Former Officials Seek U.S. Disclosure on Alleged Israeli Nuclear Theft

Victor Gilinsky, third from left, is sworn in as one of the first Nuclear Regulatory Commission members in 1975. Gilinsky and veteran U.S. atomic insider Roger Mattson last week said revealing classified findings on a decades-old alleged nuclear theft by Israel could help support Washington's current diplomacy.
National Journal
Diane Barnes
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Diane Barnes
April 21, 2014, 10:17 a.m.

Two former atom­ic of­fi­cials say re­veal­ing U.S. find­ings on a dec­ades-old al­leged nuc­le­ar theft by Is­rael may bol­ster Wash­ing­ton’s present-day dip­lomacy.

De­clas­si­fy­ing all in­vest­ig­at­ive data on the 1960s-era dis­ap­pear­ance of weapon-grade urani­um from a Pennsylvania atom­ic plant could boost U.S. cred­ib­il­ity in cur­rent nuc­le­ar ne­go­ti­ations, former Nuc­le­ar Reg­u­lat­ory Com­mis­sion of­fi­cials Vic­tor Gil­in­sky and Ro­ger Matt­son ar­gued in e-mail re­sponses to ques­tions from Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire.

In an art­icle pub­lished last week by the Bul­let­in of the Atom­ic Sci­ent­ists, they said pub­lic de­tails have already cast sus­pi­cion on Is­rael, which also is widely be­lieved to pos­sess an un­ac­know­ledged atom­ic ar­sen­al.

By with­hold­ing data and pub­licly down­play­ing any Is­raeli link to the highly en­riched urani­um lost in Apollo, Penn., the United States ap­pears to have ac­ted in sup­port of Is­rael’s atom­ic policies, the au­thors said in the com­ments provided to GSN. They said the stance has un­der­mined Wash­ing­ton’s cred­ib­il­ity as it presses oth­er coun­tries to curb their sens­it­ive atom­ic activ­it­ies.

“We’ve lost a great deal of re­spect around the world on the sub­ject of non­pro­lif­er­a­tion,” Gil­in­sky told GSN. Cit­ing one ex­ample, the former NRC com­mis­sion­er said Wash­ing­ton’s re­luct­ance to openly dis­cuss Is­rael’s nuc­le­ar activ­it­ies has hampered the U.S. abil­ity to overtly press its Middle East­ern ally to par­ti­cip­ate in a planned con­fer­ence on elim­in­at­ing weapons of mass de­struc­tion from the Middle East.

“The pres­id­ent doesn’t even ac­know­ledge that Is­rael has nuc­le­ar weapons, which means no one in the gov­ern­ment can, either,” he told GSN. “Lev­el­ing on [this] af­fair, pain­ful as it might be in the short run, would be a step to­ward what you might call a real­ity-based policy in this area.”

For dis­clos­ure to be likely, though, Pres­id­ent Obama must “see it in his polit­ic­al be­ne­fit to do so,” Gil­in­sky wrote. “If he wanted to, he could do it at any time, but I am not hold­ing my breath.”

Still, there is no con­sensus that Is­rael ob­tained the urani­um that went miss­ing from the fa­cil­ity op­er­ated by Nuc­le­ar Ma­ter­i­als and Equip­ment Cor­por­a­tion. Com­pany head Za­l­man Sha­piro has con­sist­ently denied any trans­fer, and in­vest­ig­at­ive journ­al­ist Sey­mour Her­sh has con­ten­ded that the plant gradu­ally lost the ma­ter­i­al in the course of routine op­er­a­tions.

Ac­cord­ing to Matt­son, dis­clos­ing all U.S. find­ings on the dis­ap­pear­ance would serve Wash­ing­ton’s in­terest, even if Is­rael was not the per­pet­rat­or.

He ar­gued in an e-mail that in dia­logue with na­tions such as Ir­an and North Korea, “it is im­port­ant for all sides to come to the table openly and hon­estly, as they de­clare their vari­ous in­terests in the deal they are try­ing to strike.”

“If full de­clas­si­fic­a­tion of the dec­ades-old doc­u­ments proves Amer­ica has already told the truth, so much the bet­ter. If it does not, then let’s atone for past mis­takes and go back to the ne­go­ti­at­ing table re­freshed by the ex­per­i­ence,” he wrote.

In 1976, the CIA in­formed NRC of­fi­cials that hun­dreds of pounds of U.S. urani­um had likely ended up “in Is­raeli bombs” after go­ing miss­ing years earli­er, Gil­in­sky and Matt­son said in their art­icle pub­lished on Thursday.

The sup­port­ing evid­ence be­hind that con­clu­sion re­mains a secret. The former NRC of­fi­cials, though, said the re­dac­tion of any in­crim­in­at­ing in­form­a­tion from de­clas­si­fied case doc­u­ments is “a back­han­ded ad­mis­sion of the per­suas­ive­ness of the CIA’s evid­ence.”

The plant’s “own­ers and ex­ec­ut­ives had ex­tremely close ties to Is­rael, in­clud­ing to high Is­raeli in­tel­li­gence and nuc­le­ar of­fi­cials. Is­rael had strong motives to ob­tain the highly en­riched urani­um be­fore it was pro­du­cing enough plutoni­um for weapons,” they ad­ded.

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