The Liberty Incident


Following the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis the United States and the Soviet Union established a “Hot Line” between Washington and Moscow in an effort to provide real time communication between the superpowers and thus prevent a war which might escalate to a nuclear exchange from developing through lack of communication.

The system consisted of a teletype link between the Kremlin and the Pentagon. From its inception, it was used once a year to exchange New Year’s greetings until the morning of June 5, 1967 when Chairman Kosygin sent a message to President Johnson at 7:47 a.m. (which was received in Washington at 7:59 a.m., Washington time, at the Pentagon). When Secretary McNamara learned the U.S. terminal was in the Pentagon, he had the line extended to the White House.

During the 1967 crises a total of twenty Hot Line messages were exchanged. The 11th, 13th, and 14th messages related to the Liberty incident.

My Freedom of Information Act appeals resulted in the declassification of a number of Hot Line messages. 7 Soviet and 7 U.S. Hot Line messages are presented here including the three messages related to the Liberty incident. The English translations of the Soviet messages are preceded by the Russian language messages received from the Kremlin.

Following the texts of the Hot Line messages are two memoranda of conversations made by Nathaniel Davis, on November 4 and November 7, 1968. Both McGeorge Bundy and Ambassador Llewellyn Thompson were present and involved in analyzing the Soviet messages received and drafting the U.S. messages sent.

According to the White House daily diary 20 Hot Line messages were exchanged. 9 from the Soviet Union to the U.S. and 11 from the U.S. to the Soviet Union.

5 June

7:47 Kosygin to Johnson
8:15 Rusk to Kosygin
8:47 Johnson to Kosygin

6 June

5:34 Kosygin to Johnson
10:03 Johnson to Kosygin
6:07PM Kosygin to Johnson
7:45PM Johnson to Kosygin

7 June

8:18 Kosygin to Johnson
11:00 Johnson to Kosygin

8 June

9:48 Kosygin to Johnson
11:00 Johnson to Kosygin (re: Liberty)
11:35 Johnson to Kosygin
12:20PM Kosygin to Johnson (re: Liberty)
3:36PM Johnson to Kosygin (re: Liberty)

10 June

8:48 Kosygin to Johnson
9:30 Johnson to Kosygin
9:44 Kosygin to Johnson
10:50 Johnson to Kosygin
11:31 Kosygin to Johnson
11:54 Johnson to Kosygin

Additional information about the Hot Line may be found at Time Magazine, The Nation, Hot Line Diplomacy, June 16, 1967 at pages 15, 16 and 17, including a picture of the Hot Line teletype machine, and at Vantage Point, Lyndon Baines Johnson, New York: Holt Rinehart and Winston, 1971, at pages 297-304.

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