the post is also available in: Hebrew :הכתבה זמינה גם ב
By Ami Dor-on
FBI and CIA Documents claim: Israel has achieved the ability to produce a nuclear bomb after receiving approximately 260 kilograms of enriched uranium from the NUMEC plants, owned by the Jewish-American Zalman Shapiro. According to his testimony in 1981, Karl Dukat, who was Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency stated: “when Richard Helms, CIA director, passed on the evaluation of this important intelligence to President Lyndon Johnson, the President told Helms: Do not tell anyone what you reported to me, not to Dean Rusk (then Secretary of State) or Bob McNamara (then Secretary of Defense). Contacts at NUMEC at the time were Rafi Eitan (then head of the Bureau of Scientific Relations) and Avraham Shalom Bendor, later head of the Shin Bet.”
Israel’s sophisticated and daring journey towards the materialization of its plans to construct a nuclear defense option was conducted by teams of senior information gathering officers, representing Israeli intelligence institutions, together with ‘Made in Israel’ scientists who knew the secrets of nuclear research. In the manner of keeping great secrets of this sort, especially within a ‘kingdom of secrets’ like Israel, some information was leaked resulting in delays or sometimes even preventing Israel and its determination to implement this top strategic goal. Such leaks have revealed, the nature, methods, and even the names of “war heroes” some of whom are still alive. One of those quiet heroes was Rafael (‘Rafi smelly ‘) Eitan who for many years of his life was involved in acts that secrecy seemed to fit him nicely. Rafi Eitan’s name is linked, by the general public, to the name of the Jonathan Pollard affair, but in fact it was not the first ‘espionage’ affair associated with his name. Rafi Eitan was exposed in the early sixties, in the context of Israel’s nuclear option, in an event investigated for years by the FBI and which later became known as “The NUMEC Case” (NUMEC – Nuclear Materials and Equipment) (1) and its Jewish owner Zalman Shapiro.
Who was this Zalman Shapiro and what was the mystery that surrounded Israel’s relations with his factory in Pennsylvania which was engaged in the processing of nuclear materials?
Zalman Shapiro was born in 1921 in Ohio, to a family of an Orthodox rabbi who came from Lithuania. Like many of the Jews in his generation whose minds had learned to deal with Talmudic arguments from infancy, he was drawn to the sciences. He was accepted to Johns Hopkins University, the first and most prestigious research center in the U.S., where he completed his master’s degree and won a prestigious scholarship from the Standrd Oil Company. That scholarship enabled him to finance his studies until he received his doctorate in chemistry in 1948 at the age of 27. The atmosphere of the revival of the Jewish people returning to their historical homeland caused Zalman to become active in the Zionist Organization of America, and to join the Technion Society.
As a Brilliant young scientist Zalman quickly found a job at Westinghouse which specialized, in those days, in the global science front – establishing nuclear power reactors. With his outstanding talents and scientific understanding young Zalman Shapiro was promoted and brought to the attention of major scientists in the U.S. in those days. He joined the staff of Westinghouse and was engaged in developing the nuclear reactor for the first United States atomic submarine the ‘Nautilus’. The head of the team of scientists he worked with was Professor Alvin Rdkovsky, also Jewish, and who later made aliyah and joined the nuclear research activities in Ben – Gurion and Tel – Aviv Universities.
The Entrepreneurial nature of Zalman Shapiro did not allow him to settle for the status of an employee, no matter how senior. Zalman was convinced that the right way to succeed in life was to realize the American dream on his own. In 1957 Zalman established a private company focusing on his specialization in chemical production of uranium oxide for fuel for commercial nuclear power reactors in the United States which were flourishing in those days like mushrooms after the rain. The Factory was founded and operated near the town of Apollo, Pennsylvania.
During those first days of the nuclear era, the control of American nuclear fuel produced by atomic power stations was very loose. The Inspection system in the new field was in its infancy stage and was based mainly on routine testing. For this reason, it seems, only in 1962 were NUMEC’s ‘discrepancies’ discovered, discrepancies between the quantity of nuclear material produced and recorded sales records. Audit authorities initially estimated that the discrepancy was only due to ‘managerial negligence’, but under further and more accurate and revealing examination, conducted by the Federal Atomic Energy Commission, ‘very suspicious findings’ were found.
It was revealed that a gap existed between production and sales with at least 50 kg of enriched uranium having disappeared, uranium suitable for generating electricity at nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons. At this stage the task of an investigation was transferred to FBI investigators. Primary suspicion for the ‘disappearance’ of the nuclear materials was directed towards Israel, with whom Shapiro had a unique relationship. During a further examination of the factual data, the researchers revealed that the shortfall was actually double the amount, about 100 Kgs. Shapiro argued during the investigation that the missing uranium was accidentally buried in the waste pits of the plant. The researchers did not believe the claim. After digging in the waste pit it was revealed that the pit contained only 5 kg of uranium. NUMEC experts then raised a new explanation arguing that ” the big gap was due to the unique manufacturing process practiced at the plant and it was very likely that most of the missing material was lost in this process.”
The Atomic Energy Commission investigators who were experts in their fields didn’t believe this strange argument. “In order to lose such a large quantity of nuclear material during the production process” the team leader explained to his colleagues with a grin, “NUMEC would have had to work 24 hours a day from the American Revolutionary War until the present. However NUMEC has only worked for a few years. Bullshit stories. I am convinced that the missing material was transferred to countries, such as France and Israel, countries that NUMEC had contact with”.
Despite the lack of hard evidence, more than a few scholars from various federal agencies were convinced, according to foreign sources, that the enriched uranium reached Israel from the NUMEC plants and, according to foreign reports, Israel used them to produce nuclear weapons. According to his testimony in a televised interview on ABC tv in 1981, Karl Dukat, who was Deputy Director of the Central Intelligence Agency stated: “All of us in the CIA agreed that in all likelihood, the nuclear materials that NUMEC secretly transferred to Israel were used by Israel to produce nuclear weapons. When Richard Helms, CIA director, passed the evaluation of this important intelligence to President Lyndon Johnson, the President told Helms: Do not tell anyone what you reported to me, not to Dean Rusk (then Secretary of State) or Bob McNamara (then Secretary of Defense).” Ducat said on a different occasion that during a conversation he had with Helms he understood that Johnson ordered him “to stop handling the affair”.
If Johnson gave orders to “let it go” or not, there’s no solid information. But one fact is undisputed. U.S. investigative authorities did not let go of the subject. Following the findings of the investigations, the Attorney General of the United States ordered the use of ‘electronic surveillance’ for Zalman Shapiro, including field-tracking his movements and personal encounters. During ‘This watch’, nowadays known as ‘bugging’, FBI agents discovered evidence which they defined as ‘astonishing’ concerning Shapiro’s connections with ‘agents’ of the Israeli intelligence services.
Who were these ‘agents’ who were ‘connected’ to Zalman Shapiro and what were his relations with Israel?
Many researchers dug into this affair for years hoping to find answers to these concerning questions. It was only following the disclosure of confidential FBI documents released for publication a few years ago, that it appears that by the end of 1968 Shapiro served as a sales agent for ‘the Israeli defense establishment’ in the U.S.. The Documents also reveal the following information about Shapiro’s ties with Israel and its representatives:
• Using Shapiro’s ties with Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, NUMEC was an equal partner with Israel in a company name Isorad (Isotopes and Radiation Enterprises) (2).
• NUMEC employed an Israeli citizen named Bernard (or Baruch) Sinai, as an expert in metals (Metallurgy).
• Ephraim Lahav, a scientific advisor at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, visited the factory and NUMEC plants several times in the mid-sixties.
• Four other Israelis visited NUMEC in ’68, met with Shapiro and held conversations with him on “issues related to the development of nuclear products.” The Four Israelis were: Abraham Hermoni, Ephraim Bagon, Abraham Bendor and Raphael Eitan. FBI Documents, relying on reports from NUMEC to the Atomic Energy Commission, clarified who they were: Hermoni is a “scientific advisor” at the Israeli Embassy in Washington; Bagon is the “group head” of the electronics department In the Israeli defense; Bendor worked for the department of electronics too, while Eitan was defined as a “chemist” in the defense establishment. The documents tell more: Hermoni, a “consultant” at the embassy from 1968 until 1972, was appointed to a senior position at Rafael (Armament Development Authority) when he returned to Israel.
Certain information about the essence of these Israelis has revealed that the renowned journalist William Safire, in a column published in September 1987, called Bendor and Eitan “legendary figures in the Israeli espionage world”. More specific definitions have been given in the “Book of Spies – The Encyclopedia of Espionage” written by Norman Folmar and Thomas Allen and which stated that from 1981 to 1986 Bendor, also known as Avraham (Avrum) Shalom, was the head of the Israeli security service, known as Shin-Bet”.
Who is Rafael Eitan? The authors of “The Book of Spies” wrote that he dealt with the management of secret operations for the Israeli MOSSAD, and participated along with Bendor, in the kidnapping of Adolf Eichmann from Buenos Aires, and was also involved in the Pollard case.
The goal of the Israelis visit to the NUMEC factories was detailed in a book by Andrew and Leslie Cockburn, and entitled ‘Dangerous Liaisons.’ They wrote about Eitan in the following description. “When visiting the factory of NUMEC in Apollo, Eitan worked with them as a MOSSAD agent on a special mission on behalf of a covert intelligence agency, founded in 1950. His immediate task then was “to obtain nuclear technology by any means”.
Shortly after the visit of the Israeli agents, the news that NUMEC was missing 587 pounds (266 kg) of highly enriched uranium adequate for use in nuclear weapons came to the attention of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. The Exact amount missing remains the subject of discussion until this day. One way or another the amount does not exceed 587 pounds (266 kg) ‘at the most’ but ‘not less than’ 132 pounds (60 kg).
Despite the fact that all investigations have failed to disclose substantial evidence, FBI investigators decided not to let go of the mystery and passed their findings on to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The General suspicion following the findings of the investigation and NUMEC wiretaps crystallized and resulted in an official inquiry in 1968. That is when the investigation was extended out of the borders of the United States as well.
Undercover CIA secret agents were sent to Israel to check ‘what was really going on in Dimona’. The agents were not allowed to visit the reactor but they had some success about which they alluded to in 1978 in an article appearing in Newsweek: “Using sophisticated methods of technology, the Central Intelligence Agency found indications for the use of enriched uranium in Dimona The path of using enriched uranium is leading to the manufacturing of nuclear weapons”.
The investigation of NUMEC, including the investigation of Shapiro, continued for a decade, but has only succeeded in raising the estimates of the amount of radiation as well as additional circumstantial questions. Convincing evidence has not been discovered even so many years later. But as it goes in a large democracy like the United States, no legal action can be taken without proof.
Zalman Shapiro never revealed the truth behind the mystery and even refused to address questions put to him by the U.S. media. Nevertheless, in a statement to official investigators, Shapiro denied all of the rumors of the NUMEC affair. “I declare clearly,” Shapiro said in his testimony before a Senate committee in 1978, “I never took part in any theft or transfer of nuclear materials to Israel and I have no idea why these repeated stories appear”.
Conclusion: Although no charges were filed in the case, J.Edgar Hoover, the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in those days, decided to deny Shapiro of the high security classification he once held. The American Atomic Energy Commission imposed a fine of $ 1.1 million on Shapiro’s company for the inexplicable loss of uranium. Shapiro regarded as a suspect, despite the lack of proof against him, sold NUMEC to a company called Atlantic Lichfield. Shapiro continued to use his unique and extensive knowledge, returning to his nuclear roots as a senior executive at Westinghouse.
(1) Materials in connection with investigation of NUMEC rely on the information site: Secret CIA / FBI files of NUMEC nuclear diversions to Israel
(2) Isorad registered in Israel as a government company whose address is in Yavne. Business: production and commercialization of the Soreq Nuclear Research Center developments. Among the members of the Board of Directors of the Company (as at Update 31/12/2008) is the chemist Dr. Gabriella Gafni, once Israeli representative for the International Atomic Energy Agency, Nina Admoni – Nahum Admoni’s wife (Nahum Admoni who was head of Mossad (1982-89)) and Arie Livne, head of the witness protection team at the Homeland Security office. It is not clear what business the representative of the Witness Protection Authority shares with the company engaged in the commercialization developments of the Nahal Sorek reactor.
(3) In the biographical-encyclopedic information “Wikipedia”, regarding the head of the “Shin Bet”, Mr. Avraham Shalom, it is noted that his full name is Avraham Shalom Bendor.
(4) The Scientific Relations Bureau (LKM) was an Israeli intelligence body operating within the Ministry of Defense between 1957 to 1986. The Bureau was established, as indicated in “Wikipedia”, to secure the Nuclear Research Center (NRC), and to obtain sensitive technologies that one could not get freely. LKM evolved over the years to become an intelligence agency, along side with Mossad and “Shin Bet”. The beginning of LKM was by resolution of the Israeli government in the early fifties to achieve nuclear capability. LM was closed following the exposure of Jonathan Pollard who spied on its behalf in the United States. During its operational years, LKM was considered the most secret intelligence body and the most mysterious one.