For 24 hours after the United States learned of the hijacking of the cruise liner Achille Lauro last week, U.S. intelligence was unable to locate it in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, it was reported today.
"I don't know why we couldn't do it, but we couldn't," an unidentified U.S. official told the Boston Globe, which said the ship finally was located by Israeli intelligence.
White House spokesman Edward Djerejian declined comment on the report, but a Pentagon source, speaking on condition he not be identified, said of the report, "It just isn't so."
Planes and ships of the U.S. 6th Fleet are crammed with gear theoretically capable of picking up everything from aircraft carriers and submarines to radar equipment and coded radio signals.
Discovered Cleaning Weapons
The newspaper also reported that it was told by a U.S. intelligence official that it was an Italian security officer, not a waiter, as previously reported, who opened the door of the four Palestinians' cabin aboard the cruise ship as they were cleaning their weapons.
This was the event that precipitated the hijacking.
The Palestinians' original intent apparently was to leave the ship at the Israeli port of Ashdod, where they planned to avenge the recent Israeli air attack on PLO headquarters in Tunis, Tunisia, but they were forced to interrupt their mission and hold the ship hostage when they were discovered.
A former U.S. counterterrorist officer told the paper it is the policy of the Italian government to post security agents wherever large groups of people are vulnerable to terrorist attack, such as on a cruise ship.