Motivation Behind the USSR Assisting China's Nuclear Program

Motivation Behind the USSR Assisting China's Nuclear Program

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What motivated the USSR to assist China with the development of Nuclear Weapons?

Why would the USSR want China to have this technology during the 1950s and early 1960s? What did they get out of this transfer of technology?

As part of its 1957 "Great Leap Forward," program, China's undertook to ship "surplus" food to the Soviet Union in exchange for help in "industrial" development, especially its nuclear program. That's because one of Khruschev's main concerns during his tenure was agricultural reform, which was grounded in his desire to see Soviet citizens, "live better," or at least "eat better."

That wasn't a good idea because it turned out that China needed the food itself. That happened because Chinese commune leaders on quotas reported production greater than actually achieved, leading Mao to believe that he had a "surplus" for export.

I bring my answer from politics section since this question is really closer to history. Maybe somebody can add up some valuable extra data to my sources:

I found this link on the subject:

I read from other sources (sorry, I don't remember them now) as well that USSR primary target was nuclear power. In the beginning China was strong ally for USSR, and in the 60's their diplomatic relationship became cooler. So for the 50's USSR assisted them as an ally to enforce the communist block and of course increase their own power by an ally. After Stalin's death under Khruschev this relation decayed slowly, and became hostile for sure during the Sino-Soviet border conflict.

I am guessing the soviets' primary target as the nuclear power generation was the main goal, and they didn't really mind if the chinese people make bomb as well. But as I know it wasn't a goal. The propaganda was about peaceful use of nuclear power.

Kendall Says Countering China is Why He’s Coming Back to Pentagon

Frank Kendall, the Biden Administration’s nominee to be Air Force Secretary, said his concerns about China’s rapid modernization, and the desire to defend against it, are his principal motives for agreeing to return to work in the Defense Department.

“That is the reason, perhaps, that I’m interested in coming back into government…and hopefully to be confirmed, is to address that problem,” Kendall said in colloquy at his Senate Armed Services confirmation hearing May 25.

Kendall also said he supports a fleet of at least 145 B-21 bombers, a continuing robust buy of the F-35, retaining the A-10 close air support jet and MQ-9 remotely-piloted aircraft fleet. He also views “command climate” as a key roadblock to stopping sexual assaults within the military, and will work to change it.

Kendall, whose last job in the Pentagon was as the Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said he became aware of China’s rapid military modernization “and how successful they had been” in 2010, and has been concerned about it ever since.

In his prepared statement, Kendall said China studied the U.S. victory in the 1991 Gulf War and has subsequently worked to emulate America’s capabilities, “with the clear goal to defeat the ability of the United Sates to project power near China.”

While he said “we have made progress” against the threat posed by China, and also Russia—which he said has emphasized modernization of both strategic and tactical nuclear weapons—“there is still much to be done.” He’s looking to organize, train and equip the Air Force and Space Force to better deter China and Russia, and if necessary, “fight and win, against all adversaries.”

Kendall effectively endorsed the last Administration’s National Defense Strategy, saying “there’s been a lot of additional attention on this in the last several years. The National Defense Strategy…takes us in that direction. And I think there’s general consensus, now, that China is the pacing threat” to the U.S.

In written answers to committee questions, Kendall said the Air Force’s responsibilities for two legs of the nuclear triad are “by far its most important” mission. He added the national command and control network to the triad, calling it the “quad” of deterrence.

Under questioning from Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Kendall said he believed the defense budget to be forwarded to Congress Friday will be “adequate,” but said he would “fight” for the necessary resources to modernize the Air Force and give it the capacity necessary for all its missions. Sullivan asked if Kendall thought a 3-5 percent increase in defense spending, as recommended by the commission on the national defense strategy, is appropriate.

“Rather than pick a number, I will commit…to fight for the budget that’s necessary to fulfill the National Defense Strategy, whatever that may be. And if it’s three percent, yes, if it’s five percent, ten percent, I will try to get the money that is needed by the Department of the Air Force if I’m confirmed, so the Air Force can support combatant commanders as they need to, to carry out that strategy,” Kendall said.

Kendall supported a figure of 145 B-21 bombers mentioned by former Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein at a posture hearing in 2020.

“I think that…is a reasonable number, at this point,” Kendall said, adding that “We’re a long way from achieving that, and requirements may change over time” but it’s a sound number to form the basis of the program and its management, he said.

The Air Force has been shifting its position on the number of B-21s from “at least 100” to 145 over the last two years, with Global Strike Command now quoting 220 as the “right-sized” bomber force, of which 75 would be upgraded B-52s.

Kendall called himself “a proponent” of the A-10, “because of my background” in the Army, saying it presents a “unique” capability for close air support, and is the aircraft ground commanders tend to ask for by name.

“There remain hard trades to be made,” he said, “and I think there’s a question of how [much] inventory can be maintained,” now that a number of the A-10s have been re-winged. “But they provide a unique capability and I would be reluctant to see them come out of the inventory entirely.”

Kendall endorsed the F-35, agreeing that it is the “cornerstone” of the Air Force’s fighter fleet.

“The F-35 is the best tactical aircraft of its type in the world, and it will be so for quite some time,” Kendall said. “It’s a complex, expensive weapon, unfortunately, but it is a dominant weapon when it goes up against earlier-generation aircraft.”

Kendall said he has not been briefed on the Air Force’s tactical aircraft study and can offer no insight on it yet, but said “We have to get to an affordable mix, that meets our needs, that is driven by the National Defense Strategy. That’s what should guide those investments.”

As for the F-35, Kendall said he has a “long history” with it.

“It has struggled, certainly, and since I left government, four years ago” the sustainment cost and delays with the Block 4 version have multiplied, Kendall said, citing press accounts.

But he seemed to endorse a robust continuing procurement of the F-35, telling Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) “the key to getting the cost down in an air fleet is getting the numbers up. There’s a very strong correlation between the size of the fleet and the cost to sustain that fleet. So if there’s one thing that would continue to drive costs down overall, it would be to continue to buy” the F-35.

While there’s some debate over what the final F-35 buy should be, “my own view is that we’re well short of that number, and what we should be working on is keeping the cost down and keeping procurement at a rate that makes sense.”

The MQ-9 has “served us incredibly well in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Kendall said in answering a question on the drone’s future, but it cannot persist in “a high-threat environment.” He said it would be worth “some investment” to give the MQ-9 fleet additional survivability capabilities and “look what we can do to sustain it” in the force.

“It would be a shame” to retire the MQ-9 fleet “after all that investment” that’s already been made in it, Kendall added.

Kendall said he will look closely at the “command climate” in the Air Force, saying that, in certain places, it may underlie many of the sexual assault problems in the service.

“My overall assessment, throughout my career, of command climate, is overwhelmingly positive,” Kendall told Sen. Kristin Gillibrand (D-N.Y.). “But there are exceptions. There are cases–and I think Ft. Hood has been a recent example, in the Army—where investigations have revealed that there are problems.”

“What I can commit to you is, if I am confirmed, I will take command climate and the culture that is created within the Air Force extremely seriously in this regard. I think it is, frankly, at the root of the problems that we have with sexual assault and sexual harassment, and if we can’t address that, we’re not going to be successful in prevention.”

Motivation Behind the USSR Assisting China's Nuclear Program - History

Editor's Note:

What happens when a hostile nation headed by an unpredictable leader acquires nuclear weapons? That's the question the world has been asking since Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un started trading puerile insults in 2017. But as historian Jonathan Hunt reminds us, world leaders faced exactly the same dilemma over 50 years ago when China, under Chairman Mao, developed its own nuclear arsenal. Those events demonstrate that the goal of nuclear non-proliferation has always been difficult to achieve.

An estimate compiled by the nation’s intelligence services reaches the president’s desk, disclosing that a formidable and reckless adversary in Northeast Asia will soon test a nuclear device. Notorious for its anti-Americanism, entry into the nuclear club by this state, whose government Washington has long refused to recognize, imperils America’s position in the Asia-Pacific.

National security officials weigh their options: to pass resolutions in the United Nations, to buoy nervous allies, to send carrier groups, to flex nuclear muscles, to draft arms treaties, to launch a preventive strike. The president instructs his national security advisor and a close family member to approach the ambassador of his country’s archrival about whether they would look the other way if U.S. bombers were to reduce this rogue state’s ballistic-missile and nuclear installations to rubble and ash.

In this case, the year was 1963, and Mao Zedong’s People’s Republic of China (PRC) was about to conduct its first nuclear test on October 16, 1964. How Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson dealt with the Chinese nuclear challenge set precedents for U.S.-led efforts to shutter the nuclear club, foreshadowing how the United States and the international community has treated those in pursuit of the ultimate weapon ever since, including North Korea today.

Tensions between the United States, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), and East Asian neighbors—China, Japan, South Korea, Russia—have risen. And the war of words (and tweets) between President Donald Trump and DPRK Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un has become must-see-TV. The two nuclear-armed blowhards exchange insults—“gangster,” “dotard,” “madman,” “rocket man”—with Trump boasting of his nuclear button’s size in comparison to Kim’s.

Graffiti in Vienna, Austria of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un with their hairstyles reversed (left). One of the many Tweets from Trump in which he refers to Kim as “Little Rocket Man” (right).

Yet these tantrums tell us little about why a military technology in the hands of eight other states—the five members of the United Nations Security Council, and India, Pakistan, and Israel—is denied the DPRK nor about why the United States, which first built the atom bomb, now serves as the bad cop on the world’s nuclear beat. What’s missing is a history of American involvement in East Asia and the mid-century politics of nuclear proliferation during the Cold War.

China’s nuclear test brought to a head powerful currents in the early history of nuclear science and technology—America’s military presence in Asia amid decolonization and long-running efforts to place atomic energy under international control because of its potential inhumanity.

The global nuclear nonproliferation regime, which came together with the opening for signature of the 1963 Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT) outlawing nuclear tests in the atmosphere, under water, or in outer space, and the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was the fruit of American efforts to weld these movements together.

The destructiveness of nuclear weapons, the revulsion toward the bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the fear of fallout from atmospheric nuclear testing throughout the 1950s and early 1960s had set the tone for Washington to frame proliferation as a threat to humanity.

A view of Hiroshima, Japan after the atomic bomb strike in August 1945 (left). New York schoolchildren during a “take cover” drill in 1962 (right).

As the U.S. military found itself mired in Vietnam, China’s nuclear test in 1964 afforded an opportunity to don the mantle of global leadership on an issue of enormous gravity: policing the spread of nuclear science and technology.

Four years later, Johnson signed the NPT, the international agreement that now bars the DPRK, the Islamic Republic of Iran, and any other state save the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China from commanding nuclear forces. Johnson vested its authority not in America’s national interests, but in “the common will of mankind.”

President Kennedy signing the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963 (left). A map depicting nations’ status on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as of 2013 (right).

This marriage of American military power to humanity’s law required singling out the enemies of progress, prosperity, and peace. With its revolutionary dogmatism, anti-American broadsides, and claims to represent an Afro-Asian world shaking off colonialism, Mao’s China made the perfect foil against which to justify worldwide nuclear law and order at the point of America’s sword.

Today, North Korean’s totalitarian society, starving population, litany of human rights violations, and exotic reclusion makes it a similarly useful villain for American global aspirations—another rogue state whose acquisition of weapons of mass destruction presents a legitimate target of overwhelming military action rather than firm yet patient deterrence.

Revolutionary China and the Peril of Nuclear Weapons

Whether China would force its way into the nuclear club, and what it would do once it did, roiled the international scene in the 1950s.

Mao habitually provoked nuclear crises with U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower and the irredentist Chinese nationalists led by Chiang Kai-Shek on the island of Taiwan. In 1955, and again in 1958, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) lobbed artillery shells at nationalist military positions on the islands that hug the Chinese mainland’s coast near Xiamen in Fujian province, across the Taiwan Strait.

The U.S. carrier USS Lexington and USS Marshall off the coast of Taiwan in 1958 (left). A 1958 poster showing Chinese soldiers invading Taiwan (right).

The Taiwan Strait crises tested the posture of massive nuclear retaliation with which Eisenhower and Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had sought to deter Sino-Soviet adventures cheaply by threatening immediate escalation to all-out thermonuclear war rather than matching the communist giants soldier-for-soldier and gun-for-gun.

Both times, Sino-American brinksmanship (what Dulles called the “necessary art” of getting “to the verge without getting into war”) brought massive U.S. naval exercises and a return to the status quo before the shelling had started. The second time, the Soviet Union, whose nuclear umbrella stretched over China, opted to do more than rap the knuckles of its daredevil ally (the Soviet Union had successfully tested its first atomic bomb in 1949).

The mushroom cloud from the first Soviet test of an atomic weapon in 1949 (left). In 1961, the Soviet Union tested the most powerful nuclear weapon ever created and it remains the most powerful explosive ever detonated (right).

Moscow had started furnishing Beijing with nuclear assistance in the mid-1950s as part of a larger effort to modernize China’s industry and military: research reactors, scientific training, technical experts, and fissile materials such as uranium-238 (ideal for bombs).

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev promised the Chinese an atom-bomb blueprint based on the Trinity design, the first nuclear explosive tested at Alamogordo, NM, near J. Robert Oppenheimer’s Los Alamos, which a German-born, British spy Klaus Fuchs had spirited out of the Manhattan Project’s weapons laboratory.

Klaus Fuchs’s ID badge from Los Alamos National Laboratory (left). The first detonation of a nuclear weapon in July 1945 (center). A Cold-War–era billboard outside a nuclear production complex in Washington state (right).

However, Khrushchev soon moved to cut off nuclear aid altogether. The Soviet leader tired of Mao’s defiance after he had denounced Stalin’s cult of leadership (and by association Mao’s) in a 1956 speech to the 20 th Soviet Communist Party Congress, which soon went “viral” despite its secret nature. In 1958, Mao left Khrushchev in the dark about his planned aggression in the Taiwan Strait even though the Soviet premier had been in Beijing just days before.

Kennedy’s election in November 1960 looked like it might break the U.S.-Soviet deadlock on nuclear arms control. Kennedy found the idea of a Chinese bomb forbidding.

Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and Chinese leader Mao Zedong during a 1958 visit in China (left). Captioned “We use the skill of the Soviet country for the creation of heavy industry,” this 1953 Chinese poster emphasizes Sino-Soviet cooperation (right).

McGeorge Bundy, Kennedy’s national security adviser who stayed on to serve Johnson as well, would tell Director of Central Intelligence John McCone that Kennedy had deemed “the Chinese Communist nuclear capability . the most serious problem facing the world today” and “intolerable to the United States.”

The president’s fears transcended the Cold War and reflected racialized fears of Asia. He believed that the People’s Republic of China was more implacable than the Soviet Union because its teeming “Asiatic” masses imperiled the United States’ global mission.

President Kennedy with CIA Director John McCone in 1961 (left). President Johnson with McGeorge Bundy in the Oval Office in 1967 (right).

Shortly after he declared that he would pursue the Democratic nomination for president, he expressed misgivings to George Kennan, an architect of America’s strategy of communist containment who was increasingly critical of the Cold War’s militarization.

Kennedy worried about Kennan’s calls for the United States to stop testing nuclear weapons, forswear their first use, and energetically seek their abolition. “I wonder if we could expect to check the sweep south of the Chinese with their endless armies with conventional forces?” he wrote.

An 1899 cartoon of a Chinese man standing over a fallen white woman representing the Western world. Fears of a “Yellow Peril” or “Yellow Terror” grew in the late nineteenth century, relying on racist imagery and fear mongering. It continued thereafter as a vaguely ominous, existential fear of East Asians gaining power over Western nations (left). A movie poster for The Face of Fu Manchu (1965), a film that embodied the racist color-metaphor of Yellow Peril (right).

He could trust the Soviets, Kennedy assured a French minister after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, to accept the condition of mutually assured destruction but “in the case of China, this restraint would not be effective because the Chinese would be perfectly prepared, because of the lower value they attach to human life, to sacrifice hundreds of millions of their own lives.”

To be fair, Mao’s own words seemed to corroborate such racist analysis. Facing the United States and its nationalist allies on Taiwan, he sought to rally Chinese society to greater exertions through saber-rattling, dismissing nuclear weapons as impotent—a “paper tiger.”

Chairman Mao at 20th Conference of World Communist and Workers’ Parties in 1957 (left). A Soviet propaganda poster captioned “Friends Forever” in both Russian and Chinese (right).

In a November 1957 speech at the 20th Conference of World Communist and Workers’ Parties in Moscow, he trivialized the aftermath of thermonuclear war:

A Chinese poster from the 1960s calling for U.S. imperialism to be driven out of Congo.

If we fight the war, atomic and hydrogen bombs will be used. I personally believe that the whole of mankind will suffer from such a disaster, one-half of the population would be lost, maybe more than half. I have asked Comrade Khrushchev for his view of this. He is much more pessimistic than I am. I told him that if half of mankind dies, the other half would remain while imperialism would be destroyed. Only socialism would remain in the world. In another half a century, the population would increase, maybe by more than half.

This chilling statement was, in many ways, the opening salvo in the Sino-Soviet split—a burgeoning geopolitical and ideological feud between Moscow and Beijing—in which Mao championed “wars of national liberation” while Khrushchev maintained that nuclear war had made “peaceful coexistence” imperative between the capitalist and communist blocs.

Mao’s comments and his actions inspired the first proposal for a treaty to close the nuclear club to new members.

In September 1958, Irish Foreign Minister Frank Aiken introduced a proposal for “nuclear restriction” at the United Nations General Assembly that would eventually mature into the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

By the time Kennedy entered office in 1961, the Irish resolution had stalled, with Eisenhower reluctant to embrace an initiative that might jeopardize NATO’s atomic stockpile, with Khrushchev and Mao waging a battle for the soul of international communism, and with China on the verge of manufacturing its own atom bomb.

A Preventive Posture

The likelihood that China would build the bomb during his first term pushed Kennedy to try to avert it.

The administration had three choices: a pact to ban nuclear weapon tests a variant of the Irish resolution or military strikes. The first two required the help of the other nuclear powers—the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom (which had tested its first device in 1952), and France (1960). The third risked running afoul of the 1950 Sino-Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Alliance, and Mutual Defense, which pledged the Soviet Union to rush to the nuclear defense of its troublesome ally.

The CIA estimated that China would enter the nuclear club by 1963. The U.S. Air Force was more pessimistic, while the State Department’s Bureau for Far Eastern Affairs treated it as a foregone conclusion. Secretary of State Dean Rusk admitted to the British ambassador in Washington, D.C. that China’s progress toward an independent nuclear capability made its exclusion from arms control negotiations untenable.

For the moment, nuclear disarmament became a public rationale for potentially engaging rather than spurning mainland China, whose communist government the United States had refused to recognize, let alone negotiate with, since its victory in the Chinese Civil War in 1949.

Chairman Mao proclaiming the establishment of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 (left). President Nixon visited China in 1972, but the U.S. did not formally recognize China until 1979 under President Carter (right).

In fact, arms control could justify both China’s inclusion and exclusion from the international community, which granted Kennedy’s nonproliferation policy a flexibility born of its ambiguity. Whether China remained an international pariah would depend on its own nuclear choices.

A similar situation exists today.

The proposed summit between President Trump and Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un seems to offer a stark choice and possibly unbridgeable bargain: the normalization of U.S.-North Korean relations and the withdrawal of American troops from the Korean Peninsula in exchange for a verified end to North Korea’s arsenal of nuclear warheads and long-range ballistic missiles.

Nuclear Containment

In early 1963, Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs Averell Harriman was ringing alarm bells about China’s nuclear program. He related conversations with several Russians, who had mentioned that this issue concerned the Kremlin as well.

President Kennedy and Assistant Secretary of State for Far Eastern Affairs, Averell Harriman meeting in the Oval Office in 1962 (left). Harriman (second from left) with Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev (third from left) in Moscow in 1959 (right).

He counseled Kennedy that an international arrangement would have the advantage of universality and impartiality. According to his Soviet friends, “world opinion” would have to follow the superpowers’ lead. He even suggested that, if all else failed, Kennedy should consider a preventive strike against China’s nuclear facilities.

For China to acquire its own atomic weapons—and China was not alone in this aspiration—heralded more than a heightened risk of nuclear war. U.S. policy-makers believed that nuclear proliferation jeopardized U.S. political and military interests across America’s globe-spanning empire of military bases, alliances, and covert assets.

For U.S. officials, Mao’s China was nonetheless the most troubling “ Nth country,” referring to the theory that proliferation anywhere would beget proliferation everywhere. If China went, Japan and India might not be far behind, followed by Pakistan, Indonesia, Taiwan, Israel, and Egypt. In time, even European states like West Germany and Sweden would feel compelled to match their new Asian competitors.

Ultimately, the Kennedy administration moved to preserve American influence in a vital region and its credibility worldwide.

A U.S. Civil Defense booklet commissioned by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in 1961 (left). President Kennedy and McNamara meeting in the Oval Office in 1962 (right).

Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara described the spread of atomic forces as a game-changer, its strategic implications calling into question the verities of the Cold War. A world in which many states fielded nuclear arsenals was no longer bipolar. From official Washington’s point of view, for Beijing to get its hands on five small atom bombs was more dangerous than Moscow acquiring another five city-busting thermonuclear warheads.

McNamara wanted a nonproliferation pact to supplement a test ban and strategic arms limitations with the Soviet Union. Whether their reach exceeded their grasp for all these international agreements was another matter. “The honest answer is that we don’t know,” he admitted. “It is equally clear that it would be irresponsible not to try.”


Some documents in this list were obtained by private researchers who requested them of federal agencies and presidential libraries pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, Mandatory Declassification Reviews and appeals to the Interagency Security Classification Appeals Panel. Others came from a lawsuit by Grant Smith, director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy, against the CIA to release its NUMEC documents and operational reports. Some documents were reviewed, redacted and released more than once. In each case, this posting provides the least redacted (most declassified) version of the document now available.

Document 1 “Summary Notes of Meeting with Representatives of the Nuclear Materials Equipment Corporation,” F. T. Hobbs, Acting Secretary, Atomic Energy Commission, August 10, 1965, labeled CONFIDENTIAL and OFFICIAL USE ONLY before redaction and release.

Source: U.S. DOE Archives, 326 U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, Secretariat Collection, Box 1381, Meetings and Conferences.

In this meeting, AEC commissioners Seaborg, Ramey and Tape and AEC staff members sought explanations from Zalman Shapiro and others from NUMEC for the inventory differences in highly enriched uranium (HEU) that the AEC's Oak Ridge Office had detected at the Apollo uranium plant earlier that year. At the meeting, Shapiro “admitted that some waste was generated by work on Navy fuels [and] … noted that in earlier years NUMEC had paid AEC up to $1 million for material losses.” In November 1965, because of Oak Ridge’s findings, AEC sent its own material accounting experts to Apollo. The AEC survey team supervised another plant-wide inventory supported by independent laboratory studies to try to account for the lost uranium.

Document 2 "Summary Notes of Briefing [of AEC commissioners] on Safeguards and Domestic Material Accountability," W. B. McCool, Secretary, AEC, February 14, 1966, illegible classification obscured by DOE before release.

Source: U.S. DOE Archives, 326 U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, Secretariat Collection, O&M-6, Briefings Vol. 7.

These minutes record a briefing provided by the AEC senior staff, led by Assistant General Manager Howard Brown, for the AEC commissioners on the outcome of the staff's investigation of NUMEC. The staffers told the commissioners how the losses on a recent NUMEC contract with Westinghouse, the so-called Astronuclear contract, compared to the cumulative eight-year loss of HEU from Apollo. The minutes reflect that “if collusion between a shipper and a foreign government were assumed it would be theoretically possible to ship material abroad in excess of the amounts indicated in the company’s records. Because it was based upon a presumption of honesty and financial responsibility, the AEC materials accountability system might not reveal a deliberate and systematic attempt to divert materials in this manner . The basic Commission position [with the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy] should be that AEC had no evidence or suspicion that diversion had occurred neither could the Commission say unequivocally that the material had not been diverted."

Document 3 Letter from AEC Chairman Glenn Seaborg to JCAE Chairman Chet Holifield, February 14, 1966, unclassified.

Source: U.S. DOE Archives, 326 U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, Secretariat Collection, Box 1359, Materials-9.

Chairman Seaborg wrote to Chairman Holifield to answer questions raised earlier by the Joint Committee. One question asked whether an investigation of NUMEC by AEC’s division of inspection or by the FBI was warranted. Seaborg responded, “In the absence of evidence or suspicion of violation of law, we have determined that an inquiry by the FBI is not now warranted. Our Division of Inspection is presently reviewing the survey report and a determination has not been made as to the need for further inquiry by that Division.”

Document 4 Letter from R. L. Hollingsworth (AEC General Manager) to John T. Conway (JCAE Executive Director), February 14, 1966, labeled CONFIDENTIAL before release by ERDA.

Source: DOE Archives, labeled NNNNC-12.

Hollingsworth responded to questions raised by the Joint Committee. His letter included AEC's computation of the value of the 61 kilograms of HEU that were missing on the Astronuclear contract (6 percent of the HEU in the contract), i.e., $736,600. He said that the AEC audit of November 1965 concluded that 178 kilograms of U-235 in the form of HEU was unaccounted for since the start of operations at the Apollo plant. Hollingsworth explained that 93.8 kilograms of the total of 178 kilograms could not be ascribed to any known loss mechanisms. Normally, such an unexplained loss would be examined for the possibility of theft. Instead, AEC said it found no evidence of theft. However, there is no indication that either the Commission or the FBI looked for such evidence at the time the material was discovered to be missing.[10]

Document 5 “Report of Survey: Control Over Enriched Uranium, Nuclear Materials & Equipment Corp., Apollo, Pennsylvania, Division of Nuclear Materials Management, Nuclear Materials Management Survey Number DNMM-53,” S. C. T. McDowell, Assistant Director for Control, AEC Division of Nuclear Materials Management, April 6, 1966, labeled OFFICIAL USE ONLY before release.

Source: FBI FOIA File No. 117-2564, document 586.

In April 1966 Dr. Samuel McDowell of the AEC authored this 23-page report, with 40 pages of attachments, describing AEC’s late 1965 and early 1966 investigation and independent inventory of the uranium processing plant at Apollo and subsequent interactions with NUMEC. The report describes the cumulative inventory difference for HEU from the start of operations as 178 kilograms, of which 93.8 kilograms could not be explained.

Document 6 FBI investigation report, Pittsburgh Office of FBI, author's name redacted, June 21, 1966, labeled CONFIDENTIAL before redaction and release.

Source: FBI FOIA File No. 117-2564, document 23.

This report summarized an interview of Zalman Shapiro by FBI’s Pittsburgh Office on June 15, 1966. The AEC asked the FBI to determine if Shapiro should have registered as an agent of a foreign government pursuant to the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Shapiro described how NUMEC and the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission formed a joint venture company called ISORAD. He described meetings with the U.S. ambassador to Israel and with Joseph Eyal, science attaché of the Israeli embassy, in connection with the formation of ISORAD. Although the interview occurred after the AEC realized NUMEC was missing 93.8 kilograms of HEU, the FBI did not question Shapiro about the missing material.

Document 7 “Review of Accountability Controls Over Special Nuclear Materials, Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation,” Report to Joint Committee on Atomic Energy by the Comptroller General of the United States, June 20, 1967, unclassified, National Archives, University of Arizona, Special Collections Library, Papers of Morris Udall, Call No. MS 325, Box 364, Folder 7.

This 78-page report by the General Accounting Office reviewed the various audits that had been performed on NUMEC operations at Apollo and concluded, “During the period of our review, we found that additional losses had been disclosed and NUMEC’s records showed that cumulative losses of U-235 through December 31, 1966 totaled about 260 kilograms or about 1.2% of receipts.”

Document 8 Letter from CIA Director Richard Helms to The Honorable Ramsey Clark, Attorney General, April 2, 1968.

Source: ISCAP Appeal No. 2013-062, Document #1, March 18, 2014.

On April 2, 1968, DCI Helms wrote to Attorney General Clark to ask the FBI to reopen its investigation of Shapiro. In the cover note for the letter, Helms said, “Since the subject matter of this letter is so sensitive for obvious reasons, I would appreciate if you would return it to me when you have taken whatever action you feel appropriate.” In the declassified letter, immediately following a twelve-line redaction, Helms asked Clark to “initiate a discreet intelligence investigation of an all source nature of Dr. Shapiro in order to establish the nature and extent of his relationship with the Government of Israel.”

Document 9 FBI memorandum from C. D. DeLoach to Mr. Tolson, “Dr. Zalman Mordecai Shapiro, Possible Atomic Energy Act Violation,” May 6, 1968, labeled CONFIDENTIAL before redaction and release.

Source: FBI FOIA File No. 117-2564, document 38, released in less redacted form on September 28, 2009 per FOIPA No. 1091168-000.

FBI Deputy Director Deke DeLoach wrote to FBI Associate Director Clyde Tolson concerning the new investigation of Shapiro requested by CIA. DeLoach expressed misgivings about the investigation. Director FBI Director Hoover penned his approval of the new investigation. “OK, but I doubt advisability of getting into this (redacted).”

Document 10 Memorandum from SAC, WFO, to Director, FBI, Subject: [Redacted] Atomic Energy Act, September 11, 1968, labeled SECRET before redaction and release.

Source: FBI FOIA File No. 117-2564, document 131.

In this memorandum, the Special Agent in Charge (SAC) of the FBI’s Washington Field Office (WFO) told FBI Director Hoover that, according to the AEC’s Headquarters Security Office, the AEC’s New York Security Office had reported on September 6, 1968, that NUMEC had requested a visit by four Israelis to its office in Apollo, Pennsylvania, on September 10. The four were identified as:

  • Avraham Hermoni, Scientific Counselor, Israeli Embassy, Washington, DC
  • Ephraim Beigon [Biegun], Department of Electronics, Israel
  • Abraham Bendor, Department of Electronics, Israel
  • Raphael Eitan, Ministry of Defense, Israel.

Although the FBI redacted much of this memorandum before its release, more is known from other sources about these four Israelis. At the time of the visit, Hermoni (1926-2006) was a chemist serving as Scientific Counselor and LAKAM Station Chief (spymaster) in the Israeli embassy in Washington, a post he held from late 1968 to 1972.[11] The FBI and the CIA knew of Hermoni’s activities in the U.S., including his establishment of a network for gathering technical intelligence. From 1959 to late 1968, Hermoni served as technical director (vice president) at RAFAEL, Israel’s weapons development authority. Biegun (1932-2007) headed the technical department in Israel’s secret service (Shin Bet) at the time of the visit to NUMEC. Bendor (1928-2014), who later changed his name to Shalom, worked for Shin Bet for 35 years and headed that agency from 1981 to 1986. In 1968, when visiting NUMEC, he was deputy director of the covert operations unit that served Shin Bet, Mossad and Aman and was on special assignment to LAKAM. Raphael (Rafi) Eitan (b. 1926) was deputy chief of operations of Mossad (1963 to 1972). In 1968 he was director of the covert operations unit that served Shin Bet, Mossad and Aman and was on special assignment to LAKAM. He had been the chief organizer of Israel’s capture of Adolph Eichmann in Argentina in 1960. He also organized the Mossad/LAKAM team in the Plumbat affair that diverted 200 tons of natural uranium oxide (yellowcake) from Europe to Israel in 1968, shortly after his visit to NUMEC. Eitan later served as a security advisor to Israeli prime ministers, a member of Israel’s Knesset and the head of LAKAM. While serving as LAKAM’s head, he was discovered in 1985 to be running the U.S. Navy spy for Israel, Jonathan Pollard. Eitan was also involved in the nuclear espionage activities in the United States of the Hollywood producer and Israeli citizen Arnon Milchan. The memo closed with the note that the AEC Security Office “would contact the Bureau for complete background on the visitors.”[12]

Document 11 Letter from Harry R. Walsh, Director of Security Division in AEC’s New York Operations Office, to Bruce D. Rice, Manager of NUMEC Security Division, September 20, 1968, unclassified.

Source: FBI FOIA File No. 117-2564, document 134.

Ten days after the NUMEC visit by the four Israeli intelligence officers, Walsh confirmed “the telephonic approval furnished by [redacted] of my staff, regarding the unclassified visit of four (4) Israeli citizens to your facility on September 10, 1968. These visitors are identified in your two letters to me, dated September 12, 1968.” The FBI provided only one of the two letters of September 12 pursuant to the FOIA.

Document 12 NUMEC letter to Harry R. Walsh, AEC Director of Security and Property Management Division, New York Operations Office, from Bruce D. Rice, NUMEC Manager of Security, September 27, 1968, unclassified.

Source: FBI FOIA File No. 117-2564, document 149.

This letter responded to a telephone call from Walsh requesting more information about who met with the four Israeli visitors and what they discussed. Walsh responded that Hermoni, Biegun, Bendor and Eitan met with Shapiro and four members of the NUMEC energy conversion department to discuss the possibility of developing plutonium-fueled thermo-electric generators. Walsh said NUMEC was developing a proposal for this work using only unclassified information and the Israelis also were seeking proposals from other nuclear organizations in the United States. The FBI has released no documents describing meetings of this sort with other nuclear organizations.

Document 13 Memorandum from SAC Pittsburgh to FBI Director, attaching 17-page report, “Dr. Zalman Mordecai Shapiro,” January 20, 1969, labeled SECRET and CONFIDENTIAL before redaction and release.

Source: FBI FOIA File No. 117-2564, document 268, released in less redacted form on September 28, 2009 per FOIPA No. 1091168-000.

In this memorandum and report, the Pittsburgh office of the FBI told Director Hoover that Zalman Shapiro had written to AEC Chairman Seaborg to ask questions about licensing criteria for plutonium-powered generators of the type allegedly discussed with the LAKAM representatives in September 1968. Seaborg’s November 20 reply to “Dear Zal” described the conditions that AEC would impose on such exports. The FBI also learned that while Shapiro was in Washington, D.C., on September 30, 1968, he talked with Hermoni and Biegun and, “although there were problems, both were anxious to move ahead,” presumably with plutonium-238 generators.

The report noted that Shapiro departed for Israel on November 28, 1968. Upon his return, a wiretap revealed that Shapiro spoke about business opportunities while in Israel, the most promising of which was to create a research laboratory modeled after Battelle's Pacific Northwest Laboratory (PNL) in Washington State. Shapiro also discussed another business venture concerning a chemical facility being built in Israel by Allied Chemical Company. The Nuclear Services Division of Allied Chemical built a plant in Metropolis, Illinois, to convert yellowcake to uranium hexafluoride, the feedstock for making natural uranium dioxide reactor fuel at the Apollo plant of NUMEC. “It appears that if subject [Shapiro] can raise a million dollars or so within the next few years, he would not hesitate to move to Israel and establish some business in that country.”

The report ended with the fact that in November a confidential source provided his FBI contact with a four-page document describing the packaging of food irradiators manufactured by NUMEC. The source advised that “it would have been a simple matter of placing large quantities of [HEU] in these food irradiator units and shipping them to Israel with no questions asked.”

Document 14 FBI Airtel, Pittsburgh SAC to FBI Director, “Dr. Zalman Mordecai Shapiro: IS—Israel, Atomic Energy Act,” January 24, 1969, labeled SECRET before redaction and release.

Source: FBI File No. 117-2564, document 270, released in less redacted form on September 28, 2009 per FOIPA No. 1091168-000.

The FBI’s Pittsburgh office wrote to FBI Director Hoover about interviewing Zalman Shapiro. The SAC described Shapiro’s connections with Israeli intelligence officers and others. The SAC went on to say, “Concerning the question of subject having diverted U-235 to Israel, that has not been resolved. The relatively few individuals interviewed in this matter, including former employees, revealed their suspicions of subject’s activities, but produced no concrete information of value in this regard.” The SAC noted the Israeli technical intelligence network being run in the U.S. by Avraham Hermoni and opined there were probably others. He noted that Shapiro and others involved in the NUMEC case are very active and highly regarded in various Jewish organizations, “which exert some influence in this country.” He also noted Shapiro, "has expressed no allegiance to the United States but has stated he would fight for Israel and is believed to be seriously contemplating migrating to Israel within the next several years…. An interview would alert subject’s associates to this Bureau’s interest in their activities and could cause them to be more clandestine in their actions.”

Document 15 Letter from John Edgar Hoover (FBI Director), to William T. Riley (Director of AEC Security Division), “[Redacted] Atomic Energy Act,” February 18, 1969, labeled CONFIDENTIAL and SECRET before redaction and release.

Source: FBI FOIA File No. 117-2564, documents 304 and 305, the former released in less redacted form on September 28, 2009 per FOIPA No. 1091168-000.

Hoover transmitted a summary report to AEC’s director of security by letter, stating, "This report summarizes the results of our investigation concerning Shapiro. Our investigation is substantially completed …. You are requested to advise as expeditiously as possible what action will be taken by the AEC with respect to the current security clearances of Shapiro and the classified contracts held by the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation.” The 56-page report recounted Shapiro’s education and employment through 1968. It included summaries of FBI interviews with NUMEC employees, several of whom said they could not explain the missing uranium. The report contained the names, expertise and affiliations of ten men who met on November 3, 1968, with Avraham Hermoni in Shapiro’s home. All but three of the names remained redacted in FBI’s response to the 2009 FOIA request. The report reviewed other salient information from the wiretaps on Shapiro’s home phone, including Shapiro’s potential opportunity to take over Allied Chemical Company’s stalled construction project in Israel. The wiretaps also disclosed Shapiro’s interest in speaking to Moshe Dayan to discuss image intensifier tubes, used in night vision devices whose technology was in a state of change at that time. The wiretaps captured Shapiro’s November 8, 1968, statement "that he is of more value to Israel if he continues to reside in the United States where Israel’s problems can be more readily resolved.”

Document 16 AEC Letter from William T. Riley, Director, Division of Security, to the Honorable J. Edgar Hoover, Director, FBI, August 28, 1969, labeled CONFIDENTIAL and SECRET before redaction and release.

Sources: FBI FOIA File No. 117-2564, document 446, released in less redacted form by FBI on September 28, 2009 per FOIPA No. 1091168-000. An even less redacted form of the interview summary was provided by a December 15, 1989 FOIA response from CIA to the Natural Resources Defense Council (CIA Reference No. F87-1446). It contained an August 28, 1969 letter from AEC Assistant General Manager Howard Brown to DCI Richard Helms, transmitting the Shapiro interview summary.

The two transmittal letters are provided here, along with the CIA’s copy of the interview summary. The AEC conducted the “Informal Interview” of Zalman Shapiro on August 14, 1969. The nine-page summary had a two-page attachment describing a follow-up interview by telephone on August 26. The follow-up interview was “in specific reference to the information he had provided … concerning the circumstances of his meeting at the Pittsburgh airport on June 20, 1969, with Jeruham Kafkafi.” The summaries provide an accounting by Shapiro of his interaction with Avraham Hermoni, scientific counselor of the Israeli embassy, and “a number of U.S. technical and scientific personnel” in the November 3, 1968, meeting arranged by “a scientist from the University of Cornell." Shapiro said the “general tone of the meeting concerned ways and means the group could be of assistance to Israel in solving some of its technical problems.” Shapiro said he met Jeruham Kafkafi, a subordinate of Hermoni, “about a half dozen times.” The interviewers reported that Shapiro was “calm throughout the entire interview except when pressed for the details of his meeting with Kafkafi on June 20 at the Pittsburgh airport.”

Document 17 Letter from J. Edgar Hoover, Director, FBI, to Honorable Richard Helms, Director, CIA, September 3, 1969, labeled SECRET before redaction and release.

Source: ISCAP Appeal No. 2013-062, Document No. 2, March 18, 2014.

Hoover wrote to Helms to summarize the Bureau’s efforts to investigate Shapiro’s activities. Hoover said, “We have developed information clearly pointing to Shapiro's pronounced Israeli sympathies [one and a half lines redacted]. It is believed most unlikely that further investigation will develop any stronger facts in connection with the subject’s association [half line redacted]. The basis of the security risk posed by the subject lies in his continuing access to sensitive information and material and it is believed that the only effective way to counter this risk would be to preclude Shapiro from such access, specifically by terminating his classified contracts and lifting his security clearances. However, after careful consideration, including an interview with Shapiro, AEC has advised that it plans no further action at this time. Under these circumstances, we are discontinuing our active investigation of the subject.”

Document 18 "Possible Diversion of Weapons Grade Nuclear Materials to Israel by Officials of the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC)." CIA Memorandum for the Record, author not identified but probably John Hadden, former CIA Station Chief in Tel Aviv, March 9, 1972, classified SECRET/SENSITIVE before redaction and release.

Source: CIA FOIA Response, Reference No. F-2010-01210|1:15-cv-00224, August 31, 2015.

Carl Duckett told DCI George H. W. Bush on March 11, 1976, that this 1972 memorandum "was written by [redacted] who originated CIA action on this case [John Hadden] and who is available to answer any further questions you may have." By 1976, Hadden had retired from CIA and was living in Maine. He had strong convictions on the NUMEC matter as evidenced by documents described below, including subsequent presentations he made to DOE and congressional committees. This memorandum began with a summary of how Congress and the AEC allowed special nuclear material first to be leased and then owned by companies in the private sector. It then summarized the formation and financing of NUMEC, including the role of David Lowenthal. The memorandum summarized the inventory difference that AEC discovered at NUMEC in 1965. It then listed "[eleven] facts developed to date pertinent to such a possible diversion." The document’s author opined that NUMEC might have been conceived as an alternative method for producing Israel’s atom bomb from its inception or it might have become a necessity later, "when the existence of the reactor at Dimona was discovered." The memorandum concluded, "On the basis of the foregoing it must be assumed for the purpose of U.S. national security that diversion of special nuclear materials to Israel by Dr. Shapiro and his associates is a distinct possibility." In its eleventh fact, the memorandum noted that in 1971 Shapiro took an uncleared position with Westinghouse in its breeder reactor program.

Document 19 "Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC)," Memorandum for Director of Central Intelligence, from Carl E. Duckett, Deputy Director for Science and Technology, March 11, 1976, classified SECRET SENSITIVE before redaction and. Release

Source: CIA FOIA Response, Reference No. F-2010-01210|1:15-cv-00224, August 31, 2015.

Carl Duckett, perhaps sensing his days at the Agency were limited, wrote this memorandum to DCI George H. W. Bush to summarize the NUMEC case. He attached a Memorandum for the Record dated March 9, 1972, entitled "Possible Diversion of Weapons Grade Nuclear Materials to Israel by Officials of the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC)." (See above.) Duckett recalled that former DCI Helms brought the intelligence aspects of the case to the attention of presidents Johnson and Nixon, Attorney General Clark, secretaries of state Rusk and Rogers, the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, and Henry Kissinger, among others. Duckett went on to provide Bush a chronology of CIA's efforts "to persuade the FBI to undertake an investigation of Shapiro and NUMEC and to keep track of its activities in this regard." The list began with the April 2, 1968, letter from Helms to Clark described above. There were six entries in the list showing that Helms and Hoover did not agree on the course of the FBI investigation. The last item that CIA had received from FBI at that time (1976) was a report that Zalman Shapiro requested to be brought up to date on a sensitive project two weeks after joining Kawecki Berylco in July 1971 before he went to work for Westinghouse later that year.

Document 20 “Possible Violation of Criminal Statutes,” memorandum from Attorney General Edward H. Levi to President Gerald Ford, April 22, 1976, attachment labeled SECRET before redaction and release

Source: Gerald R. Ford Library.

Document 21 “Dr. Zalman Mordecai Shapiro, Atomic Energy Act,” memorandum from Director, FBI, to The Attorney General, April 22, 1976, labeled SECRET before redaction and release.

Source: FBI FOIA File No. 117-2564, document 520, released in less redacted form on September 28, 2009 per FOIPA No. 1091168-000.

The memorandum from Levi to Ford had a four-page attachment bearing the same date. The last two pages of the attachment were almost entirely redacted when released by the Ford library. However, FBI Director Clarence Kelley provided that same attachment to Levi by separate memorandum on the same day. Kelley’s memorandum and attachment are provided here because they contain fewer redactions than the version attached to the memorandum from Levi to Ford. In his memorandum, Levi told Ford, “The FBI did not conduct an investigation . [so] the Department of Justice cannot state that there is no evidence which would support a criminal charge. The facts available with respect to this matter indicate that the following criminal statutes may be involved ….” Levi then listed ten possible violations of the Atomic Energy Act and criminal statutes. Two of them suggest the Justice Department’s concern that enriched uranium was unlawfully removed from the NUMEC facility. The last three crimes listed were accessory after the fact, misprision of felony (concealing knowledge, usually by a government official, of a felony committed by another person) and conspiracy. When read in context, these possible crimes appear to refer to someone in the federal government.

Levi’s April 22 letter to Ford attached Kelley’s four-page summary of FBI's two previous investigations of Shapiro and NUMEC. It said that between the first and second investigations the Bureau learned of the missing uranium at NUMEC and decided not to intervene "under the circumstances presented by AEC." The information surrounding the advent of the second FBI investigation in 1968 was completely redacted from Kelley’s summary. The substantial investment in NUMEC by David Lowenthal's company is mentioned at the end of the summary, as is Shapiro's being "active in fund raising and bond drives and … a heavy contributor on behalf of Israel in the United States."

Document 22 "The NUMEC Case and ERDA's Paper," Memorandum for Deputy Director for Central Intelligence [Enno Knoche] from Theodore G. Shackley, CIA Associate Deputy Director for Operations, April 14, 1977, with attached routing slip from CIA General Counsel Anthony A. Lapham, April 15, 1977, labeled SECRET/SENSITIVE before redaction and release.

Source: CIA FOIA Release, Reference No. F-2010-01210|1:15-cv-00224, August 31, 2015.

Shackley advised Knoche not to attend a meeting on NUMEC that was scheduled for the next day with the National Security Council staff because "a good possibility exists that sources and methods, as well as contradictory intelligence assessments, could become an issue …. The ERDA meeting with Dr. Brzezinski may be concerned with an issue of domestic law enforcement in which CIA has no authority or responsibility." Shackley recommended that CIA brief the NSC staff in private at a later date. He went on to summarize CIA's evidence on the matter, all of which was redacted by CIA when the document was released. Shackley attached to his memo a "talking points paper and a chronology [line redacted] for use by the DDCI should this option [briefing NSC separately] be selected." The talking points paper and chronology were six pages long and were mostly redacted when released by CIA. An unredacted statement read, "To provide all of our information to ERDA would release information that has been considered extremely sensitive up till now." Contrary to Shackley's advice, Knoche went to the meeting.

On April 15, Anthony A. Lapham, CIA's General Counsel, on a routing slip to Shackley, questioned “the decision not to discuss our intelligence information with the FBI or ERDA. As I understand it, the investigations of NUMEC are related to the possibility that nuclear material may have been diverted, and apparently at least ERDA has concluded there is no evidence of diversion. However, that conclusion is difficult to square with our intelligence information, and while one can argue about the probative value of that information from an investigative or legal standpoint, I doubt we are in a position to say that it has no value ….”

Document 23 "Briefing of the FBI on NUMEC Related Nuclear Diversion Information," Memorandum for Deputy Director of Central Intelligence from Theodore G. Shackley, Associate Deputy Director for Operations, May 11, 1977, labeled SECRET SENSITIVE before redaction and release.

Source: CIA FOIA Reference No. F-2010-01210|1:15-cv-00224, August 31, 2015.

On May 9, 1977, two FBI agents visited Shackley in his Langley office. One supervised the FBI's Criminal Investigation Division in charge of the ongoing NUMEC investigation. Shackley briefed them with a talking paper based on "a recent review of our files." He did not give them a copy of the paper. The agents said they had come up with no hard evidence of a diversion and the material Shackley provided was not new to them. The talking paper was attached to the memorandum describing the meeting. The CIA redacted about two-thirds of the talking paper before its release, but left in the paragraph in which Shackley said CIA had not provided all the details of its knowledge of NUMEC to the FBI.

Document 24 FBI Memorandum, Washington Field Office, “Zalman Mordecai Shapiro, Atomic Energy Act: Obstruction of Justice” [redacted], July 21, 1977, labeled SECRET and CONFIDENTIAL before redaction and release.

Source: FBI FOIA File No. 117-2564, document 624, released in less redacted form on September 28, 2009 per FOIPA No. 1091168-000.

On June 27, 1977, two special agents of the FBI interviewed Zalman Shapiro in Pittsburgh. They spent the first hour of the interview discussing a “Waiver of Rights” that the agents asked him to sign. Shapiro said, to his knowledge “there was never any diversion of enriched uranium from the NUMEC facility and he termed the chances of any individual or group of individuals successfully diverting such material as miniscule. He denied emphatically that he was in any way connected with or responsible for any diversion.” Shapiro also said, “At no time was [he] aware of being in contact with foreign intelligence officers or organizations.” The special agents did not challenge his assertion, apparently unaware of the background or even the names of Hillel Aldag, Avraham Bendor, Ephraim Biegun, Binyamin Blumberg, Rafi Eitan, Joseph Eyal, Avraham Eylonie, Avraham Hermoni, and Jeruham Kafkafi, all prior contacts of Shapiro and all Israeli officials with intelligence credentials.[13]

Document 25 “Israel and MUF,” National Security Council Memorandum from John Marcum to Jessica Tuchman, July 28, 1977, labeled TOP SECRET SENSITIVE before redaction and release.

Source: ISCAP Appeal No. 2012-167, document #3, March 18, 2014.

NSC staffer Marcum told fellow NSC staffer Tuchman that Ted Shackley had called on a secure line and “provided responses to our inquiries of yesterday [about NUMEC].” The next page and a half of the memorandum documenting what Shackley told Marcum were redacted by ISCAP when the document was released. In the last half page of the letter, Marcum went on to say, “At this point, despite the FBI clean bill of health, I do not think the President [Carter] has plausible deniability. The CIA case is persuasive, though not conclusive.”

Document 26 CIA briefing of ERDA officials on July 29, 1977, as recorded in DOE internal memorandum of April 27, 1979, from DOE Deputy Inspector General to Under Secretary with attachments entitled “August 8, 1977 NUMEC-Related Congressional Hearing,” labeled SECRET before redaction and release.

Sources: Cover letter released per DOE FOIA File No. 2007-000554 and attachments available at University of Arizona, Special Collections Library, Papers of Morris Udall, MS 325, Box 365 Folder 1.

This April 27, 1979, document contains summaries of interviews conducted by the Inspector General’s office of DOE. The interviews concerned a briefing that Theodore Shackley provided on July 29, 1977, to ERDA’s acting administrator, Robert Fri, who was accompanied by generals Edward Giller and Alfred Starbird. The inspector general was investigating whether these men had lied to Congressman John Dingell’s committee when they testified on August 8, 1977. Although DOE, ERDA's successor agency, redacted much of Giller, Starbird and Fri's recollections of the briefing, Giller’s comments do mention some things not addressed in redacted summaries of other briefings Shackley conducted in summer 1977. For example, Giller "emphasized his belief that, even with careful analysis, the possibility of poor information, stemming from HUMINT [human intelligence] sources, still remains." He went on to say, apparently in reference to something Shackley had said about the discovery of HEU in Israel, "the U.S. government has made authorized shipments of high-enriched SNM to Israel in the past, which were intended for the Israeli reactor program." Such shipments involved the Nahal Soreq research reactor which used 93 percent HEU fuel, not the 97.7 percent HEU found by CIA in the environment near Dimona, 100 kilometers away from Nahal Soreq.

A January 28, 1979 article in the Washington Star newspaper reported what Shackley told the three ERDA representatives on July 29, 1977.[14] The article predates the DOE report of April 27, 1979, suggesting that the sources for the article were internal to the DOE. “According to government sources, a retired Air Force General, Alfred Starbird, recently told investigators that a CIA official told him that the CIA had obtained a sample of highly enriched uranium from Israel and that it bore the chemical ‘signature’ of material that had originated at the U.S. uranium enrichment plant at Portsmouth, Ohio. If the information is true, this would amount to scientific proof of the first known diversion of the nation’s most heavily guarded nuclear material by persons acting as foreign agents.”

Document 27 “Nuclear MUF,” Memorandum for the President from Zbigniew Brzezinski, August 2, 1977.

Source: ISCAP Appeal No. 2012-167, document number 4, March 18, 2014.

National Security Advisor Brzezinski wrote this memorandum to President Carter saying he had been briefed by ERDA, FBI and CIA and summarizing the “essential conclusions” about NUMEC.

Brzezinski took at face value ERDA's claim that the AEC had investigated the NUMEC affair. He also passed off the FBI’s findings as amounting to no more than confirmation that Zalman Shapiro had frequent contacts with Israeli officials, including a science attaché “thought to be an intelligence officer.” Brzezinski told Carter the FBI had just concluded its latest investigation and “was unable to uncover any evidence of theft, although the interviews included many current and former NUMEC employees.” In fact, the FBI investigation continued for two more years, and interviews of former NUMEC employees revealed suspicious circumstances concerning NUMEC's shipments to Israel in the mid-1960s. Brzezinski opined, “While a diversion might have occurred, there is no evidence—despite an intensive search for some—to prove that one did. For every piece of evidence that implies one conclusion, there is another piece that argues the opposite. One is pretty much left with making a personal judgment—based on instinct—as to whether the diversion did or did not occur.”

Brzezinski went on to say, “So far as we know however, (and we have made serious efforts to discover it) there is nothing to indicate CIA participation in the alleged theft.” There were rumors in Congress of possible involvement by government officials in the act itself or its coverup as evidenced by the questions asked during Shackley’s briefings of various congressmen in 1977. At the end of the memorandum, Brzezinski wrote, “We face tough sledding in the next few weeks (particularly in view of Cy’s [Secretary of State Cyrus Vance's] Mid-East trip) in trying to keep attention focused on ERDA’s technical arguments and, if necessary, on the FBI investigations, and away from the CIA’s information."

Document 28 "The NUMEC Case – Discussion with Staff Members of the House Energy Committee and Mr. Carl Duckett, Retired CIA Employee," CIA Memorandum for the Record, Theodore G. Shackley, August 3, 1977, labeled SECRET SENSITIVE before redaction and release.

Source: CIA FOIA Reference No. F-2010-01210|1:15-cv-00224.

On August 2, 1977, Theodore Shackley, Carl Duckett (by then retired from CIA) and a representative of CIA's Office of Legislative Counsel briefed staffers of the Subcommittee on Energy and Power of the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce, at the request of Congressman Dingell. Shackley pointed out that he was neither a scientist nor a first-hand participant in the events that unfolded from 1968 to 1977 relative to the NUMEC case. He merely provided "supervision to the people who were conducting research on the Agency's involvement in the NUMEC case."

The discussion centered on Duckett's recollections. Duckett said "CIA had been concerned about the nuclear weapons proliferation issue for a number of years (six lines redacted). As a result, CIA began to look at information which was available to it concerning possible diversion of uranium materials from NUMEC." Reading between the lines, it seems likely the Agency gathered some intelligence in Israel that there was enriched uranium in the Israeli weapons program that could not have been produced there. Hence, the Agency went looking for other sources and focused on NUMEC.

Shackley confirmed that Helms wrote to the attorney general in 1968 requesting an investigation because of the possibility that a diversion from NUMEC had taken place. Duckett told the staffers "he could say with certainty that CIA, as an institution, had not been involved in any kind of nuclear materials diversion operation."

Shackley said he did not know if an FBI investigation of the NUMEC case was currently underway. Why he would not know is a mystery. In response to questions about who would have first-hand knowledge of past investigations of the NUMEC case, Duckett referred the Congressional staffers to George Murphy of the Joint Committee staff and Richard Kennedy, who was then an NRC commissioner and had been a member of the National Security Council staff. Shackley stressed throughout the briefing that the CIA "did not have any facts which would stand up in court which could be used to conclusively prove that there was linkage between the alleged NUMEC diversion (six lines redacted)."

Document 29 "Briefing of Senator John Glenn Democrat, Ohio, on the NUMEC Case," CIA Memorandum for the Record, Theodore G. Shackley, Associate Deputy Director for Operations, August 6, 1977, labeled SECRET SENSITIVE before redaction and release.

Document 30 "Briefing of Congressman Mike McCormack, Democrat, Washington, on the NUMEC Case," CIA Memorandum for the Record, Theodore G. Shackley, Associate Deputy Director for Operations, August 6, 1977, labeled SECRET SENSITIVE before redaction and release.

Source: Both documents come from CIA FOIA Reference No. F-2010-01210|1:15-cv-00224.

Shackley provided briefings for Senator John Glenn (D-OH) and Representative C. G. Mike McCormack (D-WA). Leonard Weiss of Senator Glenn's staff attended the Glenn briefing. The cover memoranda did not get into the details of Shackley's two briefings. There were lengthy question-and-answer exchanges with Glenn and fewer exchanges with McCormack. Some of the exchanges were redacted completely when CIA released the memoranda. However, it is clear that Glenn and McCormack were interested in the involvement of the presidents who had knowledge of the case, i.e., Johnson, Nixon, Ford and Carter. Shackley and his colleague told Glenn they had not seen any single document "which would lead to a flat conclusion that a diversion had occurred …." Glenn asked if there were "bad connections between FBI and CIA on NUMEC." Shackley stressed that the two agencies took different approaches to the basic question. "CIA was trying to obtain information which would clarify an intelligence estimate. On the other hand, the FBI was looking for material that could be used in a criminal case." In response to another question, Shackley denied there was any U.S. government involvement in the diversion.

Shackley's summary of the McCormack briefing was much shorter. McCormack asked what he stressed was a hypothetical question, "If President Johnson had directed that a diversion of nuclear materials occur, would the CIA have known it?" Shackley responded, "This is a question that should be put to those who were direct participants in the events of the time. In short, this would be the type of question that Mr. Helms or Mr. Duckett could best comment on." Shackley gave a similar answer to another question by McCormack, "Suppose CIA Director Helms and FBI Director Hoover had stumbled on information suggesting a possible diversion authorized at the highest level of the U.S. Government? What then?"

Document 31 "Briefing of Representative Morris K. Udall, Democrat, Arizona, on the NUMEC Case," CIA Memorandum for the Record, Theodore G. Shackley, Associate Deputy Director for Operations, August 26, 1977, labeled SECRET SENSITIVE before redaction and release.

Source: CIA FOIA Reference No. F-2010-01210|1:15-cv-00224.

Shackley and two other CIA staffers briefed Congressman Udall and his committee staffer, Dr. Henry Myers. The briefing apparently followed the same outline as the August 5 briefings of Senator Glenn and Congressman McCormack. There were interesting similarities and some differences in Udall and Myers' questions compared to earlier briefings. When asked whether FBI had interviewed Zalman Shapiro, Shackley said the "Agency has no knowledge of any direct debriefing of Mr. Shapiro by the FBI." Asked if President Johnson, "who was known to be a friend of Israel, could have encouraged the flow of nuclear materials to the Israelis," Shackley responded: "There is no information in the CIA files which are currently available to us which would indicate that President Johnson had ever undertaken any action which would have resulted in a diversion of nuclear materials to Israel." The CIA redacted nearly two pages of the answer to the question of how one would go about diverting material from NUMEC to Israel. In another answer, Shackley "stressed that CIA had never obtained any hard intelligence (half line redacted) which clearly linked NUMEC to the subsequent production of uranium-based nuclear weapons by Israel." Perhaps that redaction concerns the HEU that CIA found in the environment near Dimona, which Shackley described to the ERDA officials on July 29.

Document 32 “Amendments to the Freedom of Information Act,” CIA Internal Memorandum for George Cary OLC, from Herbert E. Hetu, Assistant for Public Affairs, January 16, 1978, labeled before redaction and release.

Source: CIA CREST Database, March 24, 2005, CIA-RDP81M00980R0002002-0038-7

This document was among a group of internal memoranda that gathered CIA staff support for the Agency’s request for relief from the Freedom of Information Act. It was written at the time that NUMEC was a priority concern for two committees of the U.S. House of Representatives. It read in part, “In addition to the concerns raised by the Director in the referenced memorandum, I believe the Agency's image has suffered unnecessary damage and the public has been misled because of the FOIA requirement to release bits and pieces of information. Three good examples are: MKULTRA … Glomar … [and] Israeli firing on the Liberty …. The Berlin Tunnel operation, NUMEC and the Kennedy assassination are just three FOIA requests and appeals that have potential for similar damage.”

Document 33 "Meeting with the NRC," CIA Memorandum for the Record, February 3, 1978, probably written by ADDO Shackley, with attachments, labeled SECRET before redaction and release.

Source: CIA FOIA Reference No. F-2010-01210|1:15-cv-00224.

Shackley briefed officials of the NRC on CIA's "role and position relating to the NUMEC case." The briefing occurred in two settings, so there were never more than two commissioners in attendance to avoid a requirement for a recording of the meeting pursuant to the Government in Sunshine Act. The NRC attendees were given the opportunity to read a Talking Paper that summarized the CIA information. The four-page Talking Paper was completely redacted when released by the CIA. The summary of the meeting included the CIA statement, “We agreed with [NRC Commissioner Kennedy's] assessment, confirmed that there was no legal evidence of diversion from NUMEC. (One and a half lines redacted) which prompted CIA interest in the nuclear material missing from NUMEC …. Mr. Hendrie concluded, as a result of this discussion, that the time frame of the MUF [inventory difference]—mid '60's—was compatible with the time phasing expressed in the Talking Paper.” In response to an NRC question about evidence of a diversion, the CIA said, "… there is no hard evidence, but a series of events and facts led to our intelligence conclusion that a diversion was a likely possibility."

In addition to the Talking Paper, the CIA also released an outline of the February 2 NRC briefing. One entry in the outline read: "Process of deductive reasoning to find out how uranium obtained." This entry was followed by the subheadings: "Results of Deductive Analysis, NUMEC, Shapiro, Centrifuge, (redacted)." The outline summarized the "Key Issues" with the following subheadings: "No Investigation of NUMEC by CIA, No Diversion by CIA, and No Hard Evidence."

Document 34 “Inquiry into the Testimony of the Executive Director for Operations,” Volume I Summary Report, NRC Offices of General Counsel and Inspector and Auditor, February 1978, labeled SECRET before redaction and release.

Document 35 “Inquiry into the Testimony of the Executive Director for Operations,” Volume III Interviews, NRC Offices of General Counsel and Inspector and Auditor, February 1978, labeled SECRET before redaction and release.

Source: ISCAP APPEAL NO. 2012-004, documents 1 & 2, March 18, 2014.

These two volumes of the report describe a series of interviews by NRC’s Office of General Council (OGC) and Office of Inspector and Auditor (OIA) of people connected to the testimony of NRC’s executive director for operations, General Lee Gossick, before the Udall and Dingell committees of the House of Representatives in summer 1977. The second volume of the report contained documents referenced by the interviewees and answers to congressional staff questions. It is not provided here. The issue that prompted the inquiry was whether Gossick lied to Congress in saying there was no evidence of a diversion from Apollo. Central to this question was what Carl Duckett, CIA deputy director for science and technology, had told the NRC representatives in February 1976 about evidence CIA had garnered about such a diversion. The OGC/OIA people interviewed Duckett and recorded what he said he had told the NRC people. His recollections are found at pages 176 to 179 of Volume III of this report. ISCAP redacted some of the material in the section of the report where Duckett recounted CIA’s evidence surrounding the NUMEC affair.

Document 36 “Record of Interview with Bill Knauf and Jim Anderson, Department of Energy, Division of Inspection,” Glenn T. Seaborg, June 21, 1978.

Source: Glenn T. Seaborg Papers, Library of Congress.

Dr. Seaborg kept daily records of his business activities. He created this memo the same day that he met with the two inspectors from DOE. He said their purpose was "to interview me on the allegation that Zalman Shapiro … diverted large amounts of highly enriched Uranium-235 to Israel in the 1960's." They questioned him on the degree of surveillance by the AEC of NUMEC and the dispute the commissioners had with Attorney General John Mitchell over denying Shapiro an upgraded clearance without "granting him due process." The inspectors had already met with former AEC Commissioner James Ramey to discuss how he found a job at Westinghouse for Shapiro "rendering the question of clearance upgrade as moot." They asked Seaborg about his discussions with DCI Helms concerning NUMEC. Seaborg "asked them if any responsible persons feel that Shapiro actually diverted material to Israel. They replied that nobody with a scientific background believes this but that it is difficult to convince some members of congress. They said that some enriched Uranium-235 which can be identified as coming from the Portsmouth, Ohio plant has been picked up in Israel which, of course, has excited some members of Congress. However, such enriched material has been sold on an official basis to Israel and this could be the source of the clandestine sample." It is unclear from context whether the inspectors or Seaborg uttered the last sentence in the foregoing quote. However, it is certain from AEC/DOE records[15] that Portsmouth was the only source of 97.7 percent enriched uranium, that such uranium went entirely to U.S. naval reactor fuel, that NUMEC processed such uranium for naval reactor fuel, and that the only authorized HEU in Israel was for fuel for the research reactor at Nahal Soreq, which was 93 percent enriched.[16]

Document 37 “Notes of Washington Trips,” Papers of John L. Hadden, Briefings of DOE Inspector General and staff of Dingell and Udall committees, beginning in September 1978.

Source: Personal papers of John Hadden, Jr.

An envelope with the lettering “Washington Trip” in John Hadden's hand was included in his personal papers after his death. The envelope contained a September 1, 1978, invitation from the DOE inspector general asking him to come to the Germantown, Maryland, office of DOE. He wanted Hadden “to meet with representatives of my office to discuss freely and in complete detail your knowledge of matters relating to … Israel’s nuclear power capability ….” The envelope also included a September 1, 1978, letter from DCI Stansfield Turner stating, “The scope of the Inspector General’s inquiry may encompass information which you have pledged not to reveal pursuant to the terms of the secrecy agreement which you executed when you entered on duty with the Central Intelligence Agency. You are hereby released from the terms of that secrecy agreement, for the purpose of the Inspector General’s inquiry, within the limitations set out below ….” The envelope included handwritten notes on five sheets of yellow legal paper. The notes apparently were an outline of what Hadden told congressional investigators and the DOE inspector general. Hadden’s notes outline the basis for his conclusion that NUMEC was part of a broader Israeli-American conspiracy to support the Israeli nuclear weapons program.

Document 38 “Nuclear Diversion in the U.S.? 13 Years of Contradiction and Confusion,” Report by the Comptroller General of the United States, December 18, 1978, labeled SECRET before redaction and release.

Source: ISCAP Appeal No. 2013-078, document #1, March 18, 2014.

In 2010 the government released the December 18, 1978, GAO report and related correspondence in response to a FOIA request. There were multi-page redactions in the report encompassing almost every paragraph that referred to the CIA, even though the report was then 32 years old. On March 18, 2014, ISCAP released a less redacted version of the GAO report in response to an appeal by Grant Smith of IRmep. The report shows that in 1978 GAO joined a growing chorus saying a diversion could not be ruled out and added that there were differing professional opinions on the matter within the CIA. A letter from Stansfield Turner that was attached to the report addressed the allegations of possible involvement by the CIA and the president.

Document 39 “Transcript of Proceedings: Hearing Held before Executive Session of Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, Informal Meeting between Interior Committee Representatives and Dr. Zalman M. Shapiro,” December 21, 1978.

Source: University of Arizona, Special Collections Library, Papers of Morris Udall.

On December 21, 1978, Zalman Shapiro finally had his chance to answer the charges made against him and set the record straight when Congressman Morris Udall (D-AZ) interviewed him at the Longworth House Office Building in Washington, DC. Three lawyers appeared on behalf of Shapiro from the Washington office of the Arnold & Porter law firm, a registered agent for the State of Israel.[17] Hadrian Katz from Arnold & Porter told Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) in 2009 that Shapiro was “our long-time pro bono client and friend.” Udall dubbed the interview “an informal meeting." Shapiro was not under oath. However, he and his lawyers filed a thick brief before the interview, a 116-page verbatim transcript was taken, written opening statements by Shapiro and Udall were appended, and Shapiro’s attorneys submitted supplemental remarks and corrections of the transcript on January 16, 1979. Inconsistencies and errors in Shapiro’s testimony were described by Mattson.[18]

Document 40 Interview of Charles A. Keller, Assistant Manager for Manufacturing and Support, Oak Ridge Operations Office, U.S. Department of Energy, "Atomic Energy Act Obstruction of Justice," FBI report of [redacted], November 9, 1979, labeled TOP SECRET before redaction and release.

Source: FBI FOIA File No. 117-2564, no document number, p. 65-130.

Charles Keller of AEC’s Oak Ridge Operations Office (OROO) led external oversight of uranium accounting at Apollo that led to the discovery that HEU was missing in unusual quantities. He then participated in AEC’s independent inventory in late 1965 that established how much HEU was missing. Years later, Keller recounted his assessment of the situation in 1965 in an interview with the FBI. “His [Keller’s] gut feeling is that NUMEC probably lost a major part of the material through mishandling and sloppy operations …. Mr. Keller felt that a great deal of collusion would have been required to remove 50 kilograms of enriched uranium. It would also be difficult to ship this amount of material to another company with forged documents because this would require collusion with someone in another plant, which would be even more difficult.” The NRC staff later concluded it would have been relatively easy to remove the material from the Apollo plant.[19] After opining on peripheral matters, Keller summarized for the FBI his assessment of the NUMEC situation. “He said essentially the problem in a nutshell is that the material was not there that the books said should have been there but there is absolutely no way to say how or where it went. His opinion is that sloppy plant operations, lack of records, and improper sampling probably [were] the reason for the loss. He indicated, however, that if he [were] planning to steal nuclear material he would use exactly this kind of operation, i.e., sloppy handling and accounting procedures.”

Document 41 FBI Internal Report of Interviews, "DIVERT," from SAC Pittsburgh to Director FBI and Criminal Investigative Division, Terrorism Section, March 25, 1980, labeled CONFIDENTIAL before redaction and release.

Source: FBI FOIA File No. 117-2564, document 728, released by FBI in less redacted form on September 28, 2009 per FOIPA No. 1091168-000.

The FBI interviewed an unnamed former B&W and NUMEC employee on March 21, 1980. The former employee had employment concerns with B&W at the time of the FBI interview. It is not known why the FBI closed its consideration of his allegations. The essence of the observations the former employee reported to the FBI were as follows: “In late March or early April 1965 (exact date unknown) while working [at Apollo] on a swing shift … he walked out to the loading dock for a breath of air …. He noticed a flatbed truck backed up to the loading dock with some strange equipment on it …. He advised he then noticed the NUMEC owner, Dr. Zalman Shapiro, pacing around the loading dock while (Shipping and Receiving Foreman) and (NUMEC truck driver) were loading “stove pipes” into the steel cabinet type equipment that he observed on the truck …. He stated that the “stove pipes” contained three or four canisters … that normally are used to store high enriched uranium products, which he defined as 95 percent uranium …. citing his natural curiosity … he proceeded to read the information contained on the shipping order. He said he noticed that the destination for the equipment on the truck was Israel, and that it was to be transported by ship …. After he had quickly read the information contained on the shipping order, (redacted) grabbed the clipboard away from him, telling him in words to the effect that the material contained in the shipping order was confidential and not for his eyes …. Shortly thereafter, an armed guard ordered him off the loading dock …. He advised he had not come forward before because he had a large family to support and the day following the incident, the plant Personnel Manager (name unrecalled) of NUMEC threatened to fire him if he “did not keep his mouth shut” concerning what he had seen on the loading dock the night before. He further advised he mentioned the threat he received from the Personnel Manager to his union steward, whereupon he claims he was visited by ‘some union goons’ from Kittanning, Pa., and again told to keep his mouth shut.”

Document 42 NRC Letter, from Robert F. Burnett, Director Division of Safeguards, NRC, to (Redacted), Federal Bureau of Investigation, May 19, 1982, unclassified.

Source: FBI FOIA File No. 117-2564, document 759.

One of the last documents in the FBI files on NUMEC is a May 19, 1982, letter from the NRC to the FBI transmitting a summation of the uranium found during the decommissioning of Apollo. The attachment says that processing of highly enriched uranium by NUMEC at Apollo began in 1957 and ceased in 1978 and that the cumulative inventory difference for the operating period from 1957 to 1978 was 463 kilograms of U-235. It concludes, “The total amount of material accounted for [recovered] to date as a result of the decommissioning effort is 95 kilograms U-235 …. Additionally, licensee measurements indicate that approximately 31 kilograms of U-235 are held up in the walls and floors. The resulting total cumulative ID [inventory difference] for the period from 1957 to present is 368 kilograms U-235.” That is, NRC told FBI to expect that 337 kilograms (368 minus 31) of U-235 would remain missing from the uranium plant at Apollo when B&W completed the decommissioning. The estimate that the NRC provided to the FBI was in close agreement with the aforementioned 2001 DOE report (declassified in 2006), which reported the cumulative HEU inventory difference at Apollo as 269 kilograms of U-235 through 1968 and 76 kilograms thereafter, for a total cumulative inventory difference over the life of the plant of 345 kilograms.

[1] Stealing the Atom Bomb: How Denial and Deception Armed Israel, Roger J. Mattson, 2016. Divert: NUMEC, Zalman Shapiro and the Diversion of U.S. Weapons Grade Uranium into the Israeli Nuclear Weapons Program, Grant F. Smith, Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy, Inc., 2012. “Revisiting the NUMEC Affair,” Victor Gilinsky and Roger J. Mattson, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, March/April 2010. “Did Israel steal bomb-grade uranium from the United States?” Victor Gilinsky and Roger J. Mattson, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, April 17, 2014.

[3] Former AEC Chairman Glenn T. Seaborg described the NUMEC affair in three of his books. He generally defended Shapiro and said there were alternative explanations for the HEU that went missing from Apollo. See Seaborg, Glenn T. with Loeb, Benjamin S., Stemming the Tide: Arms Control in the Johnson Years, Lexington Books, 1987 Seaborg, Glenn T. with Loeb, Benjamin S., The Atomic Energy Commission under Nixon: Adjusting to Troubled Times, St. Martin's Press, New York, 1993 and Seaborg, Glenn T. and Seaborg, Eric, Adventures in the Atomic Age: From Watts to Washington, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2001.

[4] Stealing the Atom Bomb: How Denial and Deception Armed Israel, Roger J. Mattson, p. 155, 167.

[5] Those claims are being put to the test by ongoing appeals of FOIA denials, Mandatory Declassification Reviews and at least one lawsuit against the CIA that seeks operational files underlying its summary reports on NUMEC.

[6] The Sampson Option: Israel’s Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy, Seymour M. Hersh, Random House, NY, 1991, p. 255.

[7] “Highly Enriched Uranium: Striking a Balance, A Historical Report on the United States Highly Enriched Uranium Production, Acquisition and Utilization Activities from 1945 through September 30, 1996,” U.S. Department of Energy, National Nuclear Security Administration, Revision 1, January 2001 (declassified and released in January 2006).

[8] Dangerous Liaison: The Inside Story of the U.S.-Israeli Covert Relationship, Andrew and Leslie Cockburn, HarperCollins, NY, 1991, p. 79. “CIA Tales of ‘Lost’ Uranium Seem to Conflict,” John J. Fialka, Washington Star, January 28, 1979.

[9] “Scientist developed nuclear fuel for USS Nautilus.” TRIB LIVE, Mary Ann Thomas, July 18, 2016. “Zalman Shapiro, scientist and supporter of Israel, passes away at 96,” The Jewish Chronicle, Adam Reinherz, July 28, 2016.

[10] Stealing the Atom Bomb: How Denial and Deception Armed Israel, Roger J. Mattson, p. 55-56.

[11] LAKAM was an Israeli intelligence unit established in 1957 by Shimon Peres, then the director general of the Ministry of Defense. LAKAM is the Hebrew acronym for the Science Liaison Bureau. Its first director, who lasted in the job for 20 years, was a former Shin Bet operative named Binyamin Blumberg. The rationale for the creation of LAKAM was to provide technological intelligence to serve the nuclear project. Israeli intelligence officials have said that LAKAM’s original reason for being was to collect scientific intelligence behind friendly lines in the West.

[12] Stealing the Atom Bomb: How Denial and Deception Armed Israel, Roger J. Mattson, 2016, p. 109-116.

[13] Stealing the Atom Bomb: How Denial and Deception Armed Israel, Roger J. Mattson, 2016, p. 188.

[14] “CIA Tales of ‘Lost’ Uranium Seem to Conflict,” John J. Fialka, Washington Star, January 28, 1979.

[15] “Highly Enriched Uranium: Striking a Balance A Historical Report of the United States Highly Enriched Uranium Production, Acquisition and Utilization Activities from 1945 through September 30, 1996,” U.S. Department of Energy, Revision 1, January 2001 (declassified January 2006).

[16] Stealing the Atom Bomb: How Denial and Deception Armed Israel, Roger J. Mattson, 2016, p. 27, 40, 214.

[17] Divert: NUMEC, Zalman Shapiro and the Diversion of U.S. Weapons Grade Uranium into the Israeli Nuclear Weapons Program, Grant F. Smith, Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy, Inc., 2012. p. 204. "Supplemental Statement Pursuant to the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, as amended," U.S. Department of Justice, Registrant: Arnold and Porter LLP, Foreign Principal: State of Israel, December 31, 2014.

[18] Stealing the Atom Bomb: How Denial and Deception Armed Israel, Roger J. Mattson, 2016 p. 217 ff.

[19] “A Safeguards Case Study of the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation Uranium Processing Plant, Apollo, Pennsylvania,” W. Altman, J. Hockert, and E. Quinn, U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, NUREG-0627, January 1980.

March/April 2010, and a sequel in April 2014. Mattson is the author of a recent book, Stealing the Atom Bomb: How Denial and Deception Armed Israel.

Gorbachev Relaxes Trade Restrictions

Gorbachev also peeled back restrictions on foreign trade, streamlining processes to allow manufacturers and local government agencies to bypass the previously stifling bureaucratic system of the central government.

He encouraged Western investment, although he later reversed his original policy, which called for these new business ventures to be majority Russian-owned and operated.

He also showed initial restraint when laborers began to push for increased protections and rights, with thousands protesting the wild inefficiencies of the Soviet coal industry. But he again reversed course when faced with pressure from hardliners after a massive strike by 300,000 miners in 1991.

The Story Behind The Stuxnet Virus

Computer security experts are often surprised at which stories get picked up by the mainstream media. Sometimes it makes no sense. Why this particular data breach, vulnerability, or worm and not others? Sometimes it's obvious. In the case of Stuxnet, there's a great story.

As the story goes, the Stuxnet worm was designed and released by a government--the U.S. and Israel are the most common suspects--specifically to attack the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran. How could anyone not report that? It combines computer attacks, nuclear power, spy agencies and a country that's a pariah to much of the world. The only problem with the story is that it's almost entirely speculation.

Here's what we do know: Stuxnet is an Internet worm that infects Windows computers. It primarily spreads via USB sticks, which allows it to get into computers and networks not normally connected to the Internet. Once inside a network, it uses a variety of mechanisms to propagate to other machines within that network and gain privilege once it has infected those machines. These mechanisms include both known and patched vulnerabilities, and four "zero-day exploits": vulnerabilities that were unknown and unpatched when the worm was released. (All the infection vulnerabilities have since been patched.)

Stuxnet doesn't actually do anything on those infected Windows computers, because they're not the real target. What Stuxnet looks for is a particular model of Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) made by Siemens (the press often refers to these as SCADA systems, which is technically incorrect). These are small embedded industrial control systems that run all sorts of automated processes: on factory floors, in chemical plants, in oil refineries, at pipelines--and, yes, in nuclear power plants. These PLCs are often controlled by computers, and Stuxnet looks for Siemens SIMATIC WinCC/Step 7 controller software.

If it doesn't find one, it does nothing. If it does, it infects it using yet another unknown and unpatched vulnerability, this one in the controller software. Then it reads and changes particular bits of data in the controlled PLCs. It's impossible to predict the effects of this without knowing what the PLC is doing and how it is programmed, and that programming can be unique based on the application. But the changes are very specific, leading many to believe that Stuxnet is targeting a specific PLC, or a specific group of PLCs, performing a specific function in a specific location--and that Stuxnet's authors knew exactly what they were targeting.

It's already infected more than 50,000 Windows computers, and Siemens has reported 14 infected control systems, many in Germany. (These numbers were certainly out of date as soon as I typed them.) We don't know of any physical damage Stuxnet has caused, although there are rumors that it was responsible for the failure of India's INSAT-4B satellite in July. We believe that it did infect the Bushehr plant.

All the anti-virus programs detect and remove Stuxnet from Windows systems.

Stuxnet was first discovered in late June, although there's speculation that it was released a year earlier. As worms go, it's very complex and got more complex over time. In addition to the multiple vulnerabilities that it exploits, it installs its own driver into Windows. These have to be signed, of course, but Stuxnet used a stolen legitimate certificate. Interestingly, the stolen certificate was revoked on July 16, and a Stuxnet variant with a different stolen certificate was discovered on July 17.

Over time the attackers swapped out modules that didn't work and replaced them with new ones--perhaps as Stuxnet made its way to its intended target. Those certificates first appeared in January. USB propagation, in March.

Stuxnet has two ways to update itself. It checks back to two control servers, one in Malaysia and the other in Denmark, but also uses a peer-to-peer update system: When two Stuxnet infections encounter each other, they compare versions and make sure they both have the most recent one. It also has a kill date of June 24, 2012. On that date, the worm will stop spreading and delete itself.

We don't know who wrote Stuxnet. We don't know why. We don't know what the target is, or if Stuxnet reached it. But you can see why there is so much speculation that it was created by a government.

Stuxnet doesn't act like a criminal worm. It doesn't spread indiscriminately. It doesn't steal credit card information or account login credentials. It doesn't herd infected computers into a botnet. It uses multiple zero-day vulnerabilities. A criminal group would be smarter to create different worm variants and use one in each. Stuxnet performs sabotage. It doesn't threaten sabotage, like a criminal organization intent on extortion might.

Stuxnet was expensive to create. Estimates are that it took 8 to 10 people six months to write. There's also the lab setup--surely any organization that goes to all this trouble would test the thing before releasing it--and the intelligence gathering to know exactly how to target it. Additionally, zero-day exploits are valuable. They're hard to find, and they can only be used once. Whoever wrote Stuxnet was willing to spend a lot of money to ensure that whatever job it was intended to do would be done.

None of this points to the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran, though. Best I can tell, this rumor was started by Ralph Langner, a security researcher from Germany. He labeled his theory "highly speculative," and based it primarily on the facts that Iran had an usually high number of infections (the rumor that it had the most infections of any country seems not to be true), that the Bushehr nuclear plant is a juicy target, and that some of the other countries with high infection rates--India, Indonesia, and Pakistan--are countries where the same Russian contractor involved in Bushehr is also involved. This rumor moved into the computer press and then into the mainstream press, where it became the accepted story, without any of the original caveats.

Once a theory takes hold, though, it's easy to find more evidence. The word "myrtus" appears in the worm: an artifact that the compiler left, possibly by accident. That's the myrtle plant. Of course, that doesn't mean that druids wrote Stuxnet. According to the story, it refers to Queen Esther, also known as Hadassah she saved the Persian Jews from genocide in the 4th century B.C. "Hadassah" means "myrtle" in Hebrew.

Stuxnet also sets a registry value of "19790509" to alert new copies of Stuxnet that the computer has already been infected. It's rather obviously a date, but instead of looking at the gazillion things--large and small--that happened on that the date, the story insists it refers to the date Persian Jew Habib Elghanain was executed in Tehran for spying for Israel.

Sure, these markers could point to Israel as the author. On the other hand, Stuxnet's authors were uncommonly thorough about not leaving clues in their code the markers could have been deliberately planted by someone who wanted to frame Israel. Or they could have been deliberately planted by Israel, who wanted us to think they were planted by someone who wanted to frame Israel. Once you start walking down this road, it's impossible to know when to stop.

Another number found in Stuxnet is 0xDEADF007. Perhaps that means "Dead Fool" or "Dead Foot," a term that refers to an airplane engine failure. Perhaps this means Stuxnet is trying to cause the targeted system to fail. Or perhaps not. Still, a targeted worm designed to cause a specific sabotage seems to be the most likely explanation.

If that's the case, why is Stuxnet so sloppily targeted? Why doesn't Stuxnet erase itself when it realizes it's not in the targeted network? When it infects a network via USB stick, it's supposed to only spread to three additional computers and to erase itself after 21 days--but it doesn't do that. A mistake in programming, or a feature in the code not enabled? Maybe we're not supposed to reverse engineer the target. By allowing Stuxnet to spread globally, its authors committed collateral damage worldwide. From a foreign policy perspective, that seems dumb. But maybe Stuxnet's authors didn't care.

My guess is that Stuxnet's authors, and its target, will forever remain a mystery.

A New Cold War

There is growing resentment against Mr. Kim inside China, both in the general public and the policy establishment. China keeps North Korea running with oil shipments and accounts for almost all its foreign trade. But to many Chinese, the young leader seems ungrateful.

A three-day academic seminar in Shanghai last month brought together some critics, who question North Korea’s value to Beijing as a strategic buffer against South Korea and Japan — and warn that the North could prompt them to develop nuclear weapons of their own.

“The cost is to continue to alienate Japan, enrage the United States and irritate South Korea,” said Zhu Feng, a professor of international relations at Nanjing University. “If Japan and South Korea feel forced to go for radical options like nuclear weapons, it will badly affect regional diplomacy.”

The spread of nuclear weapons, he added, would thrust China into “a new Cold War” in Asia, perhaps with a beefed-up American military presence. That would frustrate Beijing’s ambitions for regional supremacy while also leaving it vulnerable to being labeled an enabler of nuclear proliferation, tarnishing its international reputation.

“A balance of mutually assured destruction in Northeast Asia will not be a satisfactory situation for anyone,” said Bilahari Kausikan, a former foreign secretary for Singapore. “But it will not necessarily be unstable, and it may be of some small consolation to Washington, Tokyo and Seoul that the implications for Beijing are somewhat worse.”

President Xi Jinping is said to be aware of such risks and to have privately expressed disdain for Mr. Kim.

But like his predecessors, he has resisted punishing sanctions that might cause North Korea’s collapse and lead to a destabilizing war on its border, a refugee crisis in China’s economically vulnerable northeast, or a unified Korean Peninsula controlled by American forces.

All these possibilities could pose as much a problem for China’s plans for ascendancy in Asia as an arms race in the region. And if North Korea somehow survived, it would remain on China’s border, angry and aggrieved.

From Mr. Xi’s perspective, a hostile neighbor armed with nuclear weapons may be the worst outcome.

US gives China the advantage in next-generation nuclear technology

Diagram of China's Thorium Molten Salt Reactor project using US technology.

China is building a massive nuclear energy program that will ultimately enable the Communist regime to power a nuclear navy to take on America’s fleet worldwide.

Just as US politicians and businesses allowed the nation to become dependent on China for pharmaceuticals, electronics, and strategic minerals, they are helping Beijing to make America dependent on advanced nuclear technology. This can stop with a simple act of Congress that is unusually united against the Xi Jinping regime.

Surrendering an American innovation to Beijing

Short-sighted legacy programs that began under the Clinton administration, continued through George W. Bush and accelerated under Obama, persist under the Trump administration to give Beijing a decisive advantage.

That advantage is a molten-salt reactor, a liquid-fueled nuclear reactor invented by American scientists more than a half-century ago. The US never invested in developing the technology, in large part because the byproducts of its energy generation did not include plutonium, the warhead core of thermonuclear weapons.

To ensure a strong nuclear deterrent against the Soviets during the Cold War, the US sponsored pressurized water reactors, fueled by uranium, for military submarine propulsion. This technology was later adapted to civilian power use. The waste produced from those reactors includes plutonium, which increases the lifetime of the waste and also makes it prone to weapons proliferation..

Beijing sees value in molten-salt reactors. US does not.

Proponents argue that new generations of molten-salt reactors can provide electric power on land and propel ships at sea. Being under low pressure, they are smaller in size and don’t require huge containment domes. They produce less radioactive waste than today’s high-pressure uranium-fueled reactors. Because of the inherent nature of the technology, they cannot melt down.

Molten-salt reactors are well-suited to generate power from another radioactive element, thorium, which is vastly more abundant than uranium and promises to greatly reduce the problem of nuclear waste.

Those features have led many U.S.-based startups to pursue the technology, but they haven’t gotten far.

Communist China, by contrast, has made huge advances – with American expertise.

Nearly a decade ago, the Chinese Academy of Science launched its own thorium molten-salt reactor program spearheaded by Jiang Mianheng, son of former President Jiang Zemin, which in a one-party regime like China’s is a sign of highest-level political commitment. The younger Jiang was ousted under Xi Jinping’s political consolidation, but Xi has made sure the thorium reactor program has grown in size and scope.

The United States government continues to assist China’s crash program

How thorium molten-salt reactors work

Thorium reactors create a synthetic uranium isotope, U-233, which the US first discovered during the Manhattan Project. U-233 “splits” when struck by a neutron to produce energy and two or more neutrons. This means one neutron can continue the chain reaction while the other is absorbed in thorium to form new U-233. Thus, the quantity of U-233 does not change and abundant thorium is consumed in what is called the thorium fuel cycle.

Molten-salt reactors are particularly well-suited for the thorium fuel cycle. Half a century ago, Oak Ridge National Lab in Tennessee successfully ran an experimental reactor that demonstrated feasibility.

As it ages, U-233 creates life-saving byproducts: Isotopes with the right set of properties for use in targeted cancer treatment.

So it makes sense for the United States to keep its small but unique inventory of U-233 that survives from the Cold War-era research project.

US is destroying $6 billion worth of U-233 that could add billions more to the economy

For decades, US leaders had no idea about putting its small but vital U-233 resource to work for productive purposes. So the material has sat, as it does today, at an old Cold War-era storage site at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee.

The American taxpayers paid about $6 billion to create U-233. As science and technology advanced, though, the Department of Energy, which runs the lab, kept the isotope in storage and never found a use for it.

Instead of allowing it to be deployed as a source of advanced, inexpensive, safe nuclear energy, Congress and presidents from both parties agreed to destroy it.

It was a shortsighted decision.

As a result, the Energy Department is paying a company to destroy America’s U-233 inventory. Some people recognized the error from the start. In a 2008 special report, the department’s inspector general criticized the destruction program, called down-blending, and recommended reconsideration.

Bill Gates got a special monopoly deal

Subsequently, TerraPower – one of Bill Gates’ many “startups” – cut a sweetheart deal with the Department of Energy. TerraPower is paying the DOE contractor $90 million to acquire valuable radioisotopes while destroying America’s entire stock of U-233. These isotopes are used for cancer treatment.

Proponents justify the destruction of the U-233 because it supposedly saves taxpayer money. But the absurdity of this premise is laid bare when considering that the US spent 70 times that much to develop the U-233, and the isotope and its byproducts, if put to use, would add many billions to the American economy.

Once finished, the TerraPower deal will not only foreclose on America’s promising thorium reactor technology. It would grant TerraPower a virtual monopoly on radioisotope cancer treatments for the foreseeable future. Those aren’t the only problems. Destruction of the nation’s dormant U-233 supply will benefit Communist China’s future military expansion as a global naval power.

China needs to manufacture U-233 . . .

Thorium reactors require an initial “seed” of U-233 to start the chain reaction to generate energy. China, whose thorium ambitions have expanded to include development of aircraft carriers, has little if any U-233. However, it has plenty of thorium, which is a byproduct of rare-earth mining on which China enjoys an uncontested monopoly.

For the Chinese military to build a modern fleet of warships powered by thorium reactors, it must create a viable inventory of U-233. Beijing seems to be borrowing a concept devised in India to create U-233 from thorium by consuming spent nuclear fuel in fast breeder reactors.

In 2017, the South China Morning Post cited a researcher associated with the program claiming that a new facility in Gansu province will support thorium reactor development. More recent reporting suggests that the massive Gansu project, which is progressing rapidly, will be home to a spent fuel reprocessing facility. A pilot fast breeder reactor is under construction.

. . . and Bill Gates’ company unwittingly helped

Meanwhile, Bill Gates’ TerraPower, while taking American tax dollars , tried to transfer fast breeder technology to the Chinese National Nuclear Corporation. Here we see TerraPower providing China with a key technology while simultaneously endorsing and abetting the destruction of the American U-233 inventory. To an objective observer, this would seem to be helping China against interests of the United States.

The Trump Administration prevented TerraPower from providing that advantage to the adversary. But it has not stopped DOE’s contract to destroy the U-233.

As with all American innovation centers, the Chinese regime has had a strong interest in Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Prior to the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ announcement of the thorium molten-salt reactor program in 2011, local Oak Ridge outlets had reported a spike in Chinese visitors. In hindsight, the visits were clearly prompted by the lab’s legacy as a molten-salt reactor pioneer.

Obama administration made secret tech transfer deal with China

The next year, under the Obama Administration, the Chinese Academy of Sciences signed a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Energy to “collaborate” on thorium reactors.

Since the US had no domestic program, the memorandum prompted questions about how exactly the nation would benefit from such a collaboration. On two separate occasions – in 2011 and 2014 – then-assistant secretary of energy Peter Lyons told Congress that there was no advantage to pursuing thorium reactors in the United States.

However, Lyons was a key player in securing the partnership with Communist China. He became co-chair of the partnership’s executive committee. While the memorandum wasn’t classified, the Obama Administration kept the document out of public view. Lack of public documents and the Energy Department’s reticence on the matter prompted concerned advocates to file a Freedom of Information Act request to shed light on the secret deal with Beijing.

The Chinese Academy of Sciences partnership with the Obama Administration was unusual in another way: The entirety of the funding came from China.

There’s still time to save America’s U-233

America remains conspicuously absent from the race to develop thorium reactors – a revolutionary technology developed by American scientists in our national labs.

At the same time, the US is actively destroying its U-233 inventory, creating a monopoly on U-233-derived cancer treatments by handing over rare isotopes to Bill Gates, whose company tried to provide the Chinese regime with American breeder reactor technology. The U-233 created from such fast breedersis likely to power Beijing’s next-generation aircraft carriers and other long-range warships that will use thorium molten salt technology.

All the while, the US continues to allow China to capture our technology and expertise by bankrolling the Department of Energy.

The Xi Jinping regime’s control of thorium technology will prove an existential threat to US economic competitiveness and national security. Allowing our own Department of Energy to continue to aid the Chinese regime, while destroying the American inventory of U-233, will all but assure that America will become dependent on Beijing for advanced nuclear energy.

Why Does North Korea Want Nukes?

3DSculptor/getty images

Since assuming power in 2011, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has exponentially increased testing of nuclear weapons and the missiles needed to deliver them against the United States and its allies. Experts assess that the regime now has 30 or more nuclear weapons. In 2017, North Korea tested a weapon at least 10 times more powerful than those used in 1945, indicating it has developed highly destructive hydrogen bombs.

North Korea likely already has the ability to hit South Korea and Japan with nuclear weapons on medium-range ballistic missiles. The regime also has chemical and biological weapons programs, the latter demonstrated when it used deadly VX nerve agent to assassinate the leader’s half-brother in a crowded civilian airport in Indonesia. Pyongyang is also nearing deployment of intermediate-range missiles to threaten critical U.S. military bases in Guam, a key node in the defense of U.S. allies in Asia.

North Korea is on the cusp of having the ability to reach the American homeland with nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Pyongyang has successfully tested missiles that can reach the entire continental United States all the way down to Florida. Earlier this year, then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo warned that the regime may complete the program within “a handful of months.”

Pyongyang has frequently threatened to use its nuclear weapons to turn Washington into a “sea of fire.” The regime also announced that some of its missile launches were practicing nuclear airbursts against U.S. bases in South Korea and Japan.

Pyongyang’s Multiple Objectives

For decades, debate has raged over North Korea’s motivations for developing nuclear weapons. Initially, the dispute was whether Pyongyang was building a military capability or merely a negotiating chip to be bargained away for economic and diplomatic benefits. Today, some experts assess North Korea seeks only a nuclear arsenal sufficient to deter a U.S. attack. Conversely, others perceive a desire to use nuclear weapons to achieve unification of the Korean Peninsula on the North’s terms or to attack the United States.

The U.S. Intelligence Community has “long assessed that Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities are intended for deterrence, international prestige, and coercive diplomacy.” From Pyongyang’s perspective, having nuclear weapons makes eminent sense since it concurrently fulfills several long-standing foreign policy objectives:

  • Regime survival, by deterring allied attacks or retaliations in response to North Korean provocations
  • Source of national pride, by achieving equal status with the United States
  • Domestic legitimacy and international prestige for the leadership
  • Tremendous military power, overcoming deficiencies in conventional forces to achieve reunification
  • Formidable leverage for coercive diplomacy, to wrest concessions and benefits
  • Undermining of the U.S.-South Korean alliance, by sowing doubt that Washington would come to Seoul’s defense once the American homeland is under nuclear threat.

Regime Survival. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un claims his nuclear force constitutes” a powerful deterrent that prevents [the United States] from starting an adventurous war.” Pyongyang justifies its nuclear weapons as guaranteed protection against the U.S. “hostile policy” of intimidation, military attacks, and regime change against authoritarian regimes. The North Korean military supreme command declared: “This land is neither the Balkans nor Iraq and Libya.”

Pyongyang’s military threats, including the colorful taunt to turn Washington and Seoul into a “sea of fire,” are usually issued in a conditional context, depicting them as a response to any U.S. attack. In his 2018 New Year’s Day speech, Kim Jong-un declared: “As a responsible nuclear weapons state, our Republic will not use a nuclear weapon unless its sovereignty is encroached upon by any aggressive hostile forces with nukes.”

North Korea Stands Alone. Contrary to widespread misperception of a close Chinese-North Korean political relationship, Pyongyang feels threatened by its neighbor to the north as well as by the United States since Beijing has acquiesced to joining in sanctions against North Korea. All three generations of North Korean leadership have warned of the dangers of Chinese intimidation. A traditional Korean adage depicts the peninsula as a “shrimp amongst whales.”

The North Korean nuclear program was born in the 1960s due to the perception that the regime couldn’t rely on either of its superpower allies—the Soviet Union and China—for its defense. Moscow was seen as having abandoned Havana during the Cuban missile crisis, and Beijing refused to share information from its nuclear tests.

North Korea sees nuclear weapons as a means of gaining equal status with the United States. Pyongyang has long sought formal recognition as a nuclear weapons state in order to deal with Washington from a position of equity. North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho told the UN General Assembly that Pyongyang’s ultimate goal is to “establish the balance of power with the U.S.”

Leadership Legitimacy. Even more than his father and grandfather, Kim Jong-un has linked his personal prestige to the country’s nuclear and ICBM programs. Lacking the revolutionary credentials or lengthy government tenure of his predecessors, Kim embraces the programs and the breakthroughs in recent years as his exclusive contribution to fulfilling long-standing regime objectives and defending the country.

North Korean official media frequently release photos of Kim attending missile launches, lauding him as the visionary and driving force. Kim is thus able to convey an image of infallibility and invincibility which helps secure his control of power. By declaring that the nuclear button is on his desk, Kim portrays himself as uniquely qualified to defend the country.

North Korean troops march through Kim Il-sung square in Pyongyang on the eve of the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
credit: KCNA/UPI/Newscom

Military Capability. Nuclear devices are the ultimate weapon and give North Korea the power to wreak havoc on its neighbors and the United States. Pyongyang already has the ability to target South Korea and Japan with nuclear weapons and is nearing completion of longer-range missiles to hit U.S. bases in Guam and the American homeland. Last year, the regime successfully tested two ICBM variants and an H-bomb with at least 10 times the explosive power of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs.

North Korea has long sought to drive a wedge between the United States and its partners by depicting Seoul’s alliance with Washington as the impediment to improved inter-Korean relations and eventual reunification.

North Korea is developing several means to ensure greater survivability of its missile forces, enhancing both a preemptive first-strike and retaliatory second-strike capability. Pyongyang is testing several different solid-fueled missiles which require less fueling time, along with mobile ground-based launchers and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The regime has also practiced missile launches under wartime conditions by firing them from diverse locations throughout the country and conducting salvo launches of several missiles simultaneously.

Enhancing Coercive Diplomacy. Attaining an unambiguous nuclear ICBM capability could lead Pyongyang to perceive it has immunity from any international response. This might tempt the regime to act even more belligerently, trying to intimidate the United States and its allies into accepting North Korean diktats. The regime could also use rising international fear of its nuclear prowess to pressure other Six-Party Talks participants to abandon denuclearization as their goal and instead accept limitations on North Korea’s nuclear programs in return for diplomatic and economic concessions.

Decoupling the Alliances. North Korea has long sought to drive a wedge between the United States and its partners by depicting Seoul’s alliance with Washington as the impediment to improved inter-Korean relations and eventual reunification. Characteristically, Kim Jong-un declared in his 2018 New Year’s Day speech: “the North and the South improve the relations between themselves and take decisive measures for achieving a breakthrough for independent reunification” without U.S. interference. Doing so, however, requires South Korea to “discontinue all the nuclear war drills they stage with outside forces [and] refrain from any acts of bringing in nuclear armaments and aggressive forces from the United States.”

Pyongyang’s approaching ability to target the continental United States with nuclear weapons has aggravated allied concerns about U.S. capability, resolve, and willingness to defend their countries. This trend is most prevalent in South Korea, which fears the United States “wouldn’t trade Los Angeles for Seoul.” This, coupled with growing anxiety that the United States is contemplating a preventive attack on North Korea, has led some in South Korea to advocate a more independent policy from Washington.

North Korean tanks take part in a parade to mark the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea in Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang on October 10, 2010.
credit: Kyodo/Newscom

How Does North Korea Achieve Its Objectives?

For decades, North Korea was able to keep the world at bay as it pursued nuclear weapons and ICBM programs, first in secret and then in open defiance of UN resolutions. The regime was able to do so through a comprehensive multi-faceted strategy of “deny, deceive, and delay.”

Preparing the Battlefield—Demanding a Price for Attending Negotiations. North Korea often achieved several objectives prior to even entering the negotiating venue. Pyongyang would fortify its bargaining position by conditioning its return on receiving preliminary concessions from its opponents as well as determining the agenda so that it reflected North Korean policy priorities.

By holding out the promise of returning to the talks rather than issuing an outright rejection, North Korea sought to portray itself as a reasonable negotiating partner. Pyongyang would signal it was interested in resuming negotiations while concurrently rejecting U.S. preconditions by characterizing them as insufficient. Doing so put Washington on the defensive and susceptible to additional pressure from China (and from South Korea, when it had Left-leaning governments) to provide greater U.S. “flexibility.”

Pyongyang’s approaching ability to target the continental United States with nuclear weapons has aggravated allied concerns about U.S. capability, resolve, and willingness to defend their countries.

“Good Cop, Bad Cop”—Creating the Illusion of Factionalism. North Korea long cultivated the image of factional infighting between “engagers” and “hardliners” as a negotiating tool. In fact, the ministries of foreign affairs and defense were simply playing the roles of good cop and bad cop in order to gain maximum diplomatic and economic benefits. In the words of a Korean adage, “the same animal has sharp claws and soft fur.”

Raising Brinksmanship to an Art Form. Pyongyang escalated tensions to define negotiating parameters and extract maximum benefits for minimal concessions. North Korean brinksmanship raised the price of an eventual deal, slowed down the negotiating process until opponents were willing to meet North Korean terms, and created a parallel crisis to divert attention from a negotiating impasse.

North Korea’s escalation is opportunistic rather than reactive to U.S. actions. By moving up the escalatory ladder, North Korea retains the initiative and controls the pace of the game, forcing the United States and others to respond. Raising tensions may gain Pyongyang what it desires or at least expose fault lines in a coalition that North Korea can then exploit. Pyongyang believes it can force the United States to negotiate either by applying leverage directly on Washington or indirectly through its allies.

Two-track Diplomatic Strategy. Pyongyang often used a combination of threats and assurances to garner diplomatic and economic support from China, Russia, and South Korea by raising the specter of a deteriorating security situation.

Pyongyang’s two-track strategy complicated U.S. attempts to gain Chinese and Russian support for imposing sanctions. North Korea’s seeming reasonableness encouraged Beijing and Moscow to resist tough enforcement of the trade sanctions, let alone U.S. demands for additional sanctions beyond those mandated by the UN.

Inching Across the Redline. Pyongyang used the years of negotiating foot-dragging and delays to augment its stockpile from an estimated one to two nuclear weapons at the end of the 1990s to enough fissile material for approximately 30 or more weapons today.

Under Kim Jong-il, North Korea’s strategy had been to build slowly toward an escalatory act, thereby allowing the United States and its allies sufficient time to offer new diplomatic or economic inducements. On those occasions when North Korea carried out the act, it followed with several months of calm to allow all countries to become accustomed to the new elevated status quo prior to initiating the next lengthy provocation process.

Unlike his father, Kim Jong-un has eschewed engagement, maneuvering for negotiations, and charm offensives. Kim fils preferred an all-out sprint to cross the finish line of a viable nuclear weapons and ICBM capability. He lost an opportunity to induce liberal Presidents Obama and Moon Jae-in to offer benefits and move away from pressure tactics. Kim’s hardline strategy drove the international community into greater consensus on the need to punish and pressure the recalcitrant regime.

But Kim’s 2018 New Year Day speech may have marked a turning point. In it, he extended an olive branch to Seoul which was quickly grasped by President Moon in order to lower tensions on the peninsula. Bilateral discussions led to an agreement for a North Korean team to join the Olympics in South Korea. Skepticism abounds as to how sincere or effective Kim Jong-un’s charm offensive will be, since all previous Korean reconciliation efforts collapsed.

Too High a Cost. If Kim shows a willingness to return to nuclear negotiations, it would come with a price. Pyongyang has always coupled diplomatic outreach with an ambitious list of demands, including:

  • Military: the end of U.S.-South Korean military exercises, removal of U.S. troops from South Korea, abrogation of the bilateral defense alliance between the United States and South Korea, cancellation of the U.S. extended-deterrence guarantee, and worldwide dismantlement of all U.S. nuclear weapons
  • Political: establishment of formal diplomatic relations with the United States, signing of a peace treaty to end the Korean War, and no action on the U.N. Commission of Inquiry report on North Korean human rights abuses
  • Law enforcement: removal of all U.N. sanctions, U.S. sanctions, EU sanctions, and targeted financial measures and
  • Societal: restrictions on South Korean constitutionally protected freedoms of speech and assembly, including suppressing the publication of “insulting” articles by South Korean media and forbidding anti-North Korean public demonstrations in Seoul.

How one interprets the motivations driving North Korea’s nuclear weapons program influences one’s views on the appropriate U.S. policy response. A belief that the primary purpose is defensive leads to advocacy for pursuing a negotiated freeze on the regime’s nuclear program. Theoretically, a freeze could lead to denuclearization.

At the other end of the spectrum, an assessment that Pyongyang’s dominant reason for a nuclear arsenal is to invade South Korea and achieve Korean unification leads to advocacy for a U.S. preventive attack before Pyongyang achieves an ICBM capability. A middle viewpoint is that the North’s nuclear weapons are more than a benign defense mechanism, but that the regime is unlikely to initiate an invasion as long as the U.S.-South Korean alliance remains strong. As such, the best policy for the U.S. is a comprehensive strategy of deterrence, containment, pressure, and eventual regime change.

Mr. Klingner is a senior research fellow on Northeast Asia at The Heritage Foundation.

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Washington D.C., May 2, 2019 - During 1963, President John F. Kennedy was preoccupied with issues such as Vietnam, the nuclear test ban negotiations, civil rights protests, and Cuba. It is less well known, however, that one of his most abiding concerns was whether and how fast Israel was seeking a nuclear weapons capability and what the U.S. should do about it. Beginning in April 1963, Kennedy insisted that the Israeli leadership accept regular bi-annual U.S. inspections, or in diplomatic language, “visits,” of Israel’s nuclear complex at Dimona in the Negev Desert. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and his successor, Levi Eshkol, tried to evade and avoid inspections, but Kennedy applied unprecedented pressure, informing them bluntly, in a near ultimatum tone, that Washington’s “commitment to and support of Israel “could be “seriously jeopardized” if it was thought that the U.S. government could not obtain “reliable information” on the Dimona reactor and Israel’s nuclear intentions.

The full exchange of letters and related communications between Kennedy, Ben-Gurion, and Eshkol, published for the first time today by the National Security Archive, illustrates both Kennedy’s tenacity and Israeli leaders’ recalcitrance on the matter of Dimona. Surprised by the U.S.’s firm demands, Eshkol took seven weeks, involving tense internal consultations, before he reluctantly assented. Retreating from a near-diplomatic crisis, both sides treated their communications on Dimona with great secrecy.

Today’s posting of declassified documents from the U.S. National Archives system, including presidential libraries, provides a behind-the-scene look at the decision-making and intelligence review process that informed Kennedy’s pressure on Israeli prime ministers during 1963. Among the documents are:

  • National Intelligence Estimate 30-63, “The Arab-Israeli Problem,” from January 1963, which estimated that if the Dimona reactor “operated at its maximum capacity … [it] could produce sufficient plutonium for one or two weapons a year.” This NIE was declassified in 2017.
  • A letter from a U.S. diplomat in Tel Aviv who concluded that the detection of an Israeli decision to initiate a “crash” emergency nuclear program would require “a fairly careful watch on the activities of the dozen or so top scientists.” This document was declassified in 2018.
  • A State Department memorandum supporting bi-annual inspections of the Dimona reactor to monitor the use of nuclear fuel. Without U.S. inspections, Israel could discharge spent fuel at six-month intervals “to produce a maximum of irradiated fuel for separation into weapons grade plutonium.”
  • Kennedy’s statement to French Foreign Minister Couve de Murville that Israel’s nuclear program had put that country in a “stupid” position by giving “a pretext to the Russians, who are retreating in the region, to indict us before world opinion, and perhaps not without reason.”
  • A memorandum of conversation from August 1963 in which a British diplomat reported on “new disturbing signs” of Israeli official interest in nuclear weapons. Declassified in 2016.
  • The detailed report of the January 1964 U.S. inspection of Dimona that resulted from Kennedy’s pressure on Ben-Gurion and Eshkol.

Some of the documents in today’s posting, such as the Kennedy-Ben-Gurion-Eshkol correspondence, were declassified in U.S. or Israeli archives during the 1990s, but have not been widely available.[1] Others, as indicated above, were declassified in recent years. Moreover, the French translation of Kennedy’s statement to Couve de Murville meeting has never been rendered into English before. Other documents relating to the Ben-Gurion/Kennedy confrontation remain classified at the U.S. National Archives. Significant CIA and intelligence community documents are under appeal or are awaiting declassification action.

Seeing nuclear proliferation as a major challenge to American power, John F. Kennedy firmly believed that the United States should use its influence to prevent Israel from going nuclear. The Dimona reactor had been discovered only two months before he assumed the presidency in January 1961 and Kennedy was already deeply concerned about Israel’s nuclear aspirations (for details see “Kennedy, Dimona and the Nuclear Proliferation Problem: 1961-1962” in National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 547). Those early concerns led to the first American inspection visit at Dimona, in mid-May 1961, and a subsequent face-to-face discussion between Kennedy and Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion on 30 May. The nuclear issue was also discussed in the meeting between Kennedy and Israeli Foreign Minister Golda Meir in late December 1962. Ben-Gurion explicitly assured Kennedy that Israel’s nuclear program was for peaceful purposes and Meir insisted that Israel was not on a path to develop nuclear weapons.

In early 1963 American concerns resurfaced. In January, Kennedy received a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that highlighted the weapons potential of Dimona. It pointed out that the Dimona complex was likely to be operational later that year. According to the NIE, once Dimona was operating at full power, Israel might be on its way to produce enough plutonium for one or two weapons a year. Weeks later, in mid-March, Director of the Office of National Estimates Sherman Kent signed an intelligence estimate pointing out the negative consequences for the United States – at the regional and global levels – of Israeli acquisition of nuclear weapons. On 25 March, Kennedy met CIA Director John McCone to discuss the Israeli nuclear program, and soon afterwards asked National Security Advisor McGeorge Bundy to beef up U.S. intelligence collection capabilities aimed at both the Israeli nuclear program and Egypt’s “advanced weapons programs.” The next day Bundy issued National Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 231, a formal directive to State, Defense, and CIA to study “Middle Eastern Nuclear Capabilities.”

By early April Kennedy and his advisers translated their concerns about Dimona into a quiet but affirmative policy demand: they insisted that Israel accept regular bi-annual U.S. inspections (or “visits,” as they were referred to in more diplomatic language), of Dimona. Initially, Kennedy applied the pressure through diplomatic messages. On 2 April, Ambassador to Israel Walworth Barbour presented to Ben-Gurion the U.S. request for semi-annual American visits two days later, Israeli Ambassador Avraham Harman was summoned to the State Department for a similar message.

Ben-Gurion was expected to respond to Kennedy’s request on Dimona during his next meeting with Barbour, but he was not ready for a direct showdown with a determined U.S. president. Nor was he ready to accept Kennedy’s goal of semi-annual visits that would have ended Dimona as the embodiment of Ben-Gurion’s existential insurance policy. Instead, he tried to avoid a confrontation by diverting Kennedy’s attention.

On 17 April 1963, an opportunity arose for doing so: Egypt, Syria, and Iraq signed the Arab Federation Proclamation, calling for a military union to bring about “the liberation of Palestine.” Such rhetoric was not new at the time, but Ben-Gurion used it to start an exchange with President Kennedy about Israel’s overall security predicament, while evading Kennedy’s specific Dimona request. Whether Ben-Gurion genuinely saw the Arab Federation Proclamation as an existential threat to Israel is unclear, but it tacitly justified Israel’s efforts to create a last resort option without the outright rejection of Kennedy’s request.

Ben-Gurion’s focus on a threat posed by the Arab Federation Proclamation vis-a-vis Kennedy’s focus on the danger of the Israeli nuclear project generated a remarkably discordant exchange of letters and personal oral messages between the two leaders throughout the spring of 1963. Ben-Gurion invoked the specter of “another Holocaust,” and insisted on Israel’s need to receive external security guarantees. But such an arrangement was not in the cards because Kennedy believed that so clear a sign of favoritism toward Israel would undermine U.S. relations with the Arab states.

Kennedy did not budge on Dimona and he was determined not to let Ben-Gurion change the conversation. He dismissed the prime minister’s alarm over the Arab Federation Proclamation as both nothing new and practically meaningless, and insisted that the real danger to the region was the introduction of advanced offensive systems, especially nuclear weapons. To address this concern Kennedy was willing to explore an arms control scheme that would cover both Israel and Egypt. It was evident, however, that his prime focus was halting the Israeli nuclear program.

In retrospect, this exchange amounted to a confrontation between the president of the United States and the prime ministers of Israel over the future of the Israeli nuclear program. The peak of that confrontation was Kennedy’s 15 June letter that Ambassador Barbour was supposed to deliver to Ben-Gurion the next day. The letter included detailed technical conditions under which Kennedy insisted that the biannual U.S. visits were to be conducted. The letter was akin to an ultimatum: if the U.S. government could not obtain “reliable information” on the state of the Dimona project, Washington’s “commitment to and support of Israel “could be “seriously jeopardized.” But the letter was never delivered to Ben-Gurion because on that day he stunned his country and the world by announcing his resignation.

Ambassador Barbour, who was prepared to deliver the letter, notified the State Department and asked for instructions. He recommended postponing delivery until the “cabinet problem is sorted out” and then addressing the letter to the next prime minister, a recommendation that Kennedy and his advisers followed.