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IRmep sues for CIA files about the illegal diversion of US weapons-grade uranium from NUMEC

UPDATED: March 3, 2017

On February 13, 2015 IRmep filed a 147 page federal lawsuit (PDF) to compel the Central Intelligence Agency to release all of its files—including operations files—about the illegal NUMEC diversion. On August 31, 2015 (PDF) the CIA released information never before seen by the public indicating that the agency covered up what it knew about the diversion, actively thwarting two separate FBI investigations.

According to a U.S. Department of Energy year 2000 report, the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC), though defunct, retains the U.S. record for the highest pre-1986 “materials unaccounted for” losses of any government-contractor nuclear processing facility in the United States. According to a declassified GAO report, Apollo, Pennsylvania based NUMEC processed scarce government-supplied, unique, highly enriched uranium into fuel for the U.S. Navy, receiving over 22 tons of weapons-grade U-235. Through 1968 more than 330 kilograms of highly enriched uranium disappeared from NUMEC.

In 1968, Israel’s top spy Rafael Eitan visited the plant with his team of Israeli intelligence operatives under false pretenses at the invitation of the plant’s president, Zalman Shapiro. Information about this visit became part of the FBI investigative file on NUMEC. (Exhibit 1) 1968 was the year of highest NUMEC losses.

The plant only returned to normal industry-level losses soon after the Atomic Energy Agency engineered a buyout, termination of Israel jointventures, and transfer of top executives.

According to lengthy investigations by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the earliest demanded by the CIA, NUMEC was unique among U.S. government nuclear contractors in its formal and informal ties to Israel and Israel’s clandestine nuclear weapons operatives and front organizations. Many FBI files are now in the public domain. NUMEC President Zalman Shapiro knew Benyamin Blumberg, who formed Israel’s LAKAM (Bureau of Scientific Relations) intelligence and covert operations agency that collected scientific and technical intelligence abroad. Avraham Hermoni, technical director of Israel’s nuclear bomb project at RAFAEL was Shapiro’s frequent guest both at his home in Pittsburgh and at NUMEC. Shapiro held rushed clandestine meetings with Israeli intelligence operatives such as Jeruhem Kafkafi which took place under FBI surveillance.

NUMEC formed a joint venture, ISORAD, with the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission, later determined to be a front for nuclear weapons development. This “joint venture” required shipping hollow, sealed “irradiators” under non-standard logistical arrangements prioritized to leave the United States as quickly as possible.

According to a 1980 NUMEC employee eyewitness (Exhibit 2) account to the FBI, Shapiro and unknown accomplices stuffed irradiators with highly enriched uranium (HEU) canisters before sealing for rush shipment to Israel.

High officials at the CIA went on the record claiming that Israel diverted HEU from NUMEC for use in its clandestine nuclear weapons program. The head of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) invited CIA Deputy Director for Science and Technology Carl Duckett to brief the NRC about safeguards issues. Duckett told a stunned NRC executive audience not only that CIA believed Israel had illegally obtained HEU from NUMEC, but that the stolen material was used to produce Israel's first atomic bombs. Duckett confirmed the CIA’s finding that Israel had already assembled nuclear weapons by the mid-1960s. Israel began to practice A-4 jet bombing run maneuvers that were only warranted if the explosives being delivered were atomic rather than conventional. Such practice runs to guarantee aircraft and pilot survival "would not have made sense unless it was to deliver a nuclear bomb."

A summary of the CIA briefing was released under FOIA to the Natural Resources Defense Council.

John Hadden was CIA station chief in Tel Aviv from 1963 to 1967 and was tasked with collecting environmental samples outside Dimona for radiation testing. Hadden told congressional investigators, "NUMEC had been an Israeli operation from the beginning but the CIA had not been able to follow the money trail. The agency thought NUMEC had been financed by the owner of Apollo steel mill, Israeli War of Independence veteran David Lowenthal.” Hadden said that any suggestion that Angleton (John Jesus Angleton, the top CIA counterintelligence official and Israel liaison) had actually helped the Israelis with the NUMEC operation was “totally without foundation.”

In a 1978 BBC interview Hadden revealed that Israeli spy Rafi Eitan, who had visited the NUMEC plant at the invitation of Zalman Shapiro, was complicit in the removal of material. "The Israelis, and they are gentlemen. Just imagine to yourself how much easier it would be to remove a pound or two of this or that at any one time, as opposed to—which is inert material—as opposed to removing all at one blow. 150 pounds of shouting and kicking Eichmann. You see, they are pretty good at removing things.”

In the mid-1980s Eitan became publicly known in the United States as the Israeli handler of convicted spy Jonathan Pollard, who served a 30-year sentence.

The CIA discovered traces of enriched uranium in Israel in the mid-1960s, touching off an investigation to determine which handful of countries then in possession of multi-billion dollar gaseous diffusion plants was the source.11 Energy Department officials visiting retired former Atomic Energy Commission head Glenn Seaborg in 1978 told him the signature of the uranium picked up outside Dimona in Israel was of that of a specialized signature provided to NUMEC.

The CIA was initially compelled by President Lyndon B. Johnson to suppress its findings about NUMEC and Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons built with material diverted from NUMEC. When CIA Director Richard Helms advised LBJ of CIA findings, he was ordered by LBJ to not further discuss it.

In July of 1969, according to declassified files, National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger noted “There is circumstantial evidence that some fissionable material available for srael’s weapons development was illegally obtained from the United States about 1965…This is one program on which the Israelis have persistently deceived us,” Mr. Kissinger said, “and may even have stolen from us.”

Concerns in Congress that illegal activity had occurred and was simply covered up triggered new interest in finally determining what had happened at NUMEC during the Ford administration. Attorney General Edward Levi ordered the FBI to investigate whether criminal statutes had been violated in the diversion and whether a government cover-up had  ensued. Another FBI investigation, with additional input by the CIA and General Accounting Office (GAO) commenced and continued until the end of the Carter administration.

The CIA has long taken the position that none of its “source” files about NUMEC or derivative equity content can ever be made public. It has issued blanket denials of Freedom of Information Act requests from the late 1970’s onward filed by such investigative reporters as John Fialka of the Washington Star.

LEGAL DOCUMENTS

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

02/13/2015 Lawsuit seeking all CIA files on the Israeli theft of U.S. weapons grade uranium with the possible collusion the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation management (PDF)
04/29/2015 Benjamin Mizer, Vincent Cohen, and Elizabeth Shapiro assign Zachary Corey to defend the CIA. (PDF)
04/29/2015 Counsel for the CIA denies legal right of plaintiff, through FOIA, to obtain NUMEC files. (PDF)
05/18/2015 Joint status report. CIA 90 days for litigation review. (PDF)
08/20/2015 Second joint status report, major disagreement on proceeding. (PDF)
08/31/2015 CIA releases information about its long-term coverup of NUMEC, lack of cooperation with the FBI, and congressional visits with CIA officials with the aim of getting accountability for the theft. (PDF)
09/02/2015 Transcript, oral argument before the judge. (PDF)
10/29/2015 Transcript, oral argument before the judge. (PDF)
11/04/2015 Supplemental authority (PDF) and exhibits (PDF) filing before summary judgment.(PDF)
12/28/2015 Defendant motion for summary judgement (PDF)
01/28/2016 Plaintiff opposition to motion for summary judgment (PDF)
  Plaintiff motion to file 1st amended complaint naming Department of Justice as defendant (PDFs)
02/11/2016 Defendant's opposition to amended complaint (PDF)
02/17/2016 Plaintiff motion in support of amended complaint (PDF)
03/31/2017 Summary judgement (PDF)
   




 

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