How Israel Stole the Bomb
Deliberately delayed news about a uranium heist and a supercrook
IN 1979 THE Washington Monthly carried an article, “How Israel Got the Bomb.” It said nothing that was really new — nothing that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the FBI, the CIA and other federal security agencies have not known for years. But it did permit the reading public for the first time to learn the details of one of the greatest skullduggeries ever perpetrated against the American people, a coverup far deadlier than Watergate — and all the worse because the chief coveruppers are still walking around free and still holding high-paying jobs in business and government.
In the mid-1960s the pilots of A-4 jets sold (given) to Israel by the U.S. began to practice bombing runs that are only made by planes carrying nuclear bombs. Richard Helms, at that time head of the CIA, was informed of the matter and immediately reported it to President Lyndon Johnson. LBJ told him not to mention the facts to anyone. The truth might never have come out at all if the CIA’s deputy director of science and technology, Carl Duckett, had not announced at a Washington cocktail party some years later that Israel had “ten to twenty nuclear weapons ready and available for use.”
The trail led back to the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation of Apollo, Pennsylvania. NUMEC had been founded in 1957 by Zalman Shapiro, a research chemist and veteran of the Manhattan Project of atomic bomb fame. Almost the moment the company was formed Admiral Hyman Rickover gave it the navy’s lucrative nuclear fuel contracts. Between 1957 and 1965 NUMEC sold half a ton of uranium-235 to overseas clients. By 1961, however, Shapiro’s firm had become a serious security risk. It almost seemed as if no serious attempt had been made to keep accurate records and the government-owned enriched uranium was being routinely mixed with the materials used in other contracts. At the same time NUMEC became a consultant to the state of Israel and an active partner in an Israeli subsidiary organized to develop machinery to irradiate “strawberries and citrus fruits.” Soon two Israelis, Baruch Cinai, a metallurgist, and Ephraim Lahav, a scientific attaché to the Israel Embassy in Washington, began to show up at the NUMEC plant on an almost weekly basis.
In 1965 Westinghouse, which had previously shipped NUMEC some uranium for a top-secret nuclear rocket project, was told to its astonishment that 134 pounds of the precious stuff had been lost (22 pounds are enough to make an atomic bomb). Shapiro first explained that the uranium had been inadvertently buried in a pit for nuclear waste. When the government ordered him to dig it up and produce it, he underwent an “emotional breakdown.” It was finally determined that NUMEC was short 206 pounds of uranium ($929,000 worth), which the company quickly repaid. As if nothing had happened, the government continued doing business with Shapiro. Then in 1967 NUMEC was quietly merged with Atlantic Richfield.
In 1968 the CIA, after discovering the presence of highly enriched uranium at Israel’s Dimona facility in the Negev, asked J. Edgar Hoover to put Shapiro under surveillance. The FBI later reported that Shapiro was spending his time traveling across the country recruiting Jewish scientists for work on Zionist technical projects. Occasionally Shapiro used an encoded phone at an Israel Embassy office in New York. Finally, the FBI wiretap was removed and all further investigation halted. Shapiro went on to a cushy job in Westinghouse’s Pittsburgh office.
What really happened? One theory is that LBJ and the CIA deliberately arranged a shipment of uranium to Israel to bolster its arsenal of weapons for possible use in the upcoming 1967 war. A second theory is that the operation was conducted by a pro-Israel faction within the CIA. A third, which is probably closer to the truth, suggests it was an all-Israeli operation conducted with the help of Shapiro.
Concurrent with the appearance of the above article, Atlantic came out with something similar entitled, “The Case of the Missing Uranium.” It began with the assertion that some 8,000 pounds of enriched uranium had been lost by nuclear plants in the U.S. in the last thirty years. The story then zeroed in on the NUMEC affair and suggested that the missing uranium could have been shipped out of the country in boxes with “innocuous markings” or in the pockets of undercover agents. It was also charged that the man who tried to stop the original investigation of NUMEC was a lawyer named Marcus Rowden, who ten years later was appointed chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission by President Ford. It also seems that the very day Glenn Seaborg, head of the now defunct Atomic Energy Commission, told Congress there was no evidence of theft he had been given a secret government briefing that indicated just the opposite. Another point unmentioned in the Washington Monthly article was that NUMEC’s records had been “accidentally” destroyed in 1964, though the loss was never reported by the company until much later.
Morris Udall, head of a congressional committee which has been sporadically, but not too enthusiastically, delving into the NUMEC story, admitted to the author of the Atlantic article that he believed a theft had been committed. …
* * *
Source: Instauration magazine, November 1979
* * *
* * *