On Feb. 28, 1973, James J. Welsh, the National Security Agency’s Palestinian analyst, was summoned by a colleague about a communication intercepted from Yasser Arafat involving an imminent Black September operation in Khartoum, Sudan.
Within minutes, Welsh recalls, the director of the NSA was notified and the decision was made to send a rare “FLASH” message — the highest priority — to the U.S. Embassy in Khartoum via the State Department.
But the message didn’t reach the embassy in time. Somewhere between the NSA and the State Department, someone decided the warning was too vague. The alert was downgraded in urgency.
The next day, eight members of Black September, part of Arafat’s Fatah organization, stormed the Saudi embassy in Khartoum, took U.S. Ambassador Cleo Noel, diplomat Charge d’Affaires George Curtis Moore and others hostage. A day later, on March 2, 1973, Noel, Moore and Belgian Guy Eid were machine-gunned to death — all, Welsh charges, on the direct orders of Arafat.
Welsh, who left the Navy and NSA in 1974, speaking publicly for the first time to WorldNetDaily, accuses the U.S. government of a 28-year-old cover-up of Arafat’s role in the planning and execution of the attack.
“Over the years I have kept my silence about what I know about this tragic episode,” Welsh told WorldNetDaily. “But recently I began to wonder how recent administrations could overlook something as terrible as this in our dealings with Yasser Arafat.”
When President Clinton invited Arafat to the White House for direct negotiations on the Middle East, Welsh says, that was the last straw. He has been on a personal one-man mission to uncover the tape recordings and transcripts of those intercepts between Arafat and Fatah leader Salah Khalaf, also known as Abu-Iyad, in Beirut and Khalil al-Wazir in Khartoum.
So far, Welsh has not found many allies among members of the U.S. Congress — in either party.
“No one wants to touch this thing,” Welsh says. “It’s a hot potato. No one wants to be responsible for derailing the Mideast peace process.”
But Welsh thinks the American people, who are footing much of the bill for Arafat’s current activities, have a right to know about his personal responsibility for the murder of two Americans. And he is the first American involved directly in the affair to charge publicly what has long been rumored — that Arafat ordered the embassy takeover and the murders of the American diplomats.
“I have decided that my oaths of secrecy must give way to my sense of right and wrong,” he told WorldNetDaily. “I was particularly outraged as I had spent four years following these individuals and, at the moment of our greatest intelligence coup against them, an uninformed GS level had pooh-poohed our work and cost the lives of two U.S. diplomats,” he recalls.
Welsh immediately began demanding answers about the breakdown in communication that led to the tragedy.
“After some effort, I was told that the choice was mine: Shut up or lose my clearance and get ready for Fleet Oiler duty within 48 hours,” he said. “I gave in.”
Welsh believes the initial cover-up of the communications breakdown and the role of Arafat was launched to prevent embarrassment to the State Department and White House. President Nixon, he points out, was in the death throes of the Watergate scandal at the time. The last thing he needed, Welsh speculates, was an international scandal to deal with on the front page of the Washington Post.
Later, after Nixon was gone, Welsh believes the whole matter of the Arafat tapes was kept quiet to protect the future viability of signals intelligence intercepts of this kind. And, finally, he says, the cover-up persists to foster Arafat’s role as a “peacemaker” and leader of the Palestinian cause.
“Yet, there is no statute of limitations on murder,” Welsh says. “Obviously the United States cannot go after Yasser Arafat and put him on trial. But the American people deserve to know the truth about a man and his associates to whom we now give millions, if not billions of taxpayer dollars.”
In fact, in 1985 and 1986, Congress requested then-Attorney General Ed Meese to investigate Arafat’s complicity in the murders of the diplomats.
On Feb. 12, 1986, some 47 U.S. senators, including now-Vice President Al Gore, petitioned Meese “to assign the highest priority to completing this review, and to issue an indictment of Yasser Arafat if the evidence so warrants.”
However, the one critical piece of evidence needed to warrant an indictment — the tape recordings — was not produced by the NSA, the Central Intelligence Agency or the State Department.
“These tapes do exist,” claims Welsh. “I participated in their production. But no one has ever been willing to come forward and acknowledge their existence.”
Welsh recently received responses from the three separate agencies to Freedom of Information Act requests for the recordings or transcripts.
“I had written them (CIA, State and NSA) on three different dates,” says Welsh. “Guess what? All three agencies just happened to have all written their replies on the same date — Dec. 21, 2000.”
Back in 1973, Welsh had received spontaneous transcripts of the dialogue between Arafat and his subordinates. But, under NSA protocol, he was not permitted to keep copies. Under normal procedure, he expected copies of the final transcripts and tapes to arrive on his desk for further analysis. They never came.
“Things were recorded but never arrived at my desk,” he recalls. “I know they were recorded because I was receiving simultaneous reports from a collection site. The warning I drafted for the State Department was based on those reports.”
Over the years, there have been reports that the Israelis also had tapes of Arafat ordering the executions of the U.S. diplomats and that Jerusalem provided copies to Nixon. Gen. Ariel Sharon said in 1995 that Israeli intelligence gave tapes proving Arafat’s culpability in the murders to the U.S State Department and White House in March 1973.
Arafat reportedly ordered the eight gunmen to surrender peacefully to the Sudanese authorities. Two were released for “lack of evidence.” Later, in June 1973, the other six were found guilty of murdering the three diplomats. They were sentenced to life imprisonment and released 24 hours later to the PLO.
During their trial, commander Salim Rizak, also known as Abu Ghassan, told the court: “We carried out this operation on the orders of the Palestine Liberation Organization and should only be questioned by that organization.”
Sudanese Vice President Mohammed Bakir said, after questioning the six: “They relied on radio messages from Beirut Fatah headquarters, both for the order to kill the three diplomats and for their own surrender Sunday morning.”
“I know Yasser Arafat was a direct player in the murder of our diplomats and so has every U.S. administration since Richard Nixon’s,” says Welsh.
Before surrendering, the Khartoum terrorists demanded the release of Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, the convicted assassin of Sen. Robert F. Kennedy, as well as others being held in Israeli and European prisons. Nixon refused to negotiate.
Will the full story of the Khartoum diplomatic murders ever be fully told? Will the tapes ever be released by American officials?
“When Arafat dies, possibly the tapes will be acknowledged, but not released,” predicts Welsh. “Oil, oil, oil. That’s the big fear. If Arafat were to be destroyed politically — and this would do it — the Arab world would reply with a boycott we would not be able to deal with.”
What’s the lesson from this 28-year-old tale of murder and international intrigue?
“I guess there may be no statute of limitations on murder, but there is a statute of importance,” says Welsh. “If you can evade justice for your crime long enough, then it will be forgiven if you are an important person. So much for the honor of our government.”