THE SAMSON OPTION: ISRAEL'S NUCLEAR ARSENAL AND AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY
Chapter 18: Injustice
Carl Duckett's top-secret CIA estimate in 1968 that Israel had three or four nuclear bombs was primarily based on his conviction that an American Jew named Zalman Shapiro had smuggled more than two hundred pounds of enriched uranium into Israel-enough for four bombs. The alleged smuggled uranium also was a major factor in Duckett's second estimate, in '974, that credited Israel with at least ten bombs; it was based on the amount of uranium he believed Shapiro had diverted plus a guess that the technicians at Dimona could have chemically separated enough plutonium from the reactor to have produced six weapons or more since '970. Just how Israel would accomplish that feat without a chemical reprocessing plant-the CIA still had no proof that such a plant existed in Israel-was not clear, but what was clear was Shapiro's culpability. To Duckett and his colleagues, especially Richard Helms, the case against Shapiro was unassailable.
In the CIA's view, Shapiro was more than just a Jew who supported Israel; he was a Jew in the nuclear-fuel-processing business who traveled regularly to Israel and was a partner with the Israeli government in some business ventures. He fit the dual-loyalty stereotype in many other ways: he was the high-achieving son of an Orthodox rabbi who emigrated from Lithuania; he was valedictorian of his high school class in Passaic, New Jersey, before attending Johns Hopkins University; he got a master's degree while going to night school; and-with the aid of a fellowship from Standard Oil of Indiana-he earned his doctorate in chemistry in 1948, at the age of twenty-eight. Shapiro, with his brilliance and capacity for hard work, was among the first scientists-and most certainly one of the first Jews-to be hired to develop submarine reactors for a newly established laboratory operated by the Westinghouse Electric Corporation for the U.S. Navy.
As his career progressed, Shapiro--who underwent rigorous national security checks while at Westinghouse-made no secret of his strong commitment to Israel; some of his family had been victims of the Nazis, and he believed in the need for an independent Jewish state. He became an active member of the Zionist Organization of America and also generously supported the American Technion Society, which raises funds and rovides equipment to the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel's most advanced school of science and engineering.
In 1957, he organized a publicly owned nuclear fuel processing firm, with at least twenty-five stockholders, in an abandoned World War II steel plant in Apollo, Pennsylvania, twenty-five miles northeast of Pittsburgh. The firm, known as the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC), was a small company in a nuclear-fuel-processing world that was dominated by Fortune 500 firms; there was a constant struggle to get contracts. Shapiro was aggressive in the pursuit of work for his young company, and by the early 1960s NUMEC was providing nuclear services for at least nine foreign countries. There was a steady stream of foreign visitors to the factory, many at the instigation of the Department of Commerce and the State Department, which were eager to show off the government's Atoms for Peace effort. There were at least three foreign employees at NUMEC, including an Israeli metallurgist assigned to unclassified breeder reactor fuel research. There also was constant back-and-forth in those years between AEC security officials and NUMEC over the handling of classified materials, and the company was required to improve its procedures.
In 1965, after years of internal audits and reviews, an AEC inspection team determined that more than two hundred pounds of enriched uranium that had been supplied by Westinghouse and the Navy to NUMEC for processing and fabrication could not be accounted for; eventually the Joint Atomic Energy Committee-as well as the CIA-came to suspect that Shapiro had diverted the uranium to Israel.
Shapiro would be hounded by those suspicions for the next twenty-five years-although the most significant evidence against him seemed to be his Jewishness and the fact that one of the major investors in NUMEC shared his support for Israel. A number of experienced investigators from the government and the Congress, as well as dozens of journalists, assumed that Shapiro's emotional tie to Israel was enough of a motive for him to commit nuclear espionage, a crime punishable by death under the Atomic Energy Act.
Despite more than ten years of intensive investigation involving active FBI surveillance, however, no significant evidence proving that Shapiro had diverted any uranium from his plant was ever found. Nonetheless, he remained guilty in the minds of many in the government and the press; reporters invariably included an account of Shapiro's ties to Israel and the alleged NUMEC diversion in any story about the development of nuclear arms in Israel. Some of the newspaper and book accounts did note that the charges against Shapiro were never proved; many others simply declared that it was the Shapiro uranium that gave Israel the nuclear bomb.
Zalman Shapiro did not divert uranium from his processing plant to Israel, but there is little solace for the nuclear industry in that fact: the missing uranium was not stolen at all-it ended up in the air and water of the city of Apollo as well as in the ducts, tubes, and floors of the NUMEC plant. There is little solace, too, for the American intelligence community in Shapiro's noninvolvement with nuclear diversion, for it failed to learn of Shapiro's close ties to Ernst David Bergmann and Binyamin Blumberg and the sensitive-and legitimate-mission he did conduct for his beloved Israel.
Shapiro's business was not a pretty one: many of NUMEC's contracts involved the chemical isolation and recovery of enriched uranium from the dirt and scrap generated in fabricating nuclear fuel. The scrap was chemically treated -- sometimes two or three times-in an attempt to isolate the salvageable uranium. The process inherently generated some loss; small amounts of enriched uranium were constantly being flushed out in waste water or lodged in scrub brushes, air vents, filtration systems, cleaning pads, and air masks. It was the kind of work NUMEC's larger and more solidly financed competitors did not want. Other NUMEC contracts involved cleaner work, such the conversion of highly enriched uranium (93 percent U-235) from gaseous uranium hexafluoride-the form in which it was shipped from the government's huge uranium diffusion plants-into uranium oxide powder capable of being fabricated into nuclear fuel for Navy reactors. That process, too, created waste -- as much as 10 to 15 percent of the uranium eventually ended up as scrap and needed to be recovered. Since working with weapons-grade material was exceedingly dangerous, NUMEC had to divide the uranium being processed into small lots -- creating more opportunity for waste -- to guard against the horrible possibility of setting off a chain reaction. Under the stringent AEC rules governing the reprocessing of weapons- grade uranium and plutonium, Shapiro's firm was responsible and had to pay enormous penal. ties for any enriched materials that could not be accounted for -- as much as $10 a gram; each missing pound thus meant a loss of more than $4,500.
The term MUF, for "material unaccounted for," became a common one in the nuclear processing industry. Making the contractors pay for missing materials also was the backbone of the AEC's safeguards program; the assumption was that no reprocessing firm would divert or steal uranium if it resulted in a stiff fine.
The AEC eventually worked out complicated rules for ac counting for MUF that enabled private firms such as NUMEC to estimate in their regular reports how much missing but ac countable uranium was believed to be in a plant's air filtration system or buried in its waste pits. NUMEC would routinely report seemingly huge losses of enriched materials on any given contract-thirty or forty pounds was not unusual-and then estimate that 80 percent or more of the lost materials would be recovered upon cleanup. The AEC accepted such estimates as realistic, and deferred the assessments of any penalties.
The fact that nuclear waste was considered an inevitable byproduct of the business, just as sawmills produce sawdust, was not really a secret-it was just one of those facts that the public did not need to know, and especially so as the nation became increasingly sensitized to the. environmental costs of the nuclear industry. The enriched materials handled by the workers at NUMEC were not "hot," as commonly understood, for they had not yet been irradiated in a reactor and thus did not emit penetrating and lethal radiation. The danger facing the NUMEC employees came from breathing in or otherwise ingesting uranium, which, like all heavy metals, accumulates in bones, where it eventually impacts on bone marrow, causing leukemia. Enriched uranium, if breathed into the lungs, also could trigger lung cancer, and the NUMEC employees were constantly urged to wear face masks, although many refused to do so in the summer.
Zalman Shapiro's career-destroying problems began in 1962, when he was the low bidder for two complicated Westinghouse contracts, involving the processing of more than 2,500 pounds of enriched uranium. NUMEC was assured by Westinghouse that 60 percent or more of each hundred kilograms of uranium could successfully be processed-meaning that as much as 40 percent of the uranium would be scrap, to be separately recovered. In fact, NUMEC found that the process was far more difficult than Westinghouse had claimed for one of the contracts, and resulted in only a 35 percent yield of acceptable product. Nearly two thirds of the Westinghouse-supplied uranium ended up as scrap, much of it-so Shapiro and his associates thought-eventually buried in barrels, along with contaminated rags and other cleaning equipment, in two huge waste pits on the NUMEC grounds. The pits included contaminated waste not only from the Westinghouse contract but from other processing jobs for private companies; Shapiro had not isolated the scrap from each of his contracts, as the AEC demanded. AEC investigators subsequently became convinced that Shapiro had deliberately commingled the scrap from different contracts as a money-saving bookkeeping measure. Shapiro also angered the AEC by his reluctance -- again for pocketbook reasons-to begin the time-consuming job of reprocessing the scrap to extract the missing uranium; he instead kept his employees at work on new processing contracts, for which there would be immediate payment. Stalling the AEC inspection teams, which were demanding that the missing uranium be accounted for, one way or another, became a way of life at NUMEC.
The AEC tried to resolve the complicated mess in a series of extensive negotiations in 1964 and 1965, with Shapiro constantly citing NUMEC's precarious financial condition to justify his actions. Portions of the 1963 waste pit eventually were dug up, and AEC inspectors found that the amount of enriched uranium buried there was not nearly enough to match the huge losses. The inspectors concluded that there was a MUF of 93.8 kilograms (206 pounds) of enriched uranium; they also told headquarters that because of NUMEC's "inadequate and incomplete accounting records," a diversion could not be ruled out, although there was "no evidence" that a diversion had taken place. The issue was aired at a special meeting in February 1966 of the AEC commissioners and senior staff, and, according to a declassified transcript of that meeting, the commissioners agreed that NUMEC's employees be interviewed to find out what had happened. It was further agreed that a trip would have to be taken to Capitol Hill to inform the Joint Atomic Energy Committee of the loss.
The report to Congress was a bombshell. The American nuclear community already had been rocked in October 1964 upon learning that China's first nuclear bomb had been triggered by uranium, and not plutonium, as the CIA and other intelligence agencies had widely anticipated. There was immediate suspicion that China had somehow bought on the black market-or stolen-the enriched uranium for its bomb (the CIA would not learn for another year or so that China had completed a huge diffusion plant much earlier than expected). A special study into AEC safeguards was commissioned, and it questioned the commission's heavy reliance on financial penalties as a sufficient bar against nuclear diversion. The Joint Committee's report noted that the AEC's position seemed to be that all of its responsibility "had been fulfilled as long as material was paid for."
The AEC, sensitive to the diversion issue, had referred the NUMEC losses to the FBI in October 1965, but the FBI saw no basis for an investigation; its senior counterintelligence officials concluded, according to declassified documents, that "this situation up to now has been rightfully treated by AEC as an administration matter and there appears to be no basis for us to take any action. . . ." An AEC inspection team eventually interviewed more than 120 employees at NUMEC. No evidence of a diversion was established.
The CIA, nonetheless, found Shapiro's long-standing ties to Israel to be of continuing interest. Shapiro was a frequent visitor to Israel, and Israelis were among the many foreign visitors who had registered for tours of NUMEC. Shapiro also was a partner with the Israeli government in a business involving the pasteurization of food and the sterilization of medical supplies by irradiation; packages to and from NUMEC were being shipped out of and into Israel. By late 1966, although reports of Israel's progress in nuclear weaponry began to flow from the American embassy in Tel Aviv, John Hadden, the CIA station chief, was still unable to find proof that Israel had a chemical reprocessing plant at Dimona. And without such a plant, Israel would have needed an independent source of enriched uranium or plutonium to manufacture the bombs that, so Hadden's informants told him, existed.
Duckett and Helms shared Hadden's view that Shapiro had to have been the source for the Israeli progress in nuclear weaponry; the two men would spend the next few years pushing their suspicions on anybody-including Presidents Johnson and Nixon-who would listen. They were mesmerized by Shapiro's links to Israel and the fact that one of the initial stockholders in NUMEC, David Lowenthal, had helped bring illegal immigrants into Israel before 1948. Duckett even came to believe, as he later told congressional investigators, that NUMEC had been set up in 1957 by Shapiro as part of a long-range Israeli intelligence scheme to divert uranium. Duckett and Helms were supported in most of their suspicions by George F. Murphy, assistant staff director of the Joint Atomic Energy Committee, who also was convinced that the two hundred pounds of enriched uranium could not simply have disappeared into NUMEC's refuse pits and air ducts. Murphy, who had no technical understanding of the nuclear fuel cycle, found Shapiro's alleged sloppy bookkeeping, as reported by the AEC, to be preposterous: in his view, "Shapiro was the sharpest, hardest-headed businessman I've ever known." Murphy also was appalled by what he considered to be a lack of security at UMEC and told a congressional investigator of seeing uranium pellets scattered "all over the benches" during a visit to the Apollo plant. The possibility of a diversion to Israel seemed solid, and Shapiro was put under FBI surveillance in the late 1960s.
Shapiro, meanwhile, in a desperate effort to save his company, hired James E. Lovett, a senior AEC scientist, to take over nuclear materials accountability at NUMEG One of Lovett's first acts was to insist that the concrete floor of the old plant be protected with stainless steel; concrete, Lovett knew, absorbed far more uranium than suspected. Shapiro and other company officials "were deluding themselves," Lovett recalled. "They honestly thought that if it came down to the end, they'd recover most" of the two hundred or more pounds of missing uranium in NUMEC's waste pits. But most of the uranium was not in the plant's waste pits; it was embedded in the concrete floor, clinging to ventilation ducts, flushed out with other plant wastes into the local waterways, and scattered in the air.
The continuing controversy over the alleged diversion became widely known inside the tight-knit nuclear community, and Shapiro suffered. "I was a smelly dead fish," he bitterly recalled. "Contracts were pulled away and given to others." In 1967, Shapiro and his partners were forced to merge their interest in NUMEC into the Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO); Shapiro, with his special Q-clearance (for atomic energy matters) still intact, continued to run the plant.
Shapiro, as the CIA and AEC never learned, did have a secret life. He had met and befriended many of Israel's senior nuclear scientists on his visits there, and was especially devoted to Ernst David Bergmann, who was head of Israel's Atomic Energy Commission until 1966. "He was a genius," Shapiro said of Bergmann. "He was a genius's genius. He worked night and day. I don't know when he slept." Bergmann was especially interested in a nuclear-powered water desalinization plant, Shapiro said.
Water, of course, was the most precious of commodities in Israel. In 1964, the country completed a 150-mile conduit, known as the National Water Carrier, to bring water from the north to the Negev. The system, then Israel's largest development project, linked local and regional water conduits to form an integrated network that sought to capture all of the nation's rainfall and channel it into reservoirs. The National Water Carrier was not completed, however, without a series of disputes with Syria, especially over Israel's goal of bringing water south from Lake Kinneret in Galilee. There were huge stretches in northern Israel where water being moved to the south was in the open, protected only by fencing; the waterway was an obvious target for terrorists. El Fatah, the Arab guerrilla group (and later an important member of the Palestine Liberation Organization), boasted that it would poison the water. At one point, Israeli security officials suspected that El Fatah had attempted to cut the fence protecting the water works in what was feared to be an effort to plant a bomb.
It was at this point that Zalman Shapiro was asked by Israel to devise a rapid and accurate method of determining whether water had been contaminated with toxic materials. There was a second problem: as much as 30 percent of the water was disappearing while traveling to the south, and Israeli officials were unable to determine where and how the loss was taking place. Shapiro acknowledged, reluctantly, that he also advised on that issue, eventually recommending that a radioactive tracer be added to the water in Lake Kinneret to monitor the flow. He had decided not to discuss specifically all of his activities on behalf of Israel during the many government and congressional investigations into NUMEC, he said, because of the continued threat to the Israeli water supply: "I didn't want to put any ideas into people's minds."
In the late 1960s, Shapiro convened a series of meetings -- some in his home -- of American scientists and Israelis to dis cuss, he said, the issue of how to protect the National Water Carrier from potential terrorists. Some of the sessions, considered prima facie suspect by Duckett and his colleagues, were monitored by the FBI. At the time, NUMEC was under contract to provide to Israel specialized small power sources, whose function Shapiro refused to spell out, other than to acknowledge that they were linked to the security of the waterways. All of the items shipped were approved by the Commerce Department for export, he said. "We had permits for what we did. I never transmitted any documents to anybody," he insisted. "The meetings pertained only to the water supply."
Shapiro would not say whether he knew-as did many American scientists--of the work being done at Dimona. He did acknowledge an acquaintanceship with Binyamin Blumberg, the director of Israel's Science Liaison Bureau: "I never said I didn't know him." But he denied revealing any American secrets or diverting any materials. "I worked my butt off to assure the security of this country-do you think for a moment I'd do anything to impair its security?"
Duckett and Helms remained convinced that Shapiro was guilty of espionage. Duckett's conversation with Edward Teller and his early-I968 estimate of Israeli nuclear capacity led Helms to urge the FBI to renew its investigation into Shapiro's dealings with Israel. The FBI's J. Edgar Hoover was then in the midst of a bitter dispute with James Angleton's counterintelligence shop over the CIA's handling of defectors, as well as the continuing-and illegal-CIA spying inside the United States under a presidential mandate to determine whether the anti-Vietnam War movement was being directed by Moscow. Hoover chose to spar with Helms over the Shapiro issue for the next year, according to a former congressional investigator who has reviewed the Senate and House intelligence committees' files on Shapiro. "The CIA was saying to Hoover," the investigator recalled, "'You're responsible for counterintelligence in America. Investigate Shapiro, and if he's a spy, catch him.' Hoover's answer was, 'We don't really know if anything's been taken. Go to Israel and get inside Dimona, and if you find it [evidence of the Shapiro uranium], let us know.' It was kind of a game," the investigator added. "The memos were hysterical- they went back and forth."
The NUMEC file remained buried, with Shapiro again working for 'Westinghouse, until 1975, when James H. Conran, an analyst in the Nuclear Regulation Commission (NRC), one of two new agencies that had been formed when the AEC was dissolved earlier in the year, was assigned to write a history of nuclear safeguards. He was denied access to the NUMEC file on grounds of security, and began a fervid campaign to get a briefing on NUMEC for the five NRC commissioners and their immediate staffs. He could not write his report, he said, unless he got that file.
There was another significant issue at stake: the nuclear power industry was pushing hard to get public and government support for a huge plutonium recycling industry. It seemed as if the future of nuclear power now depended on public acceptance of fast breeder reactors capable of generating more plutonium fuel than they consumed. The public policy issue was obvious: how could the world's governments prevent the diversion of plutonium for military use? Bringing up the NUMEC issue once again created a very much unwanted dilemma: either there had been a diversion, or the inherent loss of plutonium and uranium at processing facilities such as NUMEC -- and there were many scattered across the nation -- was far higher than publicly understood.
The advocates of nuclear power, who included many in the NRC, shuddered at the prospect of more adverse publicity about nuclear reactor safety and possible widespread contamination. Antinuclear groups were being organized around the world and had begun large, and sometimes violent, demonstrations in an effort to halt nuclear power.
Conran's insistence on determining what had happened to the missing uranium at NUMEC won him few friends, therefore, inside the NRC. A high-level briefing by Carl Duckett was arranged to discuss the possibility of a diversion. Victor Gilinsky, then an NRC commissioner, recalled Duckett's presentation as matter-of-fact: "Basically, Duckett was asked [about an Israeli bomb] and said the CIA thought Israel had nuclear weapons and the Agency thought there was a diversion. e didn't say anything that would convince you that was the case-but the issue from our point, our little world, is that he said what he did. We [the NRC commissioners] did not have responsibility for dealing with the Israelis-we take what other agencies think as a starting point." Gilinsky's contention was that the NRC had no obligation to determine whether Duckett's assertions were correct, but it agreed on the basis of what Duckett said to tighten up procedures for dealing with nuclear materials. Most of those at the Duckett briefing "were not involved in foreign affairs," Gilinsky noted. "They were protecting the notion that the NRC's procedures were adequate to protect plutonium. It was a threat to our claims that you could protect the stuff."
Duckett's briefing to the NRC and his subsequent informal talk at the CIA before the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Association, while ruinous to his career, did provoke another brief flurry of concern over NUMEC at the Ford White House-yet another investigation of Shapiro was nitiated. Once again, however, the FBI could find no evidence of a diversion.
There was independent evidence, moreover, demonstrating that Shapiro's problems in operating NUMEC were not as exceptional as the AEC had publicly indicated in the mid-1960s. A continuing NRC investigation of the plant, which had been taken over in the early 1970s by Babcock & Wilcox, one of the nation's major reactor designers, concluded that another 198 pounds of enriched uranium was missing over a twenty-nine-month period beginning in April 1974. Further study showed that more than no pounds could be accounted for by what the NRC study called previously "unidentified and undocumented loss mechanisms"-such as the contamination of workers' clothing, losses from scrubber systems, material embedded in the flooring, and residual deposits in the processing equipment. The remaining lost uranium was attributed to "inevitable uncertainties in the measurement system and errors in the accounting system." In other words, uranium loss is hard to measure. The high volume of lost uranium raised obvious pollution questions for the immediate area; the Apollo facility had been discharging an average of 13,300 gallons of water and waste effluents daily into the nearby Kiskiminetas River, a tributary of the Allegheny River, which is the main source of drinking water for several communities in the Pittsburgh area. 
In October 1977, Jody Powell, President Jimmy Carter's press secretary, publicly announced that "four years of continuing investigation" by the AEC, FBI, and General Accounting Office had "failed to reveal" a diversion of uranium to Israel. By the end of the year the NUMEC case was being actively pursued by the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, one of the most competent and aggressive investigative units in the Congress, as well as the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment. Carl Duckett and John Hadden, both retired from the CIA, cooperated fully with the subcommittees; at one point, Duckett telephoned an investigator in the middle of the night and insisted that he go to a pay telephone at a gas station to return the call. He then urged that the investigation into Shapiro be carried forward. Hadden, meanwhile, was repeatedly suggesting that the Israeli government had to have a "mole"-a clandestine operative-inside the Atomic Energy Commission who had protected Shapiro in the early investigations of a possible diversion.
There was little due process for Shapiro in all of this. The subcommittee investigators seemed to take everyone of Duckett's and Hadden's claims at face value. But it is through those claims that outsiders can begin to understand how the CIA and the two congressional subcommittees weighed evidence and what kind of internal checks and balances were imposed on their investigations.
Duckett's beliefs were most directly expressed in a 1981 ABC television interview, when he said there had been a "clear consensus" inside the CIA that the "most likely case" was that Israel had become a nuclear power because of uranium supplied by Shapiro. "I certainly believe that to be the case.... I believe that all of my senior analysts who worked on the problem agreed with me fully," Duckett said. The subcommittee investigators had no way of knowing, of course, how little Duckett and his "senior analysts" had been able to learn about the Israeli nuclear arsenal. The subcommittees also did not know that Duckett's initial estimate of Israeli nuclear capability was primarily based on an assertion to that effect by Edward Teller, and not on any specific intelligence about the capacity of the Israeli reactor or the established existence of a chemical reprocessing plant at Dimona. There also was no specific evidence linking Shapiro to the delivery of enriched ranium to Israel. Nor did the subcommittees realize that Duckett's 1974 CIA estimate was not without its critics at the time. Intelligence officials at the Atomic Energy Commission insisted that a footnote be added to the estimate pointing out that "any information" about a diversion of uranium to Israel was unknown to the commission. "Duckett pushed real hard inside the USIB [United States Intelligence Board] to incorporate Israel and Apollo" in the special estimate, one AEC official recalled, "and it got in there."
Nonetheless, Henry R. Myers and Peter D. Stockton, the chief investigators for the congressional subcommittees, have spent nearly fifteen years relaying the Duckett and Hadden suppositions to journalists as the views of knowledgeable intelligence sources; many reporters published the beliefs of Duckett and Hadden as "facts."
For example, Myers, a specialist on energy issues for the House Subcommittee on Energy, told the author at the beginning of his research into Zalman Shapiro that there "are reasons to believe that NVMEC had been set up solely for the diversion. The reason for this," Myers explained, "is that no one's ever seen clearly where the money came from." Myers referred to David Lowenthal's role in 1948 in Israel and added: "There were reports of a secure telephone or teletype between NUMEC and the Israeli embassy." Myers also told of sitting in on a meeting about NUMEC between Richard Helms and a group of legislators: "Helms said, in effect, that Shapiro was the head of a group of people collecting information, some classified and some not, for Israel." There was a further allegation that CIA operatives in Israel had found "traces of enriched uranium" near Dimona that was similar to the enriched products hat had been delivered for processing to Shapiro's plant. There also was a highly suspicious meeting at the airport in Pittsburgh between Shapiro and Jeruham Kafkafi, an Israeli scientific attache, who flew, so the FBI reported, from Washington to Pittsburgh for the meeting and returned immediately to Washington. Myers described Kafkafi as "a possible Israeli intelligence officer."
Myers continued to believe well into the early 1990S that his statements were correct. But the fact is that David Lowenthal was one of a number of investors in NUMEC, some of whom were not Jewish. There was no special secure telephone or teletype at NUMEC, a fact acknowledged by Duckett and others who have investigated the alleged diversion. Richard Helms may indeed have been convinced that Shapiro was the head of an Israeli spy ring, but there is no known factual basis for that assertion. Duckett and other government investigators into NUMEC acknowledged that there was no meaningful correlation between the uranium processed in the NUMEC plant and the traces of enriched uranium picked up by American agents outside Dimona. And, finally, Shapiro told the congressional investigators-who obviously did not believe him-that his airport meeting with Kafkafi was arranged at his request because he had not been paid for the antiterrorist equipment his company had shipped to Israel; NUMEC was owed $32,000 -- a fact he found "embarrassing" -- but the company needed the money.
Duckett, in a 1991 interview, essentially recanted many of his previous assertions. "With all the grief I've caused," he said, referring to Shapiro's ruined career, "I know of nothing at all to indicate that Shapiro was guilty. There's circumstantial information, but I have never attempted to make a judgment on this. At no point did I have any vested interest in this whole process. It was a matter of trying to be sure when you had information that you passed it along. Ultimately," Duckett said, "you have no control over the information. I never met Shapiro and at no point was I interested in peddling the story."
Peter Stockton also acknowledged in a 1991 interview that he'd had continuing doubts about the credibility of Hadden. "I was never overwhelmed with him," Stockton said. He had been troubled, he said, when Hadden told one story to subcommittee investigators and legislators, and then told a different version of the same event to officials of the Government Accounting Office, which did a separate investigation of the alleged NUMEC diversion. "We were dependent on certain people," Stockton said, "who jerked us around." Yet Stockton continued to meet with reporters about NUMEC and continued to spread the same misinformation, and many journalists remain convinced that Shapiro diverted uranium for the Israeli bomb. In their book Dangerous Liaison, published in 1991, Andrew and Leslie Cockburn, who interviewed Stockton in 1989, depicted Shapiro's role in the Israeli acquisition of nuclear weapons as being so "delicate" that five American Presidents covered it up. "Stockton," they wrote, "found that at least one CIA official had a very clear idea of what the NUMEC affair was really all about. John Hadden...."
Babcock & Wilcox shut down Zalman Shapiro's Apollo plant in 1978, when the nuclear fuels business suffered a downturn, largely because of reduced business from the Navy. Shapiro's insistence that the missing uranium had seeped into the ground or been flung into the air eventually spawned a controversy over nuclear pollution; Babcock & Wilcox, under public pressure, agreed to keep the Apollo plant open in an attempt to determine how much contamination existed. In 1989 the firm began to decontaminate the plant, an expensive process that involved the virtual dismantling of some areas. Babcock & Wilcox told the community that it would explore ways to return the site to productive use -- and promised that future operations would involve no radioactive materials.
Late in 1990, Congress approved a Defense Department appropriations bill that included $30 million to be spent in an attempt to clean up the plant, with matching funds from Babcock & Wilcox. Company officials acknowledged that many sections of the plant, including its concrete floor, were so contaminated that they had to be dismantled, piece by piece, and buried at appropriate sites-after the valuable uranium was removed. Nuclear Regulatory Commission officials subsequently admitted that more than one hundred kilograms of enriched uranium-the amount allegedly diverted to Israel by Zalman Shapiro-was recovered from the decommissioned plant by 1982, with still more being recovered each year. (Such recoveries are called "inventory gains" by the NRC.) It wasn't clear how much uranium would finally be found. It also wasn't clear whether the $60 million allotted for the cleanup by the government and Babcock & Wilcox would be enough to do the job. And it wasn't clear that the site would ever be safe for occupancy.
1. An Apollo housewife, Cynthia A. Virostek, eventually began a campaign to increase public awareness of the potential pollution risk from the plant. In 1990, largely on the strength of her protests, she was elected local councilwoman. Mrs. Virostek, then thirty-five years old, lives with her husband and two sons five hundred feet from the Babcock & Wilcox plant. She became involved after company officials announced in the early 1980s that they were beginning decontamination operations. "That kind of opened my eyes," she said. "I began asking questions about the plant and nobody gave me answers." She then began a relentless campaign, through Freedom of Information inquiries, to force information out into the open. A Pennsylvania health department study eventually noted, Mrs. Virostek said, that her community was the only one in the immediate area to have a statistically significant excess in the number of cancer deaths.