How Arafat got away with murder

Yasser Arafat was responsible for the 1973 Black September operation in Khartoum that resulted in the murder of the American ambassador to Sudan (Cleo Noel) and his departing aide (Curt Moore). I read everything I could get my hands on about the operation for the Weekly Standard article “How Arafat got away with murder,” including key cables released by the State Department in the immediate aftermath of the murders.

I originally obtained redacted copies of the cables from the State Department in response to a Freedom of Information Act request in 2003 and wrote about them at the time on Power Line as well as in a column for the Minneapolis Star Tribune. After I wrote about them that year, I got a call at work from out of the blue.

“Mr. Johnson?” the caller inquired. “This is Jim Welsh,” he said. Eureka! Welsh is the former National Security Agency analyst who had overheard Arafat’s discussions with his operatives regarding the operation via the NSA listening post in Cyprus and issued an emergency warning to the State Department regarding the impending attack. He thought his warning would stave it off.

Jim has been trying to figure out what happened ever since. He has collected virtually every scrap of information that has appeared in the public record over the years. He asked if I was interested in continuing my investigation into what had happened. When I told him I was, he offered to send me his set of clippings on the assassination and its aftermath. I took him up on the offer and used Jim’s file materials to put together the history related in the Weekly Standard article after the cables were officially released.

Whatever happened, the United States government knew from the moment of the murders that Arafat was responsible for them. Why did we let Arafat get away with murder and continue his maniacally destructive career as a terrorist? It’s a question that has haunted Jim and many other observers.

With Jim’s assistance, Andrew Wilson is revisiting the case in two or more columns for the American Spectator. The first of the columns, just posted online, is “What did Arafat get for killing US diplomats.”

Henry Kissinger is a key to the story and could resolve it if he chose. I scoured Kissinger’s memoirs for his comments on the assassinations. Kissinger addresses them somewhat elliptically. Here is what I wrote in the Standard article:

The murders of Noel and Moore convulsed the State Department. One would never know it, however, from reading Henry Kissinger’s invaluable memoirs of the period during which he served as national security adviser (early 1969 to January 1975) and secretary of state (concurrently, September 1973 to January 1977). President Nixon replaced Rogers [whose name appears on the relevant State Department cables] that summer [of 1973] with Kissinger. Kissinger’s memoirs maintain a discreet silence regarding Arafat’s responsibility for the Khartoum operation. Noting only that Noel and Moore were killed by “Black September Palestinian terrorists,” Kissinger makes no mention of Arafat, Fatah, or the PLO in this connection.

Set against the backdrop of the detailed knowledge possessed by the government (certainly including Kissinger himself), Kissinger’s silence provides a valuable clue to understanding the State Department’s public silence about Arafat’s responsibility for the murders of Noel and Moore and the subsequent U.S. treatment of Yasser Arafat. In the fall of 1973 and early 1974, as part of his larger diplomatic efforts in the Middle East, Kissinger authorized the late Vernon Walters, then deputy director of central intelligence, to undertake the first meetings of an American representative with the PLO. In a sentence that makes little sense outside the context of Khartoum, Kissinger states in his memoir that after Walters’s second meeting with Arafat’s representative, “attacks on Americans–at least by Arafat’s faction of the PLO–ceased.” With his “characteristic swaggering efficiency and discretion” (Kissinger’s words), Walters seems to have worked out a modus vivendi that precluded any accounting with Arafat for the murders of Noel and Moore….By June 1974, Thomas Ross was reporting in the Chicago Tribune that crucial State Department cables from the American embassy in Khartoum had been destroyed on the basis of an order that “could have come only from a high level in the State Department or the White House.”

From Kissinger’s memoirs I turned hopefully to those of the late Vernon Walters recounting his awe-inspiring career, Silent Missions. What did Walters say to Arafat in that 1974 meeting after the murders? Walters’s meeting with Arafat is one silent mission that remains enveloped in silence. He says absolutely nothing about it.

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