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US Gave Weapons Grade Uranium to Israel

How US Weapons Grade Uranium was Diverted to Israel
Declassified GAO Report Exposes Fatally Flawed Israel Investigations
By Grant Smith
May 16, 2010 "Antiwar" May 10, 2010 -- The 2010 Review Conference of
the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons is underway at
UN Headquarters in New York. A working paper calls for a nuclear-free
Middle East. It would require member states of the NPT to "disclose in
their national reports on the implementation of the resolution on the
Middle East all information available to them on the nature and scope
of Israeli nuclear facilities and activities, including information
pertaining to previous nuclear transfers to Israel." On May 6, 2010,
the Government Accountability Office (formerly known as the General
Accounting Office) released the previously secret 1978 report "Nuclear
Diversion in the U.S.? 13 Years of Contradiction and Confusion"
[.pdf]. It fills in important historic gaps about weapons-grade
uranium diversions from the U.S. to Israel.
U.S. presidents have long acquiesced to "strategic ambiguity" – a
policy of neither confirming nor denying that Israel even possesses
nuclear weapons. This pretext has allowed the U.S. to deliver the
lion's share of its foreign assistance budget to Israel, despite clear
legal prohibitions imposed by the Glenn and Symington amendments to
the Foreign Assistance Act. UN member countries have long suspected
that the United States either turns a blind eye or actively supports
the transfer of know-how, weapons-grade uranium, and dual-use
technology to Israel. The 62-page General Accounting Office
investigation and correspondence confirms the United States refuses to
mount credible investigations that would enable warranted prosecutions
of the perpetrators.
"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 FBI, which had the responsibility and
authority to investigate the alleged incident, did not focus on the
question of a possible nuclear diversion until May 1976 – nearly 11
years later. Initially, the FBI declined DOE's request to conduct an
investigation of the diversion possibility even though they are
required to conduct such investigations under the Atomic Energy Act…."
The FBI's initial investigation during the 1960s quickly zeroed in on
NUMEC management, but FBI recommendations for action were stymied.
According to the GAO, "The FBI became so concerned about the security
risks posed by NUMEC's president that they asked DOE whether it
planned to terminate his security clearance or stop the flow of
materials to NUMEC. According to the FBI's liaison with GAO, the FBI
recommended that NUMEC's operating license be taken away…." When the
FBI request was ignored, it dropped the entire investigation between
1969 and 1976.
It took a direct order from President Gerald Ford in 1976 for the FBI
and Department of Justice to "address the diversion aspect." The
renewed investigation soon led to reversals of official U.S.
government positions on NUMEC. According to the GAO report, "until the
summer of 1977, the only publicized Government view on the NUMEC
incident was that there was no evidence to indicate that a diversion
of nuclear material had occurred." By February 1978, the Nuclear
Regulatory Commission (NRC) announced it had "reconsidered" its
previous position that there had been "no evidence" to support
But the 11-year gap "obviously hampered" the effort. The GAO revealed
that the DOE's nuclear materials safeguards, which before 1967 tracked
the monetary value rather than the precise mass of the uranium, were
seriously flawed. NUMEC claimed key records covering a period of heavy
uranium loss were destroyed during a "labor dispute" in 1964. NUMEC
paid a $1.1 million fine for 206 pounds of missing uranium in 1966,
which closed the DOE case. NUMEC also hired away one of the DOE's
chief on-site investigators to enhance the appearance of serious
materials control and accountability. The GAO found that even by 1978
the FBI had not contacted key individuals in the affair. An FBI
agent-in-charge told the GAO it did not investigate the source of
funds to pay NUMEC's DOE fine anticipating "legal difficulties." So
the GAO investigated the matter, placing its own telephone calls to
Mellon Bank.
The GAO report is highly critical of the CIA: "From interviews with a
former CIA official and with former and current officials and staff of
DOE and the FBI we concluded that the CIA did not fully cooperate with
DOE or the FBI in attempting to resolve the NUMEC matter." The report
is inconclusive about exactly what happened at NUMEC, but not about
the agencies involved in the investigation through 1978. "We believe a
timely, concerted effort on the part of these three agencies would
have greatly aided and possibly solved the NUMEC diversion questions,
if they desired to do so."
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.
According to Anthony Cordesman, "there is no conceivable reason for
Eitan to have gone [to the Apollo plant] but for the nuclear
material." CIA Tel Aviv station chief John Hadden called NUMEC "an
Israeli operation from the beginning," a conclusion supported by its
startup financing and initial ties to Israeli intelligence. Why both
the Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon administrations failed to
credibly investigate NUMEC as a diversion challenge is also now
John F. Kennedy's direct diplomatic pressures for U.S. inspections of
Israel's Dimona reactor grew throughout 1962-1963. During a Dec. 27,
1963, meeting with Foreign Minister Golda Meir, Kennedy expressed his
hope that the relationship was a "two-way street." Meir reassured
President Kennedy that there "would not be any difficulty between us
on the Israeli nuclear reactor." Kennedy delivered a final ultimatum
to Israel on July 5, 1963, insisting that Dimona undergo serial
inspections "in accord with international standards" in order to
verify its "peaceful intent." Simultaneously, the Kennedy Justice
Department was waging an intense battle behind closed doors to
register and regulate Israel's elite U.S. lobby, the American Zionist
Council, which was bringing in funds from overseas to lobby. Kennedy's
assassination in November traumatized the nation and led to the
complete and permanent reversal of both initiatives.
According to Avner Cohen, in 1958 Israeli Prime Minister David Ben
Gurion had arranged with Abraham Feinberg, a "major Democratic
fund-raiser," to secretly finance a nuclear weapons program among
"benedictors" in America. Abraham Feinberg, who backed Harry S.
Truman's successful whistle-stop election campaign, was personally
succinct about his role in the U.S. political system: "My path to
power was cooperation in terms of what they needed – campaign money."
Feinberg opened doors in Congress for up and coming leaders of the
Israel lobby, including AIPAC founder Isaiah L. Kenen. According to
Seymour Hersh, "there is no question that Feinberg enjoyed the
greatest presidential access and influence in his 20 years as a Jewish
fund-raiser and lobbyist with Lyndon Johnson. Documents at the Johnson
Library show that even the most senior members of the National
Security Council understood that any issue raised by Feinberg had to
be answered." His power and role in financing Lyndon B. Johnson's
election prospects temporarily quashed scrutiny of Israel's nuclear
weapons program – in the U.S. and abroad – at a critical moment.
On Oct. 14, 1964, less than three weeks before the 1964 presidential
elections, Johnson's top administrative assistant Walter Jenkins was
arrested in a public restroom on sexual solicitation charges. At least
$250,000 Abraham Feinberg raised for Johnson was located in Jenkins'
office safe. Johnson phoned his trusted aides Bill Moyers and Myer
Feldman with orders to move the cash, which they did with the help of
a heavy briefcase. Israel would later replenish Feinberg's coffers (as
it had with Zalman Shapiro through sales commissions) with
multi-million dollar favors, such as major ownership in the nation's
Coca-Cola franchise.
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. While it leaves unexplored the ongoing presence, influence,
and effect of Israel's lobbyists working at the center of U.S.
presidential administrations, for concerned Americans the GAO provides
a snapshot of a moment in time before their Congress, aspiring
politicians, and mid-level management of government agencies all "got
the memo."
In 2010 that unwritten memo reads something like this: Crimes
committed in the name of Israel – no matter how audacious – will never
be properly investigated, let alone prosecuted… so don't waste your
Grant F. Smith is the author of the new book Spy Trade: How Israel's
Lobby Undermines America's Economy. He is a frequent contributor to
Radio France Internationale and Voice of America's Foro
Interamericano. Smith has also appeared on BBC News, CNN, and C-SPAN.
He is currently director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern
Policy in Washington, D.C.
This article was first published at

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