Mark Ira Kaufman
Mark Ira Kaufman

The First Great Teflon Terrorist: Arafat’s Munich Encore

Embed from Getty Images

The day after the September 11 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center Palestinian Authority President Yassar Arafat publicly donated a pint of blood at a hospital in Gaza City for victims of the most deadly attack on the United States in the nation’s history. “We will give what we can for this tragedy,” he said.

“This is the beginning of a campaign by the Palestinian people to donate blood.” (In spite of this attempt to minimize the public relations damage caused by televised Palestinian jubilation over the carnage, there have been no reports of other Palestinians giving blood.)

As Arafat lay on a gurney with a tube attached to his arm he announced to the assembled journalists a “…call for a minute’s silence in memory of the innocent people” killed, and that he would “…mourn for their souls.”  No minute of silence ever took place.

Arafat’s blood donation was staged.  During a talk at Harvard University in 2008 France 2 television reporter Charles Enderlin admitted that the famous scenes of Yasser Arafat donating blood after the 9/11 attacks were staged. Enderlin said the event had been set up for the media to counteract the embarrassing television images of Palestinians celebrating in the streets after the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.

Asked if he wanted to speak to the American people, he looked into the nearest television camera and said three times in English: “God bless you.”

Contrast Arafat’s public display of sorrow for the murder of 3,000 Americans with is his central role in an obscure 1973 event that ultimately defined his invincibility.

According to American and other western intelligence sources, Arafat, then leader of the Fatah terrorist organization, was in the Black September radio command center in Beirut when the order was sent out to assassinate U.S. Ambassador to the Sudan Cleo Allen Noel, Jr., George Curtis Moore, Noel’s chargé d’affaires at the American embassy in Khartoum, and Belgian Ambassador Guy Eid.

Black September, the same Arafat-led group that carried out the assassination of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Summer Olympics, was a newer more violent sub-group of Fatah, created to keep Arafat’s organization the recruiting leader among terrorist groups in the Arab world.

Mr.’s Noel, Moore and Eid were captured when Black September Organization terrorists stormed the Saudi Embassy in Khartoum in a siege during a reception the diplomats were attending.

American intelligence was monitoring communications between the Fatah/Black September command center in Beirut and the Saudi embassy in Khartoum, where the hostages were being held. Arafat’s voice was reportedly monitored and recorded.  Arafat personally congratulated the guerrillas after the execution of the three diplomats.

A long-buried CIA report, found in the National Archives by a historian chronicling President Nixon’s career, reveals that the CIA, former Secretary of State William Rogers and many other officials were well aware of Arafat’s role in the 1973 assassination of two U.S. diplomats and a Belgian diplomat by Arab terrorists.

Former National Security Agency operative James J. Welsh was a witness to such a communication intercept. Welsh was the NSA’s sole Palestinian analyst at the time.

Welsh, who left the Navy and NSA in 1974, suggests that the U.S. government has engaged in a three-decade cover-up of Arafat’s role in the planning and execution of the attack.

Welsh was the first American directly involved in the affair to confirm what has long been suspected for decades – that Arafat ordered the embassy to be seized, and then issued the order for the American diplomats to be murdered.

During my own interviews with Welsh I asked if Arafat was the one who actually issued the order to murder the kidnapped diplomats.

“Arafat did indeed give the order to carry out the executions,” said Welsh. “The order was the code phrase “Cold River” (Nahr alBard in Arabic). Even more damning was the fact that the execution of these men was not a spontaneous action arising out of frustrations with any sort of negotiations process but, rather, was a premeditated plan that we [NSA] intercepted on Feb. 28, 1973.

“This was two days before the men were murdered. The event has been called “Operation Cold River” by many who have written of it. What was not understood until I decided to reveal what I knew was that the phrase “Cold River” was the command to carry out the executions and not the name of the operation.”

Welsh added, “There were two orders to carry out “Cold River.”

The first was issued by Salah Khalaf (Abu Ayad) to Ahmed Sa’dat (Abu Ghassan). (As one ascended to high rank within the PLO, he would take on a nom de plume beginning with the patronymic “Abu,” Arabic for “the father of.” Arafat was known within the organization as “Abu Ammar.”) Ghassan assented to the order.

Approximately a half hour later, Arafat called back and enquired why had there had been no announcement to the local (Khartoum) press about carrying out “Cold River.” Then Arafat himself instructed Sa’dat to carry out “Cold River.”

“A few minutes later, Abu Ghassan (Sa’dat) radioed Arafat and Khalaf in Beirut that they had carried out their mission. The hostages were machine-gunned to death. Arafat then praised them for their devotion to the Palestinian revolution and told them to surrender to the Sudanese authorities.”

On Arafat’s legal culpability, Welsh said “In some legal circles it might be argued that Khalaf was the one issuing the order. I have never been interested in the legal question of Arafat’s guilt, although I am sure of that also.

“What is important is that Arafat, as the leader of Fatah and Black September, was in control of the events from the time we intercepted their communications on Feb 28 until March 2 when the murders were committed. At all times it was evident that Arafat was, as always, the Supreme Commander, as he liked to be called.

“Neither Khalaf or the other hostage-takers did anything without the consent of Arafat. Understand that during the entire time of this episode that Arafat and Khalaf were inside the Fatah Headquarters at 17 Fakhani Street in Beirut where Fatah’s communications room was located. Arafat has always had a way of deflecting responsibility for the activities of those under his command or control. He gives an appearance of an overly indulgent parent with a large brood of mischievous children. In this case, we had him cold on tape.

“At the very least, Arafat was guilty of criminal conspiracy in premeditated murder. It doesn’t matter whether he pulled the trigger or gave the first command or the second. His authority was the final word on the mission”

In 1985 and 1986, members of Congress requested Attorney General Edwin Meese to investigate Arafat’s complicity in the murders of the diplomats. Meese did not act on the first request.

On Feb. 12, 1986, a bipartisan group of 47 senators petitioned Meese “…to assign the highest priority to completing this review, and to issue an indictment of Yasser Arafat if the evidence so warrants.” Meese dismissed the second petition, claiming that America had insufficient evidence to pursue the matter.

The most likely reason nothing has been done to hold Arafat accountable for the murder of these two American diplomats is that their assassinations would have been prevented had it not been for a lethal blunder.

Welsh described the sequence of events:

“Two days before the murder of Cleo Noel and George Moore in Khartoum, I was called to a TTY to talk to a Navy shipmate overseas. [A TTY, or teletypewriter, was a pre-internet state-of-the-art printing telegraph instrument that has a signal-actuated mechanism for automatically printing received messages sent from a TTY having a keyboard similar to that of a typewriter for sending messages.] He had first hand information of an imminent Black September terrorist operation to be carried out in Khartoum.

“I immediately called my supervisor, and within minutes the matter was presented to the Director of NSA. A decision was made to send a FLASH [the most urgent of four priority levels] precedence message to the US Embassy Khartoum via State Department warning them of this danger, since it was truly imminent. Having done this we proceeded to put all available NSA resources possible on this source. We felt tremendous satisfaction from a job well done. We knew our embassy personnel would be safe.

“I can’t recall the exact time but I remember being called at home to turn on TV and come in to NSA. On the news was the story of the hostage crisis as it was unfolding.”

Welsh’s reaction to a crisis he believed had been averted was total surprise.

“We were shocked! How could the Ambassador have gone to the Saudi Embassy? As can be expected, things were chaotic and we did not find out until Monday morning that a terrible blunder had been made.

“A State Department Watch Officer had received the FLASH message almost immediately, and then on her own had downgraded the message to routine precedence. It got to Khartoum two days after the diplomats were murdered.

“The Director of the NSA went personally to the State Department in a very angry mood.”

What happened next might best be described as politics at its worst. Welsh continued, “I can only guess what happened there. But when he returned those of us who had been involved in this matter were informed that it was over, that a mistake had been made and there was nothing that could be done about it.

“Subsequently, we awaited the usual tapes and hard copies of transcripts of the overseas source. We never received them.”

The Nixon administration, already sinking in the quicksand of the Watergate scandal, had all the incentive necessary to conceal such a lethal blunder by the State Department.

“I guess Arafat’s direct involvement in these murders of our diplomats was not allowed to see the light of day because Nixon’s State Department had to cover-up this blunder,” said Welsh.

As each successive administration defined Arafat as essential in its quest to broker a workable peace plan between Israel and the Palestinians, the State Department mistake would stay buried.

In 2000 Welsh, outraged over unrelenting government indifference to the assassinations, sent the following letter to a number of appropriate members of Congress:

—– Original Message —–

From: James J Welsh


Sent: Wednesday, October 25, 2000 9:04 PM

Subject: Statement of James J. Welsh

Dear Member of Congress,


My name is James J. Welsh. Twenty-seven years ago I was a Signals Intelligence analyst for the National Security Agency. I was, along with another individual, responsible for the analysis of Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) communications.

On approximately 27 March 1973, 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. How wrong we were.

On the morning of March 1, 1973 I was called at home by NSA to turn on the Television and come in to work. As I saw the news my heart sank. The US Ambassador and the Deputy Chief of Mission were being held hostage at the Saudi Arabian Embassy by members of the Black September Organization, a Palestinian terrorist group whose credits included the Munich Olympic Games Massacre.

How could this be? We sent them the warning. They would never have gone to that reception under these conditions. There was much confusion at the time and I and other analysts began to try to make sense of the chaotic happenings we were following.

Finally the terrible news was revealed – the Ambassador and Chief of Mission were dead.

We eventually went home.

On Monday morning the subject in our area was obviously nothing but this topic. (Note that all knew of this tragedy but only a few knew of the warning message).

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.

Within the G7 group where we worked there was a great deal of outrage. 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 US diplomats. I demanded to confront this person (a rather naive desire I must admit) and find out why she had done this.

After some effort by my supervisor, a Navy Officer, I was told that the choice was mine: Shut up or lose my clearance and get ready for Fleet Oiler duty within 48 hours.

I gave in.

Over the next week, we awaited the arrival of the field intercept tapes and transcriptions. At least we would be able to gain valuable insight into this terrible affair and maybe even someday help punish those responsible. We waited. Finally I remember asking when the tapes would arrive. I was puzzled by the answer:

Oh, they’ve been looked at and there isn’t much there. !!!!!?????

Wait a minute. Then, how could the field guys have given us all this detailed information that we based the warning message on and which in fact occurred two days later?

Something was not right. In addition, our folders with all our materials of the hostage crisis were never returned to us from the higher levels to which they had gone during the crisis. We in effect had nothing now of this affair.

The cover-up had started. And it would last 27 years.

I should have gone to Congress 27 years ago and I do so belatedly now. 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:

“State Dept Fails to Warn Embassy, Ambassador, Assistant Dead!”

No, that could not happen.

I now make the following charges:

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

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 analyzed.

That all existing copies of cable 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.

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 cover-up was continued to protect those who had initiated it thirteen years before.

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 Moore.

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.

After twenty-seven years I can come to no other conclusion for the lack of interest by the government of the United States in holding Yasser Arafat at least politically liable, if not legally, than that there was a cover-up due to the delayed, bungled delivery of the warning message.

In over two months of talking to actual principals in the affair, to those who have written the definitive books on the incident, to those in Congress who took testimony on this tragic event, not one, not one solitary person has acknowledged any knowledge of a warning message.

But we have a source. Those who participated with me in the writing of this message still live. You will be able to finally find the truth if you will subpoena them to come before your committee. I will give you their names in secret.

Next I believe I know the name of the State Department Watch Officer who downgraded the message. I will supply that name to you also.

Members of Congress, it is now up to you. I have given you what I believe are the keys to unlock the puzzle of why Yasser Arafat walks the halls of the White House with impunity in spite of everyone’s belief in his personal guilt. Follow this trail and you will find the true answer.


James J. Welsh

Welsh’s letter might as well have been written in invisible ink for all the impact it had.

In the decades since these assassinations, and in spite of the Bush administration’s recognition of Arafat as a monkey wrench in the machinery of Middle East peace, no American administration held Arafat accountable for this assassination.

In January of 2003 Congressional representatives introduced a resolution known as the Koby Mandel Bill, named for the 13-year-old American boy in Israel who in 2001 was ambushed by Palestinians and bludgeoned to death with rocks. It calls for terrorists involved in attacks on American citizens to be pursued, prosecuted, and punished, regardless of the terrorists’ country of origin or residence.

Even though the Koby Mandel Bill became law, Arafat was never be brought to justice in America for his crimes.

No American administration ever pursued Yassar Arafat for the Khartoum massacre.

Embed from Getty Images

About the Author
Mark Ira Kaufman majored in physics. He later worked as a studio musician for many years before turning to writing. He has been published in The Plain Dealer, The Beacon Journal, The Jerusalem Post, and Midstream Magazine. He also was writer and editor of The Mark Ira Kaufman Journal.
Related Topics
Related Posts