Yasser Arafat and his State Department flack

A year ago I wrote a column for the Minneapolis Star Tribune that was republished on RealClearPolitics as “America’s unsettled score with Yasser Arafat.” The column in part briefly told the following story of Yasser Arafat’s responsibility for the 1973 assassination of two United States State Department officers in Khartoum, Sudan, based on information provided in David Korn’s Assassination in Khartoum, Neil Livingstone and David Halevy’s Inside the PLO, and news accounts of testimony provided by former National Security Agency analyst Jim Welsh.
In late February 1973 the NSA listening post in Cyprus had picked up radio traffic of a planned PLO operation in Khartoum. According to Welsh, who received the radio intercepts at the NSA in Washington, an urgent warning intended for the American Embassy in Khartoum was issued by the NSA to the State Department on February 28 but was inexplicably held up as a result of a bureaucratic snafu. See, for example, the WorldNetDaily report “Is U.S. hiding Arafat murders?”
On the evening of March 1, 1973, a gang of eight operatives of the Black September Organization stormed a party at the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Khartoum. The party was held in honor of the imminent departure of George Curtis Moore, the American charge d’affaires at the United States Embassy in Khartoum.
The Black September gang took Moore and two others hostage — Cleo Noel, Jr., the United States ambassador to Sudan, and Guy Eid, the Belgian embassy’s charge d’affaires. Two other diplomats taken by the Black September operatives were released.
The Black September gang demanded the release of Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin of Robert Kennedy, of a Black September leader held in Jordan, and of several members of the Baader-Meinhof gang held in Germany. On March 2, President Nixon and representatives of the other two governments announced that they would not negotiate with terrorists for the release of the diplomats.
The Black September operatives allowed Noel, Moore, and Eid to make out their wills but refused their request to allow them to call their wives. The order to kill the three hostages was delivered by shortwave radio to the Black September operatives in Khartoum by Yasser Arafat or his deputy Salah Khalaf from Beirut. Shortly thereafter that evening, on March 2, 1973, the operatives took Noel, Moore, and Eid to the basement of the embassy and murdered them by firing forty rounds from machine gun fire that raked the bodies of the three men with bullets from their feet to their head in order to inflict the maximum amount of suffering.
From beginning to end the operation leading to the assassination of Noel and Moore was an Arafat/Fatah operation. While working on the column last year, I sought out a State Department spokesman to tell me if the department was undertaking any efforts to bring Arafat to justice for the murder of Noel and Moore. I made several phone calls to the department and sent an e-mail message with a draft of my column to State Department Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs deputy director of press affairs Gregory Sullivan.
I wrote Sullivan: “I have been leaving messages with you and other department officers over the past day or two seeking any information about department efforts to bring to justice Yasser Arafat and others involved in the 1973 assassination of former American Ambassador to Sudan…Cleo Noel and his charge d’affaires, George Cu[rt]is Moore. Attached is the op-ed style piece I have written on the subject, including criticism of the department for its apparent inaction…regarding its own former officers. If my assertions regarding the department’s inaction are wrong, I would like to rewrite the piece to make it accurate. I wonder if you would be willing to take a moment to review the piece and provide me with any information on behalf of the department if I am mistaken.”
In response Sulllivan wrote: “I can’t say I’m impressed with your research or argumentation. You’re obviously writing a piece designed to elicit a certain reaction rather than one based on factual accounts or actual comments made by the U.S. government. I really don’t have the time to do the research for you, but I do find myself compelled to point out…Evidence clearly points to the terrorist group Black September as having committed the assassinations of Amb. Noel and George Moore, and though Black September was a part of the Fatah movement, the linkage between Arafat and this group has never been established.
“If you’re interested in constructive discussion of Mr. Arafat’s role in the violence and terror that has plagued the region, I’d be happy to discuss with you further, but from what I’ve seen of your work, and the low regard you have for the U.S. government [Sullivan apparently equates the U.S. State Department with the U.S. government], I suspect you’re not.”
Given Sullivan’s response, I filed a Freedom of Information Act request for State Department cables and reports on the assassination of Ambassador Noel. Today I received copies of 27 cables from the department’s Central Foreign Policy Records. Tomorrow I will summarize the contents that bear on the question of who did what to whom and ask why the State Department continues thirty years later to cover up for the chief assassin of two of its distinguished officers.


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