by Victor Gilinsky, Roger J. Mattson
Last month the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel (ISCAP), the nation’s highest classification authority, released a number of top-level government memoranda that shed additional light on the so-called NUMEC affair, “the story that won’t go away—the possibility that in the 1960s, Israel stole bomb-grade uranium from a US nuclear fuel-processing plant.”
The evidence available for our 2010 Bulletin article persuaded us that Israel did steal uranium from the Apollo, Pennsylvania, plant of the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC). We urged the US government to declassify CIA and FBI documents to settle the matter. In releasing the current batch—the release being largely due to the persistent appeals of researcher Grant Smith—the government has been careful to excise from all the released documents the CIA’s reasons for fingering Israel. Despite this, the documents are significantly revealing. For one thing, the excisions themselves are a backhanded admission of the persuasiveness of the CIA’s evidence. (Why these excisions are legally justified is not apparent—after nearly 50 years, the “sources and methods” issues have long ago dissipated.)
While we still don’t know exactly what the CIA told high government officials, we do know from the released memoranda that top officials thought the CIA’s case was a strong one. Also, as described in our earlier article, one of us was present at the CIA’s February 1976 briefing of a small group at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). At that session Carl Duckett, then-CIA deputy director for science and technology, told the NRC group the CIA believed the missing highly enriched uranium ended up in Israel.
The newly released documents also expose government efforts, notably during the Carter administration, to keep the NUMEC story under wraps, an ironic twist in view of Jimmy Carter’s identification with opposition to nuclear proliferation.