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February 28, 2003

In Memoriam - Cleo Noel and George Curtis Moore

An Interview with Former NSA Analyst, James J Welsh

On January 15, 2003, I posted on IsraPundit and Dawson Speaks an article which examined the hostage-taking and murder of the US diplomats, Cleo Noel and George Curtis Moore, in Khartoum, Sudan, on March 2, 1973. The articles underscored the alleged personal culpability of Yasser Arafat and the alleged coverup by the US government. The article also noted the contribution of former NSA analyst, James J Welsh, to keeping the issue alive in pursuit of justice and truth.

In memory of Noel and Moore, IsraPundit presents below an interview with James J Welsh. We are most grateful to Mr Welsh for taking out the time for the purpose of this interview.


IsraPundit. Mr Welsh, first of all, thank you for agreeing to this interview and for sharing the information with us. Can you begin by describing how you came to know about the Khartoum murder of Noel and Moore? Were you in Khartoum at the time?

James Welsh. No, I was not in Khartoum during the crisis. I was at NSA and was the Palestinian communications analyst for NSA (from 1969 to 1974). I worked with the Sigint materials that were being intercepted between Beirut and the hostage-takers in Khartoum.

IsraPundit. The events that we are talking about occurred thirty years ago, and yet you still seem to be emotionally engaged in this matter. What is the reason for your ongoing interest?

James Welsh. My interest is due to the fact that tapes were made of Yasser Arafat planning, directing and finally ordering the executions of Noel and Moore. On an emotional level, I have never forgotten the way in which the screw-up in notifying Khartoum was dealt with. To protect those who questioned our analysis, the whole affair became a non-event, ostensibely for security reasons. No one at State or NSA who was involved in the downgrading of the warning message ever suffered any consequences. When I asked to speak with the persons responsible for the decision, I was refused. Conversely, due to my heated criticisms of those responsible, I was subjected to a lowered score on my next military evaluation. The message became very clear at that point: enlisted NCOs do not question civilian GS-16s.

IsraPundit. Much has been said about these tapes but they have never been in the public domain. Are you positive that the tapes were indeed made?

James Welsh. The tapes were made. Some were made in Cyprus and others at the embassies in Beirut and khartoum. NSA (and CIA) possessed them and there never was any doubt when I was there that it was Arafat's voice directing the operation from initial intercept on February 28 (the day before!) to its end on March 2. So now you know. It was a long time ago but this man did order the deaths of two U.S. diplomats. We taped his words. I guess there is nothing that can be done now but I often wonder why Yasser Arafat's image and continued presence on the world scene is more important than simple justice for two dedicated diplomats who were murdered thirty years ago.

IsraPundit. What happened after Arafat's messages were intercepted?

James Welsh. I helped draft a warning message on February 28, 1973, that a Black September operation was imminent in Khartoum. The warning was to have gone Flash precedence to Khartoum via State Department but the NSA liaison office and INR got cold feet and downgraded it to routine.

My statement (dated October 25, 2000) to the US Congress on these events reads:

"[A] NSA field station informed us that it had intercepted a conversation between Yasser Arafat and Salah Khalaf, the leaders of Fatah, in Beirut and Khalil al-Wazir in Khartoum discussing preparations for an imminent operation in Khartoum. This information was immediately passed through the chain of command at NSA and ultimately was brought to the attention of the Director, NSA (DIRNSA). A decision was made to send this message at Flash (highest)
precedence to the US Embassy Khartoum via State Department, as channels required. Within three hours this was done and we all felt relieved that at least our embassy personnel in Khartoum would be safe."

IsraPundit. What happened when you discovered that the two US diplomats were murdered, in spite of your warning?

James Welsh. Myself and my co-worker began inquiries into how this had happened. We were told that DIRNSA was at that moment on the way to State Department with a copy of the warning with the intention of discovering why it had apparently not been heeded. At State Department, he was shocked to find out that, on the evening of its transmittal to State Department a Watch Officer, in what is now called the Investigations and Review Section, had downgraded this urgent warning message to a routine cable. It arrived two days after the murders.

The rest is history. Justice was never done in this matter because of a decision to cover up the matter of the warning message. Hence to this day, neither the tapes nor transcripts of Arafat's participation in these murders has ever been officially disclosed or admitted by the United States government. However, during my research, two persons involved in later official US investigations of the issue admitted to me they had read the transcripts of the recordings. In effect, justice for the families of Noel and Moore has been denied for 30 years not because of reasons of state, but to cover the highest levels of the State Department and the White House in March, 1973.

IsraPundit. And how would you explain the eagerness to cover up?

James Welsh. If you recall, this was not a good time for the Nixon administration. I realize these are strong words but I was involved in this from the moment we intercepted the plans to the end of the crisis. Whatever you will read or be told by official sources (department spokesmen, Congressional committees, Justice department officials) is not true.

Unfortunately, a need to cover a terrible mistake in judgement made 30 years ago has allowed Arafat to evade the responsibility for these murders. If you research these murders you will find an almost impenetrable wall surrounding the subject.

You can ask the question: what is so important about an event that occurred thirty years ago, that it is still classified top secret? If Arafat's voice were not on the tapes then why the reluctance to release the tapes or the transcripts? The absence of an answer is in fact an answer. Quite frankly, Mr. Kissinger has the answers. I have it on very good authority the he was responsible for the removal of all records at State Department and destruction of cables at Beirut and Khartoum between Feb 28 and Mar 3, 1973. These cables spoke very candidly about Arafat's involvement during the crisis. It was only after everything had ended that the enormity of the impact the tapes could have on relations with "moderate" Arab governments was realized.

To this day these records are still missing. Many politicians of both parties have staked much on this man. The truth as I have presented it to you is not what they want the public to know. I have never understood how so many senior officials of our government who know of this truth will shake hands with that man. What an insult to [Noel and Moore's] memory and to those who represent our nation today on the diplomatic front.

IsraPundit. It seems that partisan politics are involved. Were you by any chance a Democrat at the time Nixon was president?

James Welsh. I was a supporter of the Nixon Administration and to this day do believe that Mr. Nixon's foreign policy skills were far superior to any other potential political rival at that time. However, we must all face the fact that he and his advisers were fearful of scandal. And this would have been a major one if it were to see the light of day. One could only imagine the headline in the Washington Post.

I have been a lifelong Republican but Nixon in the middle of Watergate made a terrible mistake to cover up Arafat's total involvement in these murders. And the Reagan Administration made a mistake in allowing the State Department to basically smother the Denton committee investigation in the senate in 1986. The pollyanna-ish belief that Arafat can be shaped into a honorable person is responsible for much of what is taking place today.

IsraPundit. Could it be that the information was and is withheld from the public for security reasons?

James Welsh. There is no reason that this particular truth should still be withheld from the American public. They are entitled to know that even to this day our tax dollars are being given to a man who personally ordered the execution of two U.S. diplomats. There are limits to which even foreign policy issues should not require a man to lower himself. Shaking the hand of a murdered of a U.S. ambassador is such a case. Any peace based upon that hand is a delusion.

IsraPundit. Can you point to a specific example of coverup?

James Welsh. Remember, I was NSA's analyst for Palestinian communications. I saw it all. What has disturbed me most are the repeated comments from State and Justice Departments that the evidence of Arafat's involvement was inconclusive and inadmissible as evidence. Those statements were not true. I know it is not unusual that intelligence agencies fail to tell the truth to other bodies outside the intelligence community. But those types of protectionist policies do not always have the impact that this particular disinformation has now had on the world scene. If in 1986 Arafat's taped voice (three days worth) had been released to the American public I do not think that the current mess that Israel is now in would have happened. Arafat would have been a persona non grata as far as the United States was concerned. Acts do have consequences and unfortunately the decision to withhold from the Committee the truth of these tapes may be one of the reasons that Arafat was able to re-invent himself.

IsraPundit. Can you elaborate on Arafat's role?

James Welsh. We (NSA) had intercepted Arafat on the day before (Feb 28) the operation, finalizing the details of the operation (including the code word "Nahr al-Bard" that was to be the signal to kill the hostages). From that moment on, until the end of the operation, Arafat was on and off the radio in communications with the PLO office in Khartoum that was relaying his and Salah Khalaf's instructions to the kidnappers. During the entire time both Arafat and Khalaf were at the Fatah HQ in Shatilla refugee camp where the Fatah radio headquarters were located.

If you were ever told that there was inconclusive evidence of Arafat's direct complicity in this event you were lied to.

IsraPundit. These are grave and specific charges, Mr Welsh.

James Welsh. The charges in my statement to Congress, 25 October, 2000, were specific:

"I now make the following charges:

1. That the existence of the Warning message was covered up in order to prevent embarrassment to the State Department and the White House.

2. That all evidence that the warning message was based upon was collected at NSA and removed from the normal analytical departments were it would normally have been analysed.

3. That all existing copies of cableS sent belatedly to US Embassy Khartoum were collected and destroyed at US Embassy Khartoum per instructions at high level of Department of State or the White House. There would be no embarrassment due to discovery of the delayed warning. (Note that I made this charge on october 25, 2000. Two independent investigations of the National Archives conducted in 2001 and 2002 confirmed my Charges.)

4. That for thirteen years no prosecution or political penalty could be extracted of Yasser Arafat and his subordinates due to the need to keep this warning hidden from any scrutiny. Any public acknowledgement of the existence of the tapes made before, during and after the murders would have inevitably led back to the delayed warning message. That when, in 1985 and 1986, Congress requested then Attorney General Meese to investigate the matter of Yasser Arafat's direct complicity in these murders, the coverup was continued to protect those who had initiated it thirteen years before.

5. That subsequent administrations have, in fact, been appraised of the authenticity of Arafat's voice on the tapes and have chosen, for political reasons, to turn a blind eye to the direct guilt of Yasser Arafat in the cold blooded murders of Cleo Noel and George [Curtis] Moore.

6. That not only did more than one United States intercept site copy conversations between the terrorists in Khartoum and the Fatah office in Beirut but that at least two foreign intelligence agencies did in fact copy said communications and turn them over to the United States government at the time of the affair."

IsraPundit. What became of your statement to Congress? Surely, the charges could not have gone unheeded?

James Welsh. Congress' reaction has been silence. Senator Kyl's office said that "everbody knows arafat is a bad guy". One of my senators sent me a form letter thanking me for my interest in Yasser Arafat.

IsraPundit. In view of what you have just said, how do you feel about the Roadmap and the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state? Even if Arafat is removed from the presidency of such a state, his henchmen will still be at the helm?

James Welsh. I personally don't believe there can be a political solution to this problem for many years to come. A whole generation has been conditioned to hate Israel. The violence must stop before any real progress can be made to a peaceful solution.

IsraPundit. Many articles have been written on the topic, and many of them refer to you and quote you. Have you written any articles yourself?

James Welsh. I personally have not written any articles about the murders. I have been writing (at a rather slow pace) a docudrama description of what happened from the time of the intercept of the planning to the present time.

IsraPundit. Why have you not written information articles ?

James Welsh. I just don't have the time or resources to devote to publicising the issue. Fortunately we have a free press that has done a good job in getting some of the story out.

IsraPundit. Have you maintained contact with individuals or organizations that might have been, or still are, interested in the issue?

James Welsh. I have literally been in contact with everyone who was involved with the exception of Kissinger and Nixon (obviously). But ultimately, our government is the problem here. It holds the key to the truth.

IsraPundit. What is the position of the bereaved families? Have you been in touch with them?

James Welsh. I don't know what their official positions are. They have apparently chosen to keep their feelings private. I did attempt to contact the Noel family through an educational trust they maintain but they did not reply.

IsraPundit. What have been the results of all your contacts and where does this case stand now? Have you any hope that truth and justice will prevail?

James Welsh. I revisited this event in the summer of 2000. I had been observing the repeated visits of Arafat to the united States. I wondered why no one ever brought up the Khartoum incident. When I began to research it on the Internet, I found much information. What struck me as odd was the fact that the official information from government sources (reports and senate hearings) were not as I had recollected and experienced the event. The warning message and the fact of Arafat's voice was on the tapes, were missing in all the official reports. I began to wonder why this information was missing since the event had taken place so long ago. So I just started calling people who were involved in various aspects of the event. I found the story to be bigger than I had thought it to be.

I had left the navy and NSA in April, 1974 and not revisited the subject for nearly thirty years. The more I researched the issue the more I was disturbed at the official record. Evidence of Arafat's personal involvement in the murders had apparently been deliberately removed from official records or had been deleted from records that I obtained from FOIA requests. The question remains today: why has Arafat been protected from the consequences of the Khartoum operation? To this date, no one in any official capacity in the US government will even acknowledge the issue. Think about it. This was a huge event in 1973. It held the attention of the world for several days. Page One stuff. Yet neither Nixon nor Kissinger even mention it in their books. Very strange at the least. The lack of reference to Khartoum is not an accident of omission. They chose not to discuss it for a reason. It certainly was not to protect some anonymous terrorist. Some day, perhaps soon, the official records
will be released and the true culpability of Arafat for the murders of Cleo Noel and George Moore will be established and it will be in his own words.

IsraPundit. How do you explain the silence of the Israeli government? Surely, they, too must have intercepted Arafat's communications?

James Welsh. I understand that the Israeli government has on two occasions given copies of their (identical) tapes of the communications between Beirut and Kharatoum during the crisis to US presidents. I think that the Israeli government has acquiesced to the wishes of our government not to expose Arafat. It is, in a way, a US matter.

IsraPundit. Having contacted the Congress and the press, do you still feel burdened by this affair? It would be more than fair to state that you have done everything humanly possible to inform the public and the elected representatives.

James Welsh. No, I don't feel burdened. I never intended that my innocuous research into something I had experienced thirty years ago would become such a large issue. But what does one do when you find that official records are not correct and the public officials you contact show no interest in the subject?

IsraPundit. In closing, what message would you like to send the world through our readers?

James Welsh. I think the message is that arafat, despite all his posturing and words to the western world, is still a murderous revolutionary whose main goal is the destruction of the state of Israel and the establishment of a socialist state of Palestine.

IsraPundit. Thank you, Mr Welsh, and good luck with your continuing research.

IsraPundit note: For additional material on this topic, use google (or any other search engine) with such key words as Khartoum, Arafat, "Cleo Noel", and "James Welsh" .

Contributed by Joseph Alexander Norland.