CIA releases files about Illegal weapons-grade uranium diversions from US to Israel - IRmep

Sep 08, 2015, 10:41 ET from Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy

WASHINGTON, Sept. 8, 2015 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The Central Intelligence Agency released 130 pages of reports, memos and other files about the 1960s diversion of weapons-grade uranium to Israel from the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation NUMEC formerly headquartered in Apollo, Pennsylvania. (PDF of CIA files and release statement). The August 31 CIA release came in response to a lawsuit (Lawsuit PDF) filed by the director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy (IRmep) on February 13, 2015.

Many of the file memos record CIA briefings in the late 1970s to members of Congress inquiring whether the diversion was a covert CIA operation.  Arizona Democrat Morris Udall asked bluntly on August 23, 1977 "Is it possible that President Johnson, who was known to be a friend of Israel, could have encouraged the flow of nuclear materials to the Israelis?"

Associate Deputy Director for Operations Theodore Shackley and Deputy Director for Science and Technology Carl Duckett repeatedly denied that the CIA played any role.  In support of their argument, they noted that it was CIA Director Richard Helms who first alerted the Justice Department, requesting in 1968 (earlier release PDF) that the FBI conduct a "discreet" intelligence investigation into NUMEC president Zalman Shapiro's activities.

The FBI investigation documented Shapiro's many meetings with Avraham Hermoni who directed nuclear weapons development in Israel, and Shapiro's invitation to top covert operative Rafi Eitan, who later ran spy Jonathan Pollard, to visit NUMEC facilities in 1968. The now-defunct Atomic Energy Commission successfully organized the transfer of NUMEC's ownership to another contractor.  After an AEC interview with Shapiro that raised more questions than it answered, the FBI shut down the investigation in 1969.  After Shapiro left NUMEC, the AEC engineered his transfer from a position in which he sought to handle advanced hydrogen bomb designs into a less sensitive job working on breeder reactors in 1972.

The Ford Administration Attorney General Edward Levi opened a second NUMEC investigation to find out whether there had been a NUMEC diversion and a government cover-up.  The newly released files reveal that on June 6, 1977 Shackley briefed the FBI special agents in charge who were frustrated that since they hadn't firmly established that the diversion took place, they couldn't begin to address the second question about a cover-up. They pleaded for "new information" from the CIA.

The files reveal that it was in fact old CIA information the FBI needed. Every CIA director had withheld a key finding from investigators.  According to a released May 11, 1977 report by Shackley, the "CIA has not furnished to the FBI sensitive agent reporting…since the decision was made by Directors Helms, Colby and Bush that this information would not further the investigation of NUMEC but would compromise sources and methods."

That "sensitive agent reporting," is contained in the still-redacted contents of a top-secret two-and-one-half page September 8, 1969 memo from Helms to Richard Nixon and copied to the Secretaries of State and Defense.  This memo presumably refers to clandestine environmental sampling in Israel that picked up, according to the Department of Energy, "enriched Uranium-235" (PDF) of the highly unique signature supplied to NUMEC. According to the Department of Energy, NUMEC losses of highly enriched uranium were greater than any US contractor.  (DOE PDF) When presented by DOE with the evidence in June of 1978, retired Atomic Energy Commissioner Glen Seaborg subsequently refused to be interviewed by FBI special agents.  But the FBI never received CIA evidence it could have used during scores of interviews of other reluctant witnesses during the field investigation.

The CIA recorded that FBI investigators "indicated that even if they came up with a case, it was extremely unlikely that Justice and State would allow it to come to trial…they feel that they have been given a job to do with none of the tools necessary to do it."  Although in 1981 special agents finally interviewed a former NUMEC employee who had witnessed the means of the diversion—Zalman Shapiro and other NUMEC officials stuffing HEU canisters into irradiators sealed and rushed to Israel (FBI PDF)— lacking the missing CIA puzzle piece the FBI investigation went dormant as the statute of limitations for Atomic Energy Act violations expired.

Today the razed NUMEC facilities sites near Apollo will cost $350 to $500 million to toxic waste cleanup over the next decade according to US Army Corps of Engineers estimates.  CIA Tel Aviv Station Chief John Hadden, whose findings are redacted from the new release, publicly characterized NUMEC as "an Israeli operation from the beginning..."

IRmep plans to further court actions to obtain full release of CIA operations files that would allow Apollo residents to sue the Israeli government directly for cleanup costs and massive health-related damages caused by the smuggling front, or have the funds deducted from Israel's annual $3.5 billion package of foreign aid from the United States. (See the IRmep Center for Policy and Law Enforcement for the lawsuit, oral argument transcripts and other legal updates.)


SOURCE Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy