CIA Kept U.S. Agencies in Dark about Investigation into Possible Diversion of Uranium from U.S. to Israel

Thursday, September 10, 2015
Israel's nuclear facility in Damona (photo: AP/Ch. 10)

Federal agencies trying to determine if Israel’s nuclear program received uranium from the U.S. during the Cold War were kept in the dark by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).



Grant Smith, who runs the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy, has long contended that Israel was able to develop nuclear weapons in part because it received 392 pounds of nuclear material that was lost by Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp. (NUMEC) between 1957 and 1965, according to Courthouse News Service.


A Freedom of Information Act fight with the CIA for records pertaining to NUMEC resulted in Smith getting 130 pages of documents (pdf), one of which from March 9, 1972, dealt with the Atomic Energy Commission’s (AEC) survey of NUMEC’s loss.


The AEC found NUMEC lost 185 pounds of uranium due to inefficiencies in the refinement process, but the agency could not identify an error that led to the remaining loss, according to the memo.


Tim Ryan at Courthouse News Service wrote that other documents revealed a lack of cooperation among three agencies that investigated NUMEC.


The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) also looked into the missing uranium. But the FBI, like the AEC, closed its investigation after meeting with NUMEC director Zalman Shapiro but without consulting the CIA, “even though the agencies knew the CIA was interested in him,” Ryan wrote. He also reported that two CIA employees who worked during the height of the investigations have said diversion of uranium occurred.


“CIA has not furnished to the FBI sensitive agent reporting…since the decision was made by directors [Richard] Helms, [William] Colby and [George H.W.] Bush that this information would not further the investigation of NUMEC but would compromise sources and methods,” according to a 1977 report by CIA Associate Deputy Director for Operations Theodore Shackley.


No criminal charges were ever filed against officials at NUMEC.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Discord Apparent in Nuclear ‘Diversion’ Probe (by Tim Ryan, Courthouse News Service)

CIA Releases Files about Illegal Weapons-Grade Uranium Diversions from U.S. to Israel (PR Newswire)

Grant F. Smith v. Central Intelligence Agency (U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia) (pdf)

Records Released by CIA to IRMEP via FOIA (Michael Lavergne, CIA) (pdf)

The Apollo Affair (Wikipedia)


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