from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2003, Issue No. 12
February 10, 2003


A new Freedom of Information Act lawsuit seeks the disclosure of the missing documentary pieces of the puzzle surrounding the attack on the American intelligence vessel U.S.S. Liberty by Israeli forces during the Six Day War on June 8, 1967, in which 34 U.S. sailors were killed.

"There was no apparent provocation" for the attack, according to the National Security Agency (NSA), "and the reason for the attack has never been fully resolved, although Israel described it as an identification error and sent restitution for the damage and loss of life."

The predominant view is that the Israeli strike on the Liberty was in fact a case of mistaken identity and operational error, rather than a knowing and willful attack on the United States.

But Liberty survivors such as Capt. James Ennes have argued that the attack, which took place on a clear day against a nearly unarmed ship over a period of several hours, must have been deliberate. Yet a credible motive for such a deliberate assault has been lacking.

Author James Bamford, in his best-selling book "Body of Secrets," proposed that Israel attempted to destroy the Liberty in order to cover up an alleged massacre of Egyptian prisoners of war that was supposedly taking place nearby. But this presumes incongruously that Israel would commit a massacre against its (American) ally in order to conceal another massacre against its (Egyptian) enemy. No historian of the war accepts such an analysis.

However, Bamford also brought to public attention the fact that there was a previously undisclosed NSA recording of the attack, acquired by an EC-121M electronic surveillance aircraft flying overhead, and that this recording remained classified.

Now a FOIA lawsuit has been filed in the Southern District of Florida to try to compel the NSA to declassify and release the recording, along with related materials concerning the Liberty.

The suit has been brought by A. Jay Cristol, author of "The Liberty Incident: The 1967 Israeli Attack on the U.S. Navy Spy Ship" (Brassey's, 2002), which appears to be the most comprehensive and thoroughly documented independent study of the Liberty case. The author, who is himself a former naval aviator and federal judge, concluded, in a nutshell, that the attack on the Liberty was a horrific accident.

In his FOIA lawsuit, Cristol observes that he has already had access to the substance of the recorded intercepts, which he obtained from the Israeli Air Force, and that he has published annotated translations of them in his book. Therefore, since they are already in the public domain, he argues, the NSA has no grounds to maintain their classification.

The text of Cristol's FOIA complaint, filed 21 January 2003, is available here:

Information about his book, as well as related documentary resources, may be found here:


Federal regulations require employees to "report" on their coworkers, notifying authorities if their behavior raises security concerns.

But "despite formal policies, very few reports are made," according to a new study performed for the Defense Department. Why?

"One of the reasons that supervisors and employees gave for seldom reporting is that they personally could not see the precise connection -- the nexus -- between certain behaviors and national security. They said that they do not know where to draw the line between egregious security-related behaviors and gray-area suitability or personal behaviors...."

"There will always be some tension between the rules associated with supervisor and coworker reporting and cultural values not to inform on colleagues," according to the report.

See "Improving Supervisor and Coworker Reporting of Information of Security Concern," by Suzanne Wood and Joanne Marshall-Mies, published by the Department of Defense Personnel Security Research Center, January 2003:


The Bush Administration's handling of the nomination of Miguel Estrada to be a D.C. Circuit Judge is yet another example of the Administration's high-handedness and pervasive secrecy, according to Congressional Democrats who oppose the nomination.

"The stonewalling on the Estrada nomination is part of a larger systematic effort by this administration to disable the Senate, to govern in secret, to advance the interests of big business over the public interests," said Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) on February 6. See:


An internal Justice Department draft of possible follow-on legislation to the USA Patriot Act would significantly expand federal surveillance authorities while curtailing public disclosure of information. The draft, which has not been introduced in Congress, was obtained by the Center for Public Integrity and released on February 7. An HTML version is posted here:

In an effort to assuage, or perhaps derail, bipartisan concerns about the scope and intent of the Total Information Awareness program, the Defense Department announced the establishment of two advisory committees to help provide oversight of the controversial data mining program. See:

A Washington Post editorial stressed the importance of correcting the over-broad exemption to the Freedom of Information Act that was hastily included in last year's Homeland Security Act. The Post cited a superior Senate alternative co-authored by Senators Bennett and Leahy, but neglected to mention the third co-author, Sen. Carl Levin, who recently elicited a commitment from Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to help correct the problem (SNews, February 4). See "Fix This Loophole," February 10:


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) will sponsor an unusual kind of contest next year, in which unmanned autonomous vehicles will race from Los Angeles to Las Vegas.

"The purpose of the race is to encourage the accelerated development of autonomous vehicle technologies that could be applied to military requirements," according to an announcement on the DARPA web site.

A one million dollar cash prize will be awarded to the winner.

"Vehicles must be unmanned (no humans or other biological entities onboard) and autonomous. They must not be remotely driven," the notice states. Furthermore, "No classified data or devices can be used by a team during or in preparation for this race."

The web site includes a FAQ that answers key questions such as "Can my vehicle attack other vehicles?"

See DARPA's "Grand Challenge" web site here:


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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