Discord Apparent in Nuclear ‘Diversion’ Probe

     WASHINGTON (CN) – The CIA kept other agencies in the dark about its investigation into whether Israel received uranium from a U.S. company, records given to a researcher show.
     Grant Smith believes that Israel’s secret nuclear program owes its success to 392 pounds of nuclear material that NUMEC, short for Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp., lost between 1957 and 1965.
     Though no U.S. agency ever filed criminal charges against anyone involved with Apollo, Pa.-based NUMEC, two CIA employees who worked during the height of the investigations have publically stated diversion occurred.
     Smith, who runs the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy, has been fighting in Washington to have federal agencies turn over their records on NUMEC under the Freedom of Information Act.
     In a 130-page release last week, the CIA produced one telling memo from March 9, 1972, regarding the Atomic Energy Commission’s survey of NUMEC’s loss.
     Though the commission attributed 185 pounds of NUMEC’s loss to common inefficiencies in the refinement process, it could not identify an error that led to the remaining loss, the memo states.
     Other records show a lack of cooperation among the three agencies that investigated NUMEC.
     For example, the FBI and Atomic Energy Commission closed their investigations into the company after meeting with NUMEC director Zalman Shapiro, but without consulting the CIA, even though the agencies knew the CIA was interested in him, according to the March 1972 memo.
     Shapiro launched NUMEC in 1957 with funding from David Lowenthal, a Pittsburgh businessman who volunteered to fight in Israel a decade earlier.
     One internal FBI document describes how an eyewitness allegedly saw Shapiro pacing back and forth at the NUMEC loading dock, as two people loaded containers used to store highly enriched nuclear material onto a flatbed truck loaded with “strange equipment.”
     The CIA also released an undated talking paper indicating that the agency kept FBI investigators out of the loop on internal intelligence information into the alleged diversion.
     The FBI eventually grew “frustrated” with its investigation, as the bureau did not uncover anything different than what the Atomic Energy Commission turned up in its initial investigation years before, according to an August 1976 memo summarizing a briefing of FBI agents on NUMEC.
     “In sum, they feel that they have been given a job to do with none of the tools necessary to do it,” the memo says.
     Shapiro’s Israeli connections – he consulted at the Israeli Atomic Energy Program as early as 1960 and allowed an Israeli scientist to work at NUMEC for nine months – led to multiple FBI and Atomic Energy Commission investigations throughout the 1960s and ’70s.
     While various members of the CIA acknowledge throughout the release that nothing proves diversion occurred, the March 1972 memo calls the process a “distinct possibility” while a 1977 internal memo calls the idea there is no evidence of diversion “difficult to square with our intelligence information.”
     NUMEC shipped 936 pounds of uranium overseas as part of 28 different contracts.
     Though the Atomic Energy Commission found no evidence of diversion, it also could not independently verify where the uranium went.
     The documents say the commission had to make do with shipping data that relied heavily upon the truthfulness of the shipper and receiver.
     Another record indicates that NUMEC’s poor facilities could yet explain the losses. The 1976 memo summarizing a CIA briefing of FBI agents shows the FBI believed the company’s “primitive” working conditions might have caused higher-than-expected losses.
     “In order for any sizable amount of material to have been diverted, NUMEC would have had to be incredibly efficient with lower than normal manufacturing losses and this would have not been possible with such a primitive plant,” the memo says.
     The Atomic Energy Commission tolerated such facilities and “sloppy” management because NUMEC was technically superior to other companies that produced nuclear materials, according to the documents.
     In January 1964, while supervisory personnel oversaw the plant during an employee strike, a fire broke out in the room that housed NUMEC’s uranium shipping records, destroying them, according to a March 1972 memo.
     If diversion did happen, the CIA identified this three-week period as the most likely time it could have occurred or been covered up, according to the documents.
     While the documents provide insight into the CIA’s role in investigations of NUMEC, Smith is not satisfied the CIA has released everything it can on the subject.
     “So, at this point I’m disappointed by the scope of the search for responsive documents, the overredaction of the documents that have been produced, the references within those documents signaling that there are highly secret files which they didn’t even share during the FBI investigation,” Smith said at a hearing in Washington on Wednesday, court transcripts show.

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