the mistaken belief that the ship was Egyptian.

The book asserted that when the crisis grew worse last spring, “President Johnson issued a flat directive to all members of his Administration to discuss no aspect of the situation with the press…Americans were left in the dark on the President’s thinking and the Government’s plans.” When reporters disclosed that the United States had no real intention of keeping commitments to Israel on the Tiran Straits blockade, “The President grew angry…but no effort was made to set the record straight or to furnish a basis for accurate reports,” the book asserted.

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