Sunday, January 29, 2012

On Sunday night’s 60 Minutes program, Scott Pelley opened an interview with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta with the question “How many countries are we currently engaged in a shooting war?”  Surprised by the question, Panetta, who laughed heartily as if Pelley had just told him a really humorous knock-knock joke that tickled his funny bone, responded ‘that’s a good question.  I have to stop and think about that.”    Panetta proceeded to answer “we’re going after al Qaeda wherever they’re at….Clearly, we’re confronting al Qaeda in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, North Africa….”   In case you’re wondering, yes, Panetta confirmed that US troops are in Pakistan.;contentAux

Pelley’s question could not have been more clear just as Panetta’s answer was unequivocal.   What neither Pelley nor Panetta, who received a law degree from Santa Clara University Law School, mentioned was that for the US to be ‘engaged in a shooting war,’ not to mention more shooting wars than he could recount, without Congressional approval is not only unconstitutional but is a clear violation of the War Powers Act of 1973..  
After the debacle in Vietnam, with the American people dispirited and exhausted from a bloody, divisive war, the 93rd Session of Congress recognized the need to restore its Constitutional authority to declare war and oversight on national security and foreign policy issues with adoption of the War Powers Act of 1973.  The Act, which was also intent on improving accountability requirements for the Executive Branch, necessitated a Congressional override of President’s Nixon’s veto.   

In lieu of a declaration of war, the Act requires three things of the President: ”in every possible instance” to consult with Congress  before introducing US troops “into hostilities”, to report to Congress within 48 hours of committing troops and to withdraw US troops by 60 days.  In addition, while Presidents have cited Congressional funding votes as tacit endorsement of their actions, the Act (Sec 8 (a)(1)) specifically prohibits any appropriation from being “intended to constitute specific statutory authorization.”   Since its adoption in1973, the spirit and, we now know, the legal mandate of the Act has been consciously challenged, undermined, dismissed, dodged or violated in an on-going erosion of Congress’ Constitutional authority.     

Military action against Libya began on March 19 with the US in command with several submarines and frigates firing Tomahawk cruise missiles. into Libya with the Presidents of Zimbabwe, Uganda and Namibia in opposition.  That day, President Obama announced the deployment of US forces stating his action did not include any ‘troops on the ground’ and notified Congress that its authorization was not necessary.
As Congressional criticism of the action grew, the President announced the 'transfer' of command to NATO.  On the 60th day of US participation, the President had still not sought Congressional approval and was no doubt aware that the Act does not distinguish between troops on the ground or air or naval attacks.    

On Friday, June 3rd, the US House of Representatives rebuked the President in a bi-partisan resolution offered by Speaker John Boehner for committing US forces to Libya without Congressional approval.  Boehner’s resolution was approved on a 268 – 145 vote with 45 brave Democrats voting to reprimand the President.

Even prior to Panetta’s admission Sunday evening, the Constitutional questions for Obama’s new global occupation  by U.S. combat troops in potential hot-spots on every continent, participting in specious counterterrorism chases across the planet, remained problematic.   With confirmation Sunday evening that US armed forces are engaged militarily without prior Congressional approval requires some Member of Congress, any Member of Congress, to demand an immediate full-scale Congressional inquiry. 

If the President of the United States, known as a Constitutional scholar and after having been rebuked once already, persists in repeating past indiscretions, what are the implications for the Act to retain any trace of its legal authority or for the country to maintain any semblance of a Constitutional democracy?

Friday, January 27, 2012

U.S. Plans for Perpetual War

As an attack on Iran remains temporarily on the backburner and Syria, home to US-identified terrorist group Hamas, moves up the queue as the next target for military intervention, both are part of a larger strategy proposed to newly-elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 1996.   

The “Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm suggested a “new approach to peace’ premised on a ‘clean break’ from the Oslo peace process of the 1990’s.  Oslo would have withdrawn Israeli troops from the occupied territories while affirming Palestine’s right of self-determination.  Rather than pursuing a ‘comprehensive peace’ with the Arab world, Clean Break advocated an aggressive pre-emptive military strategy to destabilize Iraq and eliminate Saddam Hussein.  In addition, Clean Break retained the ‘right of hot pursuit’ anywhere within the occupied territories and encouraged ‘seizing the initiative’ by “engaging” Hezbollah, Syria and Iran to trigger ultimate regime change.   

The key authors of that document, American neo-cons Richard Perle, David Wurmser and Douglas Feith (who Gen. Tommy Franks called the ‘f… stupidest guy on the face of the earth” ie Bob Woodward’s Plan of Attack, pg 281), soon found themselves influential national security positions within a receptive Bush Administration from which to proselytize their recommendations.

 A decade later, the authors of that Study are gone in name but their spirit of unending wars is alive and well within the Obama Administration’s recently announced “Defense Strategic Guidance” as part of “Sustaining US Global Leadership:  Priorities for 21st Century Defense,”   Where Clean Break offered what was then a radical Middle East military strategy, Obama’s DSG identifies US military priorities for the 21st century to “confront and defeat aggression anywhere in the world” with an emphasis on the Middle East and Asia-Pacific region as the “greatest challenges for the future.” (Panetta, 1-5-2012) 

Even prior to announcement of the DSG, the American military is still pursuing WMD’s as combat troops have been deployed to chase local ‘terrorists’ that pose no threat to the US; such as the Lord’s Army in Uganda and escalating a US military presence dispatching 2,500 Marines to Australia to protect US ‘national interests’ in the South China Sea and Indian Ocean.  

Addressing  a January 5th news conference at the Pentagon,  the President, cited ‘enduring national interests’ as he read a prepared ten minute statement and left the podium without taking any questions; attending  reporters remained in their places with bright, shiny faces leaving Defense Secretary Panetta and Joint Chief Martin Dempsey to carry on.   With his usual eloquence, the President pledged that the United States is going to “maintain our military superiority ..ready for the full range of contingencies and threats” and that ‘the US faces a complex and growing array of security challenges across the globe.”  

The President’s grim pronouncements failed to reassure a US commitment to international law or to provide an analysis to justify a future of perpetual armed conflict and, as both Obama and Panetta postulated the pretense of victory in Iraq, neither acknowledged the 800 pound gorilla in the room that if the systematic destruction of Iraq and Afghanistan as a result of U.S. interventions was an example of providing for a ‘safer, more stable, prosperous world’, then perhaps the world would be better off if the United States stayed at home and minded its own business..

In a questionable grip on reality, the President recounted  the ‘extraordinary’ growth of country’s military budget since 9/11  as he acknowledged that “global responsibilities demand leadership, the defense budget will still be larger than it was toward the end of the Bush administration.”  Obama went on to make the prediction that the American people will “accept a defense budget” that ‘continues to be larger than roughly the next ten countries combined.”   As the news networks almost entirely allowed the implications of DSG to slide under the radar neglecting to inform the American public of the President’s generosity regarding his new military strategy, the average American taxpayer remains unaware of Obama’s future foreign policy objectives and its consequences for social programs that millions of Americans rely on.  Nor has the American taxpayer benefited from a Presidential explanation of how a budget ‘larger than it was’ will affect the country’s fragile economic stability.  

With passage of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is required to prepare budget projections for all Federal departments.  Those projections are premised on a baseline budget process that predicts future budget increases based on inflation, new programs, increased administrative costs, etc.  In a bi-partisan game of smoke and mirrors intent on tricking the taxpayer, it is reductions to this baseline budget projection that the Pentagon is now heralding as ‘cuts.’   Therefore, the $487 billion in ‘cuts’ over the next ten years are, in reality, coming out of the projections prepared by the CBO which explains why there are no cuts to any major weapons program.

In addition, with the Pentagon’s four year baseline budget cycle of 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 at $515 billion, $533 billion, $549 billion and $531 billion, respectively; for the President and Panetta to claim that the proposed ‘baseline’ budget for 2013 of $525 billion is a dramatic cut representing significant savings does not meet the straight-face test or their ethical obligation to the country.  pg 64

Neither the President nor Panetta felt any need to articulate a credible global threat that requires eternal armed vigilance as the country continues to dismantle its People Programs and as its infrastructure continues to crumble - nor did either provide the American people with a thoughtful rationale for who, why, when, where and how.  

In sync with Clean Break’s principles, DSG provides a framework for reassuring any nervous Nellies of the US ability to sustain multiple wars simultaneously in multiple global locations as Secretary Panetta suggested  “from a land war in South Korea and at the same time, threats in the Strait of Hormuz”  (1-5-2012 news conference q and a  

As DSG transforms the nature of US combat realigning its forces beyond the Mideast, the US will “of necessity” rebalance toward the Asia-Pacific region in recognition of the ‘growth of China’s military power….to avoid causing friction in the region.”   Recognizing that ‘over the long term, China’s emergence as a regional power will have the potential to effect the US economy and our security in a variety of ways,” refers to more than just the US missing an interest payment on its debt or China knocking on our door to demand payment.

DSG eschews diplomacy as a viable alternative in favor of a military response to international tensions with a reduction in the need  for ‘boots on the ground’ while relying on an increase in a leaner, meaner new generation  of remote-powered guilt-free drones, the weapon that Ron Paul suggests are unconstitutional, and more agile, flexible Special Op troops.,0,740306.story

After the President’s departure, Panetta, once known as a liberal House Democrat from California, began to morph into a gnarl-faced Dr. Strangelove with every utterance of war, enemies, threats, death and destruction as he touted U.S. military dominance and its ability to “decisively prevail in any conflict.’

With the world’s largest military force including an incomparable nuclear arsenal and a budget to match, exactly who are we protecting the Homeland from – and what condition will it be in when they arrive?  If al Qaeda’s goal was to destroy the country’s quality of life, its economic prosperity or its high regard for the First Amendment and civil liberties while creating a second-rate banana republic, they have done a terrific job.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Keystone Pipeline Fight is Not Over

As Bill McKibben and his environmental supporters bask in a well-deserved satisfaction of the now-infamous Keystone XL pipeline denial, a close reading of the President’s statement indicates reason for concern.        

In what would have otherwise been another slam-dunk for the petroleum industry, McKibben et al can take credit for bringing the issue and its deleterious impact on American farmers and climate change to the public’s attention.
The case against the pipeline is overwhelming with the Natural Resources Defense Council warning that synthetic crude made from tar sands will generate three times as much CO2 pollution as conventional crude oil production because the extremely heavy, thick viscous bitumen (tar) requires great amounts of water and energy in order to flow through a pipe.

At issue has been the route of the pipeline which would run through the Sandhills, designated a distinct ecoregion area of significance by the World Wildlife Fund that sits atop the all-important Oglala acquifer.   The Ogallala spans eight states and is responsible for providing ground water for 27% of all the irrigated land in the US as well as drinking water for 82% of residents who live within its borders.  

In 2011, the President announced he would ‘delay’ a decision on the pipeline until 2013.   At that time, McKibben and other environmentalists hailed Obama’s decision as a defeat for the pipeline in that such a delay would create onerous costs and the project would collapse under its own weight.  However, shortly after the President’s decision, Alex Pourbaix, Trans Canada's president made it clear that the company would re-route the pipeline in order to receive approval when he announced that "I can confirm the route will be changed.”

Congressional proponents were, however, not content to wait until 2013 as Republicans attached a rider to the payroll tax bill requiring a Presidential decision on the pipeline within 60 days.  How that timeline requirement made it through a Democratically-controlled Senate remains a mystery.

But here’s where political reality collides with environmental ethos – as McKibben, NRDC and others rejoice in the President’s most recent decision to deny, it is curious that the TC’s already agreed-to compromise with the State of Nebraska last November to reroute the pipeline has fallen through the cracks.  At that time, TC indicated that a reroute would add 30-40 miles of pipe and an additional pumping station and that a supplemental environmental assessment would take more than a year to complete.  and/ or Despite TC’s earlier vehemence about sticking to their original route and from my years of wrestling alligators at FOE (ie challenging the nuclear industry), I know that the industry’s stated public posture can be very different from what they are willing to settle for when the chips are down – and in this case, it would be naïve not to think that while TC was publicly  pushing for the maximum, they already had a reroute plan in their hip pocket.   Unlike average citizens who actively oppose the pipeline, the industry has the resources to play the waiting-game as they string out the opposition with bureaucratic delays and amoral obfuscations.

In perhaps the most unkind cut of all is that the President’s two paragraph statement of denial makes no mention of the pipeline’s impact on climate or agriculture  but rather refers to a new environmental assessment and that “this announcement is not a prejudgment of the merits of the pipeline” and further that this decision “does not change my Administration’s commitment to American-made energy that creates jobs and reduces our dependence on oil.  What the President is saying between-the-lines is that his denial of the pipeline is a temporary one, pending submission of an amended application with a route that will steer clear of the sand hills and the Ogallala.

While House Speaker John Boehner is correct when he says, “this fight is not over” but Bill McKibben and his idealistic cohorts need to take heart and not lose sight of the goal or ever forget that the Keystone pipeline is worth the fight.  They have come too far to be discouraged by the rough street game of American politics or the realization that the playing field is not level.  They did it once, they can do it again.

Renee Parsons was an environmental lobbyist with Friends of the Earth in Washington DC focusing on nuclear energy issues.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Israel's Nuclear History as US Troops Deploy to Drill

As the Obama Administration coordinates a global PR campaign of scare tactics for the upcoming attack on Iran, eerily reminiscent of the Bush Administration’s lies of WMD’s to justify its invasion of Iraq, it comes as no surprise that the US Congress has added its voice, in repayment for the Israel lobby’s $3 M during the 2010 election cycle, to ban any communication between US and Iran government officials. 
Intensifying the drums of war with over-the-top statements that Iran, with an inferior set of missiles and a vastly inadequate Navy, represents ‘the greatest threat to world peace” and that ‘the actions and policies of Iran threaten the national security, foreign policy and economy of the United States” ignore the inconvenient reality that US intelligence has found no evidence of a nuclear weapons capacity in Iran.
Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, who needs to cut back on the coffee, recently told 60 Minutes that Iran has “reached a point where they can assemble a nuclear bomb in a year or less’ only to have Pentagon press secretary George Little set the record straight “we have no indication that Iran has made a decision to develop a nuclear weapon.”     

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently contributed her opinion that "Recent days have brought new evidence that Iran's leaders continue to defy their international obligations and violate international norms” yet Clinton makes no mention of Israel, which has refused to sign the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty for 40 years, continues to deny access of IAEA inspectors  to their Dimona facility as it did in 2004 and continues to reprocess spent nuclear fuel into weapons-grade plutonium – all in defiance of “international obligations” and in violation of “international norms”.  (Only India and Pakistan along with Israel have refused to join the world community as signers of the NPT.) 
At the same time, the Inter Press Agency reported that while Panetta failed to obtain agreement from Israel that it would not attack Iran without first informing Washington, Obama has shirked any responsibility for Israel’s action in that he ‘had no say’ over Israel ”as a sovereign country.” 

The President’s recent Executive Order increasing economic sanctions stated that “illicit nuclear activities of the Government of Iran, along with its development of unconventional weapons and ballistic missiles and its support for international terrorism, threaten the security of the United States” is disingenuous and that “all options are on the table” defies the reality that Iran’s modest  military budget (1.8% of GDP) is no match for Israel (6.3% of GDP) or that the US (4.7% of GDP) never created an international crisis when Russia or China or India or Pakistan or any other nation ‘went nuclear’ just as it has, over the last 40 years, allowed Israel to become a dominant nuclear military power without international safeguards and allowed Israel’s interests to dictate US foreign policy.  
Former White House analyst on Iran Gary Sick has called US sanctions that would block Iranian shipments through the Strait of Hormuz “little more than a military blockade’ that could be considered an ‘act of war.’  The UN Convention on the Law of the Sea III ratified in 1994 by 154 countries, signed but not ratified by the US and Iran while Israel has done neither, sets a 12 nautical mile territorial water limit.    

It is curious that the most powerful man in the world representing the most powerful military in the world who accepted the Nobel Peace Prize defending ‘just’ wars without condemnation of the neo-con concept of pre-emptive war, who exhibited tremendous drive and ambition to be elected President but now has ‘no say’ over $4 billion annual military aid to Israel.  Just as Obama has allowed the Republicans to dance rings around him, he, no doubt, has already discovered that the Israeli’s play a much rougher game than any Republican. 
It is inexplicable that there is Zero discussion amongst the mainstream media about Israel’s ”illicit nuclear activities” with estimates of between 200 - 400 nuclear war heads and all the US-supplied tanks, submarines, fighter jets, guns and assorted weaponry and implements of destruction that $4 billion from the US taxpayer can buy.  

As if US orchestration of war was not menacing enough, the Jerusalem Post has reported that Lt. Gen. Frank Gorenc met with his Israeli counterpart to plan an ‘unprecedented’ missile defense exercise dubbed “Austere Challenge”  this Spring involving the ‘deployment of thousands of American soldiers to Israel.” In addition, the Post further reported that Chair of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey is expected to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu and other Israel officials in mid-January as “US escalates its rhetoric regarding US military preparations to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities.”  The Jerusalem Post articles (“US Commander visits Israel to finalize Missile Drill” 12-20-2011  and  US Army Chief to visit Israel, Reassure it on Iran” 12-29-2011 represent a deliberate, if reckless, attempt by the United States and Israel to escalate tensions with Iran regardless of the very real possibility of war with nuclear weapons.

But the threat of a nuclear attack is not from Iran which the most recent IAEA report certified that Iran has not ‘diverted any nuclear fuel for military purposes.”  US intel agencies agreed with IAEA conclusions and the Arms Control Association, a US think-tank, said that a “nuclear-armed Iran is still not imminent nor is it inevitable” while Israel’s well-known hair trigger is worrisome to international experts.   
Even as Israel continues to neither confirm nor deny its own nuclear capacity and  makes its case for military action with world peace in the balance, its accusations against Iran must be viewed in the context of a country that preaches one set of principles and yet, does not follow those same principles for itself as well as its own sordid nuclear history of lies, deceptions, evasions and total disregard for the international Rule of Law.         

The Israeli romance with nuclear weapons began immediately upon Statehood with the French assisting in the construction of the Dimona nuclear facility and supplying its earliest uranium fuel.   Prime Minister Ben-Gurion was committed to making Israel a nuclear power creating the Israel Atomic Energy Administration in 1952.  Despite Israeli denials, U-2 flights in 1958 reported the existence of the massive Dimona nuclear facility confirming CIA fears that the Israeli government was reprocessing high level nuclear fuel into weapons grade plutonium.  
After Count Folke Bernadotte, the UN’s appointed emissary to mediate the Israel and Arab dispute, was assassinated in 1948 by radical Zionists, President Harry Truman adopted an arms embargo on major weapons to Israel fearing an escalation of violence.  That embargo continued through the Eisenhower Administration until the Kennedy Administration agreed to a modest sale of anti-aircraft missiles to counter Russian arms to Egypt. 

Increasingly concerned about Israel’s determination for nuclear arms, JFK wrote to Ben-Gurion on May 18, 1963 diplomatically protesting that Israel was stalling and that US “scientists” were not being allowed unfettered inspections of the Dimona site.  In that same letter, Kennedy suggested that “I see no present or imminent nuclear threat to Israel from there”  and further that “Egyptians do not presently have any installation comparable to Dimona, nor any facilities potentially capable of nuclear weapons production.”  Ben-Gurion avoided responding to Kennedy and retired shortly thereafter.   
America’s last President to not be intimidated by Israel’s aggressive posture, Kennedy followed up in a July 5, 1963 letter to newly elected PM Eshkol with stronger and more insistent language including “visits should be…in accord with international standards, thereby resolving all doubts as to the peaceful intent of the Dimona project.”  Kennedy continued to push for a specific schedule of inspections stressing the importance that “our scientists have access to all areas of the Dimona site .. such as fuel fabrication facilities or plutonium separation plant, and that sufficient time to be allotted for a thorough examination.”  JFK warned Eshkol that “this Government’s commitment to and support of Israel could be seriously jeopardized if it should be thought that we were unable to obtain reliable information on a subject as vital to the peace as the question of Israel’s effort in the nuclear field.”  Clearly, Kennedy understood the potential threat to world peace with the indiscriminate spread of nuclear weapons

With LBJ in the White House, Israel’s domination of US Middle East foreign policy can be traced to a shift away from its previous neutrality as Johnson boosted sales of major weaponry to Israel.  Despite State Department and Joint Chief objections, Johnson began what has become decades of ‘unconditional’ US support and Israel dependence on US military shipments.     
According to former NRC Commissioner Victor Gilinsky in a May 13, 2004 letter to the NY Review of Books, a complicated clandestine scheme featuring multiple ‘front’ organizations and a dramatic mid-sea transfer smuggled 200 tons of uranium ore into Israel in 1968, avoiding European Atomic Energy Commission controls.  Gilinisky states that ‘This was not the first, or last, secret Israeli uranium purchase.”  Once Euratom discovered what had happened, Gilinsky says it informed the US Atomic Energy Commission and both agencies “sat on the story.”

That same year, CIA Director Helms was known to have reported to Johnson that Israel possessed nuclear weapons.  Unwilling to risk adoption of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty which Israel refused to sign and in deference to Israel, LBJ told Helms to keep the information secret and not inform any member of his cabinet.   
In 1969, President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger raised the nuclear concern with then-PM Golda Meir who rebuffed them with claiming a previous US agreed-to ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ compromise.

The CIA’s conclusion in 1968 that 100 kg’s of weapon grade uranium stolen from  a US naval nuclear fuel plant had found its way to Israel and produced that country’s first nuclear bombs has been written about extensively.  Operated by the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp., NUMEC was known to have close contacts with Mossad agents and had been visited by representatives of the Israeli government.

On September 22, 1979, a US satellite designed to detect nuclear tests registered a signal over the Indian Ocean that was believed by US intelligence, Federal science agencies and Los Alamos experts to indicate an Israeli nuclear test carried out with South African cooperation.  The test, probably of a hydrogen bomb, came at a time when the Carter Administration was attempting to mediate Israeli and Palestinian peace.  

In 1986, a Sunday Times of London article revealed that an Israeli nuclear scientist Mordecai Vanunu had publicly confirmed, for the first time, secrets of Israel’s nuclear arsenal including its production of tritium and plutonium.   An opponent of weapons of mass destruction, Vanunu was kidnapped and imprisoned for 18 years (11 of those in solitary) and after his release in 2004, expressed  ‘near certain indications’ that Mossad was implicated in Kennedy’s assassination.  
In an obscure New York Times 1-1-2012 article entitled “Iran Asks to Resume Talks on its Nuclear Program” and in what may be a futile attempt at rapprochement, Iran’s negotiator says he has formally requested the United States and its negotiating partners (Russia, France, England, China and Germany) to begin another round of negotiations “to return to the path of dialogue for cooperation.”

Given his lackluster performance to date, there is  slim hope that President Obama will show real leadership and take the high road to peace.

January 9th UPDATE:  Leon Panetta, Secretary of Defense on Face the Nation January 8th admitted that Iran has not yet committed to a nuclear arsenal and Are they trying to develop a nuclear weapon? No.” while refusing to rule out a pre-emptive strike.

Gilinsky and JFK Letters
Israel’s Bomb

To the Editors:

Amos Elon’s review of Avner Cohen’s Israel and the Bomb [NYR, January 15] gives the author deserved credit for writing a fascinating book that reconstructs for the first time the secret story of the Israeli nuclear bomb project, one “whose existence the Americans were slow to confirm.” There is much to learn from this account for our current efforts to cope with clandestine nuclear weapons developments abroad. In the Israeli case American officials started by wishing away the obvious and progressed to hiding deep inside the government what they knew was politically explosive.

Which brings me to three curious omissions in Cohen’s book—the 1968 smuggling past Euratom inspectors of two hundred tons of uranium ore to Israel, the CIA’s conclusion at about the same time that Israel previously stole bomb-grade uranium from a US naval fuel plant, and the 1979 Vela satellite signal that was widely interpreted as an indication of an Israeli nuclear test. The book’s complete silence on these important events is especially odd as they have been discussed extensively elsewhere.1

The Plumbat Affair

After the 1967 Israeli–Arab war France ceased to supply Israel with uranium. The following year, through complex covert operations involving European front companies and mid-sea transfers from one vessel to another, Israel managed to obtain two hundred tons of uranium ore that had been stockpiled in Antwerp. The sealed drums were labeled “plumbat,” or lead.2 This was not the first, or last, secret Israeli uranium purchase. The significance of the Plumbat affair, however, and therefore the sensitivity, arose from the violation of European Atomic Energy Commission (Euratom) controls. Euratom approved the sale on the understanding that it was an intra-European one. Euratom soon caught on to what happened and informed the US Atomic Energy Commission. Both then sat on the story for another decade. Cohen doesn’t say a word about it.

The NUMEC Affair

As Cohen relates in his book, in 1968 CIA Director Helms reported to President Johnson the exceedingly tightly held conclusion that Israel already possessed nuclear weapons. Among other indications, the United States had observed Israeli Air Force practice runs that could only be for nuclear delivery. This was a political shock that, if revealed, could have derailed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, then nearly ready for signing. A public revelation would have shown that previous US “visits” to Israeli nuclear facilities—to make sure they were not supporting bomb work—were a farce, and that US assurances on this point to Arab countries were false. Johnson is reported to have told Helms not to tell anyone, not even Dean Rusk or Robert McNamara.

But there is more. Cohen’s reference for the 1968 CIA conclusion about Israeli bombs is 1976 “testimony” of CIA Deputy Director Carl Duckett before the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.3 The reason Duckett briefed a small group of commissioners (of whom I was one) and several senior NRC staff was not to tell us Israel had the bomb. It was rather to deal with rumors about a deeper secret in the CIA reports, one that had an even bigger potential for political disaster, and one that I believe was the real reason for the hyper-secrecy. What Duckett confirmed, to everyone’s astonishment, was that the CIA believed that the nuclear explosives in Israel’s first several bombs, about one hundred kilograms of bomb-grade uranium in all, came from material that was missing at a US naval nuclear fuel plant operated by the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC), in Apollo, Pennsylvania.4 NUMEC had exceptionally close and suspicious ties to Israel. The firm’s sloppy material accounting could have masked the removal of the bomb-grade uranium. After numerous investigations and reinvestigations the facts remain unclear. Still, it seems more than strange that Cohen does not even mention the controversy.

1979 Vela Satellite Nuclear Test Signal

On September 22, 1979, a US Vela satellite designed to detect nuclear tests registered a signal over the Indian Ocean that was generally believed in the US intelligence community to indicate an Israeli nuclear test carried out with South African cooperation.5 But this conclusion was politically awkward for the Carter administration then trying to mediate Mideast peace. The President’s science adviser brought together a group of prominent nongovernmental scientists for a narrow review of the event. The panel came up with the inventive interpretation that the light signal detected by the satellite came not from the ocean surface far away but rather from reflections from tiny particles that happened to pass in front of the satellite detector in exactly the right way to imitate a bomb signal. The White House panel discounted data from ionospheric disturbances recorded by a radio telescope in Puerto Rico that was consistent with the bomb interpretation of the satellite data. Just about everyone else in the federal scientific community believed the signal did come from a bomb test. The Vela satellite experts at the Los Alamos laboratory are still convinced their satellite recorded a nuclear test.6 The technical significance of such a test was that it would have indicated Israel was developing hydrogen weapons (for which testing is essential) and thus its weapons program was then already highly advanced. The international political significance of Israeli nuclear weapons cooperation with South Africa is obvious. Cohen is completely silent about the 1979 event. The timing is indeed past the main account of his book, but given a test’s tremendous significance I am surprised he did not even mention it in the Epilogue.

I realize that Avner Cohen bravely took on a lot in telling the Israeli bomb story—Amos Elon’s review tells of Cohen’s grilling by Israeli security. Still, I can’t help feeling that there is a deeper layer of the story yet to be told. And there is still a lesson to be learned by the United States about facing politically inconvenient facts concerning clandestine nuclear weapons efforts abroad.

Victor Gilinsky

The author, an independent energy consultant, was formerly a member of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission. He was previously the head of the Physical Sciences Department at the Rand Corporation.


See, for example, the Web pages of the Nuclear Threat Initiative ( research/e1israel_nuclear.html) and of the Federation of American Scientists (fas .org/nuke/guide/israel/nuke/farr.htm).


Using this keyword on the page brings up a number of books that tell the story of the affair.


This wasn't formal testimony.


Cohen cites a USNRC interview conducted in the course of the NRC's "Inquiry into the Testimony of the Executive Director for Operations." The NRC conducted the inquiry to ascertain whether its executive director had testified truthfully to a congressional committee when he did not inform the committee about the suspected Israeli diversion of bomb-grade uranium from the NUMEC plant after being asked whether there was any evidence of illicit diversion from a US facility.


The South African Navy was on alert that day.


Los Alamos press release, "Blast from the Past: Los Alamos Scientists Receive Vindication," Los Alamos, New Mexico, July 11, 1997.

1.   1

See, for example, the Web pages of the Nuclear Threat Initiative ( research/e1israel_nuclear.html) and of the Federation of American Scientists (fas .org/nuke/guide/israel/nuke/farr.htm).

2.   2

Using this keyword on the page brings up a number of books that tell the story of the affair.

3.   3

This wasn't formal testimony.

4.   4

Cohen cites a USNRC interview conducted in the course of the NRC's "Inquiry into the Testimony of the Executive Director for Operations." The NRC conducted the inquiry to ascertain whether its executive director had testified truthfully to a congressional committee when he did not inform the committee about the suspected Israeli diversion of bomb-grade uranium from the NUMEC plant after being asked whether there was any evidence of illicit diversion from a US facility.

5.   5

The South African Navy was on alert that day.

6.   6

Los Alamos press release, "Blast from the Past: Los Alamos Scientists Receive Vindication," Los Alamos, New Mexico, July 11, 1997.

Kennedy Letter to Ben-Gurion Regarding Visit to Dimona

(May 18, 1963)

This is a telegram from the Department of State to the Embassy in Israel transmitting the text of a letter from President Kennedy to Israeli Prime Minister Ben Gurion on arrangements to visit Dimona.

Verbatim text. You should deliver following letter from President to Prime Minister Ben-Gurion:

"Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

"I welcome your letter of May 12 and am giving it careful study.

"Meanwhile, I have received from Ambassador Barbour a report of his conversation with you on May 14 regarding the arrangements for visiting the Dimona reactor. I should like to add some personal comments on that subject.

"I am sure you will agree that there is no more urgent business for the whole world than the control of nuclear weapons. We both recognized this when we talked together two years ago, and I emphasized it again when I met with Mrs. Meir just after Christmas. The dangers in the proliferation of national nuclear weapons systems are so obvious that I am sure I need not repeat them here.

"It is because of our preoccupation with this problem that my Government has sought to arrange with you for periodic visits to Dimona. When we spoke together in May 1961 you said that we might make whatever use we wished of the information resulting from the first visit of American scientists to Dimona and that you would agree to further visits by neutrals as well. I had assumed from Mrs. Meir's comment that there would be no problem between us on this.

"We are concerned with the disturbing effects on world stability which would accompany the development of a nuclear weapons capability by Israel. I cannot imagine that the Arabs would refrain from turning to the Soviet Union for assistance if Israel were to develop a nuclear weapons capability--with all the consequences this would hold. But the problem is much larger than its impact on the Middle East. Development of a nuclear weapons capability by Israel would almost certainly lead other larger countries, that have so far refrained from such development, to feel that they must follow suit.

"As I made clear in my press conference of May 8, we have a deep commitment to the security of Israel. In addition this country supports Israel in a wide variety of other ways which are well known to both of us. [4-1/2 lines of source text not declassified]

" I can well appreciate your concern for developments in the UAR. But I see no present or imminent nuclear threat to Israel from there. I am assured that our intelligence on this question is good and that the Egyptians do not presently have any installation comparable to Dimona, nor any facilities potentially capable of nuclear weapons production.  But, of course, if you have information that would support a contrary conclusion, I should like to receive it from you through Ambassador Barbour. We have the capacity to check it.

"I trust this message will convey the sense of urgency and the perspective in which I view your Government's early assent to the proposal first put to you by Ambassador Barbour on April 2.


"John F. Kennedy

Kennedy Letter to Eshkol Regarding Dimona

(July 4, 1963)

This is a telegram from the Department of State to the Embassy in Israel transmitting the text of a letter from President Kennedy to Prime Minister Eshkol regarding visits to Dimona.

"Dear Mr. Prime Minister:

"It gives me great personal pleasure to extend congratulations as you assume your responsibilities as Prime Minister of Israel. You have our friendship and best wishes in your new tasks. It is on one of these that I am writing you at this time.

"You are aware, I am sure, of the exchanges which I had with Prime Minister Ben-Gurion concerning American visits to Israel's nuclear facility at Dimona. Most recently, the Prime Minister wrote to me on May 27. His words reflected a most intense personal consideration of a problem that I know is not easy for your Government, as it is not for mine. We welcomed the former Prime Minister's strong reaffirmation that Dimona will be devoted exclusively to peaceful purposes and the reaffirmation also of Israel's willingness to permit periodic visits to Dimona.

"I regret having to add to your burdens so soon after your assumption of office, but I feel the crucial importance of this problem necessitates my taking up with you at this early date certain further considerations, arising out of Mr. Ben-Gurion's May 27 letter, as to the nature and scheduling of such visits.

"I am sure you will agree that these visits should be as nearly as possible in accord with international standards, thereby resolving all doubts as to the peaceful intent of the Dimona project. [3-1/2 lines of source text not declassified]

"Therefore, I asked our scientists to review the alternative schedules of visits we and you had proposed. If Israel's purposes are to be clear beyond reasonable doubt, I believe that the schedule which would best serve our common purposes would be a visit early this summer, another visit in June 1964, and thereafter at intervals of six months. I am sure that such a schedule should not cause you any more difficulty than that which Mr. Ben-Gurion proposed in his May 27 letter. It would be essential, and I understand that Mr. Ben-Gurion's letter was in accord with this, that our scientists have access to all areas of the Dimona site and to any related part of the complex, such as fuel fabrication facilities or plutonium separation plant, and that sufficient time be allotted for a thorough examination.

"Knowing that you fully appreciate the truly vital significance of this matter to the future well-being of Israel, to the United States, and internationally, I am sure our carefully considered request will have your most sympathetic attention.


"John F. Kennedy"

In conveying foregoing, you should stress that exhaustive examination by the most competent USG authorities has established scheduling embodied in President's letter as minimum to achieve a purpose we see as vital to Israel and to our mutual interests. Scientific reasons for this are that (a) only a visit before criticality can fully establish features of a reactor--this is reason for requested early summer visit which we hope could be this month or next at latest; (b) it is widely known and accepted by knowledgeable international scientific community that, if intended for ultimate production of weapons grade plutonium, a reactor of this size would be operated to burn a single fuel load approximately every six months, whereas for peaceful purposes optimum burn-up time would be about two years--this is what makes it essential that after mid-1964 visits be scheduled semi-annually.