NUMEC report "Mystery Remains on Missing Uranium"
IRmep fills in John Emshwiller's many information gaps
The November 22, 2013 Wall Street Journal report by John R. Emshwiller attempts to update readers about the story of a 1960s Israeli diversion of nuclear materials from a uranium processor in Pennsylvania. Like most reporting on the "NUMEC" or "Apollo" affair, it fails to tackle the key questions, or elaborate on why the government's decades-long cover-up of the affair is so damaging to American credibility and governance. Below is IRmep's elaboration on points the Wall Street Journal's report (in red) failed to explore and links to accurate source material.
APOLLO, Pa.—Long before a controversy arose over the fate of a nuclear dump near here, this small town was the site of a still-unresolved atomic mystery with potentially global implications.
The NUMEC affair appears to have been officially resolved in secret. The resolution is that it will be covered up. The cover-up involves the government holding onto all relevant documents from the LBJ to Carter administrations that reflect what two high-level CIA officials already declared off the record: that a diversion certainly occurred.
The Wall Street Journal fails to report (although it received the information from IRmep before going to press) that on September 20, 2013 the highest declassification body in the U.S. refused to declassify LBJ administration files about the administration's initial reaction to reports of diversion. The CIA denial is at: http://irmep.org/FOIA/09202013_lbj_memo_iscap_denial.pdf
The mystery: Did the Israeli government jump start a secret nuclear-weapons-development program in the 1960s by obtaining bomb-grade uranium from the U.S., using a company here called Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp., or Numec.
The severely undercapitalized NUMEC precisely fits the profile of an Israeli smuggling front. David Lowenthal, who operated the Apollo Industries umbrella corporation that lent facilities to NUMEC, was a smuggler during Israel's "War of Independence." Two NUMEC board members were Zionist Organization of America executives, Zalman Shapiro and Ivan Novick, who both issued many statements that any act in aid of Israel was of benefit to the United States. The plant was shoddy and polluted the environment because its only real objective was developing access to a stream of U-235. After ten years, mission accomplished, the founding executives abandoned it.
Over the decades, questions about Numec have engaged top U.S. government officials, members of Congress and journalists.
Much of the "engagement" was demanded by members of Congress (and their constituents) who were outraged not only by the diversion, but the apparent government cover-up. President Ford became "particularly concerned with any indication of a prior cover-up."
Israel has never acknowledged having atomic weapons. An Israeli embassy spokeswoman in Washington declined to comment on whether the country has nuclear weapons or obtained bomb-grade material from Numec.
After the 1986 Mordecai Vanunu photos in the Sunday Times of London, and former president Jimmy Carter's May, 2008 confirmation that Israel "has 150 nuclear weapons," no serious news report should qualify Israel nuclear weapons as "purported" simply because the Israelis deny it.
Concerns about Numec first arose in the mid-1960s when some 200 pounds of bomb-grade uranium—enough for possibly several Hiroshima-size explosives—couldn't be accounted for at the company, which among other things supplied nuclear fuel to the U.S. Navy. Company officials attributed the missing uranium to routine production losses.
An FBI investigation in the late 1960s—which drew the interest of top Nixon administration officials, including the president himself—didn't find out what happened to the uranium, according to FBI and other agency documents. But FBI officials did raise questions about suspected dealings between Numec's founder and president, Zalman Shapiro, and Israeli intelligence officials.
NUMEC lost more bomb grade material (339 kilograms) than any other plant in U.S. history, according to official government reports.
The Ford administration ordered a second comprehensive and ongoing FBI investigation of NUMEC, which at its finale during the Carter administration obtained eyewitness accounts of NUMEC officials improperly shipping highly enriched uranium inside of irradiators. That and other damning files can be referenced online at: http://www.irmep.org/ila/numec
In a recent interview, Mr. Shapiro, now 93, denied any theft took place and said his dealings with Israel, where Numec had some commercial activities, were legitimate and to his knowledge never involved intelligence officials.
It is now publicly known that Rafael Eitan, Avraham Bendor, and Ephraim Biegun were all Israeli intelligence officers. Avrham Hermoni was a key coordinator of Israel's clandestine nuclear weapons program. Zalman Shapiro invited and met with them all on September 10, 1968 at NUMEC according to NUMEC memos. 1968 was a year of high material losses at NUMEC. Shapiro also met with spy Jeruhem Kafkafi in a rushed meeting at the Pittsburgh airport which was surveilled by the FBI, though he tried to conceal the meeting from AEC investigators. Shapiro admitted on the record to knowing Binyamin Blumberg, (PDF) the head of LAKAM, Israel's scientific intelligence operation. This admission appears in Seymour Hersh's seminal book about the Israeli nuclear weapons program The Samson Option.
Babcock & Wilcox, which acquired the company in 1971, declined to comment.
The documentary record reveals that Atlantic Richfield and Babcock and Wilcox acquired NUMEC primarily because the Atomic Energy Agency used its power to engineer the acquisitions in order to get Zalman Shapiro out of the company. The AEC did this by "dangling" hundred-million dollar Hanford facility management contracts (PDF) and mandating ARCO (an energy company) take over NUMEC in order to prove it had nuclear "experience." The earlier ARCO buyout allowed Zalman Shapiro and his investors to cash out of NUMEC handsomely. After consulting Israeli government officials, Shapiro immediately tried to get a job with access to advanced hydrogen bomb designs at Kawecki Berylco. The record clearly reveals how AEC and Nixon administration again had to grapple with how to deny Shapiro a sensitive position without upsetting the Israel lobby.
Victor Gilinsky says he first heard about Numec in the 1970s while serving as a commissioner of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. During a briefing, a senior CIA official said his agency believed Israel had built nuclear weapons and that bomb material for some of those weapons came from Numec. "Everyone's mouth just went…," recalls Mr. Gilinsky, pausing to let his jaw drop. The 79-year-old Mr. Gilinsky says his research in the decades since has led him to conclude Israel probably did get bomb-grade uranium from Numec.
The CIA declined to comment.
The way the CIA currently denies access to its NUMEC files is revelatory. In 2013 written denials to researchers seeking access to thousands of CIA documents about NUMEC, the CIA refers to CIA Deputy Director for Operation John H. Stein's 1979 statement that release is impossible "because of the need to have a coordinated Executive Branch position and our desire to protect a sensitive and valuable liaison equity." In plain English, that appears to mean Americans still cannot have official CIA confirmation of the uranium theft because the U.S. president would have to drop the policy of "strategic ambiguity" which involves dodging all questions about Israel's nuclear weapons.This CIA response tactic may be viewed at http://www.irmep.org/ila/numec/08282013_CIA_denial_ref_Stein.pdf
In a 2009 letter to the late Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, who had inquired about the case, the NRC said that while it had no "specific evidence that the diversion of nuclear materials occurred," it also didn't have information "to unequivocally conclude that nuclear material was not diverted." An NRC spokesman says that position hasn't changed.
Senator Arlen Spector, at the urging of Zalman Shapiro and Shapiro's long time legal counsel Arnold and Porter (a firm that is the Israeli government's longest-running registered foreign agent law firm in the United States charged with defending Israeli officials from war crimes litigation) demanded that the NRC to "issue a formal public statement confirming that he [constituent Zalman Shapiro] was not involved in any activities related to the diversion of uranium to Israel."
The effort was part of Zalman Shapiro's bid to obtain a National Medal of Technology and Innovation, the highest US government award to scientists and inventors. This award would have had an effect similar to "pardoning" Shapiro in the way Israel-lobby inspired pardons for Al Schwimmer, Hank Greenspun and a posthumous pardon of Charles Winters "forgave" Israel for launching a massive conventional U.S. arms smuggling ring in the 1940s that violated the Neutrality and Arms Export Control acts.
To its credit, the NRC didn't cave in to pressure, stating "NRC does not have information that would allow it to unequivocally conclude that nuclear material was not diverted from the site, nor that all previously unaccounted for material was accounted for during the decommissioning of the site." Shapiro's bid to be awarded the NMTI award by President Obama failed.
Correspondence from this "behind the scenes" pressure campaign can be reviewed at http://irmep.org/ila/nukes/specter/default.asp
The Wall Street Journal piece on NUMEC, like most mainstream media reporting, doesn't do very much to update readers about the real NUMEC question. All evidence points to Israel stealing U.S. government U-235 from the plant, but that warranted consequences never occurred. (The AEC knew that uranium with the same "signature" as that supplied to NUMEC was picked up outside of Dimona) See former AEC commissioner Glen Seaborg's diary notes at: http://irmep.org/ila/numec/6211978seaborg.pdf
As sabers continue to rattle over Iran's civilian nuclear program, a program that is inspected under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, it is unacceptable that U.S. officials and the elite press refuse to acknowledge Israel's very real arsenal (outside the NNPT) and the full details about how it was created. The U.S. government's failure to deal with NUMEC means it was not upholding its obligations to the NNPT, certainly a motivation to engage in a cover-up.
Americans trying to understand what really happened at NUMEC and the consequences should skip the Wall Street Journal and instead read the book:
Divert! NUMEC, Zalman Shapiro and the Diversion of US Weapons Grade Uranium into the Israeli Nuclear Weapons Program
This IRmep report is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at http://www.IRmep.org.