May 10, 2010

How US Weapons Grade Uranium Was Diverted to Israel

Declassified GAO report exposes fatally flawed Israel investigations

by Grant Smith

. . . "Nuclear Diversion in the U.S.? 13 Years of Contradiction and Confusion" investigates the period between 1957 and 1967 when the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC) received over 22 tons of uranium-235 - the key material used to fabricate nuclear weapons. NUMEC's founder and president Zalman M. Shapiro was head of a local Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) chapter and a sales agent for the Defense Ministry of Israel in the U.S. In the early 1960s the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) began documenting suspicious lapses in security at NUMEC's plant at Apollo, Pa. In 1965 an AEC audit found NUMEC could no longer account for over 200 pounds of highly enriched uranium. Subsequent estimates spiraled to almost 600 pounds.

The GAO was chartered by Congress to investigate four allegations about what happened to the uranium. The first was that "the material was illegally diverted to Israel by NUMEC management for use in nuclear weapons." This was a result of early AEC and FBI investigations into the activities of Zalman Shapiro. The second theory "the material was diverted to Israel by NUMEC management with the assistance of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)" came from the CIA's silence and demonstrated lack of interest in the entire matter. The final theories explored by GAO were more general, that "the material was diverted to Israel with the acquiescence of the United States Government" or "there has been a cover-up of the NUMEC incident by the United States Government."

GAO solicited all available information developed by the CIA, FBI, Department of Energy, and AEC, but was "continually denied necessary reports and documentation . . . by the CIA and FBI." GAO attempted to fill in gaps or outright refusals to cooperate by directly interviewing FBI special agents. The GAO also intended to make the report public, in order to respond to growing public concerns. Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the chairman of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Power, who requested the inquiry, was assured six months before it was issued that only the most sensitive areas in the report would be classified. The CIA and FBI insisted that the entire report be classified at the "secret" level over the objections of Dingell, who said, "I think it is time that the public be informed about the facts surrounding the . . . affair and the possible diversion of bomb-grade uranium to Israel."

The GAO report lambastes the FBI's on-again off-again approach to investigating NUMEC . . .

The passage of time has removed any remaining doubts that NUMEC diverted uranium to Israel. Rafael Eitan, who visited NUMEC in 1968, was later revealed as the top Israeli spy targeting U.S. nuclear, national defense, and economic targets when his agent (U.S. Navy analyst Jonathan Pollard) was arrested spying for Israel in 1985. . . .

In 1968 as Israel noticeably ramped up activities at the Dimona nuclear weapons facility, Secretary of Defense Clark Clifford placed a final urgent call to Johnson, "Mr. President, I don't want to live in a world where the Israelis have nuclear weapons." President Johnson was abrupt before he hung up on Clifford, "Don't bother me with this anymore." By the time Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meier lobbied President Nixon to redefine U.S. non-proliferation policy as "ambiguity" toward Israeli nuclear weapons, Israel's stockpile and number of deployed weapons was steadily growing.

The report reveals why the 2010 Non-Proliferation Review Conference at the UN - like the GAO - isn't really capable of challenging the true drivers of Middle East nuclear proliferation. "Nuclear Diversion in the U.S.? 13 Years of Contradiction and Confusion" is a report so unique and noble in intent that there will probably never be another like it. . . .


Luke Harding and Duncan Campbell, "Israel PM Admits That Israel Has Nuclear Weapons," Guardian, December 13, 2006

Gordon Prather, "The U.S. Is Violating the NPT -- Not Iran,", September 26, 2009

"Mahmoud Ahmadinejad Remarks at the Review Conference of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty,", May 3, 2010

Thalif Deen, "Shielded by US Umbrella, Israel Joins OECD," Financial Times, May 17, 2010

[Secret South African documents reveal that Israel offered to sell nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime, providing the first official documentary evidence of the state's possession of nuclear weapons.--Chris McGreal, "Revealed: how Israel offered to sell South Africa nuclear weapons ," Guardian, May 24, 2010]

"'The Unspoken Alliance': New Book Documents Arms, Nuclear and Diplomatic Ties Between Israel and Apartheid South Africa,", May 25, 2010

[Following NPT conference's unprecedented decision to name Israel as country whose nuclear facilities must be inspected, with US endorsement, State official claims President Obama provided Netanyahu with unequivocal assurances for Israel's strategic abilities--Attila Somfalvi, "State official: Obama provided Israel with historic guarantees,", May 30, 2010]

[The President emphasized that the United States will continue its long standing practice to work closely with Israel to ensure that arms control initiatives and policies do not detract from Israel's security--"Readout of the President's Meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel," The White House, July 6, 2010]

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