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Bureau of Scientific Relations
Leshkat Kesher Madao

Until officially disbanded in 1986, the Bureau of Scientific Relations (Leshkat Kesher Madao--Lekem) collected scientific and technical intelligence abroad from both open and covert sources. Lekem was dismantled following the scandal aroused in the United States by the arrest of Jonathan Jay Pollard for espionage on behalf of Israel. Pollard, a United States naval intelligence employee in Washington, received considerable sums for delivering vast quantities of classified documents to the scientific officers (Lekem agents) at the Israeli embassy. Pollard was sentenced to life imprisonment. Although the Israeli government asserted that the operation was an unauthorized deviation from its policy of not conducting espionage against the United States, statements by the Israeli participants and by Pollard himself cast doubt on these claims.

Some sources assert that open and covert collection of scientific and technical information formerly conducted by Lekem is now conducted by a unit of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The LAKAM, or the Science Liaison Bureau, was a shadowy intelligence agency born in the 1950s with the express purpose of acquiring nuclear technology by any means. LAKAM, the agency that recruited Jonathan Pollard, has been disbanded, although another unnamed group — responsible for “Israeli’s deterrent capability” — has taken its place.

In 1957 Dr. Zalman Mordecai Shapiro left Westinshouse and establised a firm called Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation [NUMEC] in Apollo Pennsylvania. Shapiro was later is president of the Zionist Organization of America in Pittsburgh. Instrumental in the financing of the new firn was the Pittsburgh industrialist David L. Lowenthal, a long-time, close, personal friend of Shapiro. MUF stands for "Materials Unaccounted For," and, in the case of NUMEC, referred to large quantities of weapons-grade uranium that went missing from the Apollo plant in the 1960s.

In 1964, a fire occured in the vault containing nuclear materials and NUMEC, which effectively destroyed records of the input and output of materials during a cleanup campaign. The time of an employee strike from 01 January to 25 February 1964 gave supervisory personnel free run of the facility pinpoints the time at which the material could have been most easily diverted to Israel and the time at which evidence of such a diversion could best be covered up.

In the early to mid-1960s, the safeguards requirements for special nuclear material differed depending upon whether the special nuclear material was leased from the AEC or held under AEC contract. (Private ownership of special nuclear material was prohibited until August 1964.) Specific requirements also differed among contracts. However, material control and accounting requirements for leased material and contract material, for which the contractor was financially responsible for losses, generally included maintenance of records of receipt, inventory, and transfer of special nuclear material, periodic inventories, and semiannual material balance reports. T~ese requirements did not specify the level of detail to be reflected in the records, the scope of inventories, or the extent to which material was to be measured. There were significant differences between the physical protection required for SNM held under AEC contract and SNM held under AEC lease.

In the mid 1960s, hundreds of kilograms of highly enriched uranium went missing from a nuclear fuel manufacturing plant called NUMEC in Apollo, PA. NUMEC's access controls, containment controls, response force timeliness of engagement, response force likelihood of engagement, and response force adequacy were all insufficient to meet current requirements. NUMEC's organizational structure did not provide for independence of accountability functions from product ion functions, oranizational checks and balances, written functional relatioriships, current and comp1ete procedure manuals, and training and requalification programs. NUMEC's material control area structure did not provide for measurement of all material moved between material balance areas, localization of material losses to specific process areas, inclusion of the vaults and labs in the material balance area structure,rand adequate custodial separation of responsibilities. As much as twenty percent of NUMEC's inventory was carried on estimated values, not measured values. This practice enabled NUMEC to delay indefinitely the identification of their true loss situation.

In early 1969 the FBI briefed President Nixon on the questionable activities of NUMEC's president. The files further show that top level Government concern about the security risks posed by the president of NUMEC continued until 1971.

Dr. Zalman Mordecai Shapiro, head of NUMEC, had pronounced pro-Israeli sympathies and close contacts with Israeli officials. Shapiro was interviewed by representatives of the Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) on August 14, 1969, concerning his relationship with Israeli officials. On the basis of information developed during this interview, particularly Shapiro's statement that throughout his associations with Israeli officials he had never been asked to furnish classified information, has never furnished, and would not, if asked to furn1sn such 1nformat1on to unauthor1zed persons, the AEC did not contemplate further action in this matter. Apparently no mention was made of the passage of nuclear material to a foreign government.

A newspaper article on January 28, 1978 identified the existence of a special intelligence report prepared by CIA in 1974. The newspaper article noted that the CIA had mistakenly released the "top-secret" report. One of the conclusions of the report was that Israel had developed nuclear weapons and that the source of the nuclear material for the weapons was obtained partially through "clandestine means". The CIA never denied the validity of the newspaper article. Subsequently, GAO obtained a copy of the report.

By 1978 GAO could not say whether or not there was a diversion of material from the NUMEC facility. DOE had taken the position that it was aware of no conclusive evidence that a diversion of nuclear material ever occurred at the NUMEC facility, although it recognized that the possibility cannot be eliminated. Agents from the FBI involved in the investigation told GAO that while there existed circumstanial information which could lead an individual to conclude that a diversion occurred, there was no substantlve proof of a diversion. According to CIA, it did not conduct a domestic investigation of the incident because it had no authority to do so.

The report NUREG-0627 "A Safeguards Case Study of the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Company / Uranium Processing Plant/Apollo, Pennsylvania" characterizes the Atomic Energy Commission safeguards requirements and the safeguards systems and procedures in place at the Nuclear Materials and Equipment (NUMEC) uranium processing plant in Apollo, Pennsylvania during the spring of 1964. Based upon the deficiencies identified, the report concluded that it is possible that during the mid-1960s significant quantities of high enriched uranium could have been removed from the NUMEC Apollo facility, by a knowledgeable insider or by an outside group with the assistance of an insider, without detection.

Krytrons are two-inch-long glass bulbs that resemble old-style radio tubes. These ultra high-speed electronic switching tubes can be used in high-speed photography, strobe lighting and photocopying machines. In 1971, Israel began purchasing krytrons that are “dual-use,” having both industrial and nuclear weapons applications as detonators. In May 1985 Richard Smyth [aka Richard Smith or Richard Kelly Smyth], an American businessman, was indicted in a US court for having smuggled 810 krytrons to Israel between 1980 and 1983. Israel subsequently acknowledged rece1vmg the switches but denied that they were being employed in nuclear weapons. At the re- quest of the United States, Israel has since returned those krytrons not in use. Smyth absconded before his trial. The United States demanded that Israel return the krytrons smuggled out by Smyth. In the end, however, Washington appeared to condone Israel's conduct by permitting it to retain those krytrons already in use. The Israelis apologized for the action saying that the krytrons were for medical research. Israel returned 469 of the krytrons, but the rest, they declared, had been destroyed in testing conventional weapons. Some believe they went to South Africa.

Smyth, now 72 and in frail health, was discovered living in southern Spain in 2001. He was arrested by local police and extradited to the United States. He pleaded guilty in December 2001 to violating the U.S. Arms Export Control Act and making a false statement about the contents of one shipment of the krytrons. He was sentenced 30 April 2002 to 40 months in federal prison. Smyth said he made a “grave error” when he shipped about 800 krytrons in the early 1980s to Heli Trading Co. in Israel without State Department approval. Heli Trading was owned at that time by Arnon Milchan, an Israeli-born arms trader who later became a successful Hollywood film producer.

Arnon Milchan is an Israeli billionaire who is publicly known in the U.S as the Hollywood producer of over 150 movies, including Birdman, Brazil, JFK, Pretty Woman, The Revenant and 12 Years a Slave. He owned over thirty companies in seventeen countries. But at least some of those companies were fronts. According to the biography Confidential: The Life of Secret Agent Turned Hollywood Producer, Milchan set up straw companies and secret bank accounts around the world whose purpose was to finance Israel’s secret Dimona nuclear plant. While publicly Milchan was a Hollywood producer, in a second, secret life, he was an Israeli agent and weapons dealer operating inside the United States. Milchan purchased American equipment for Israel’s clandestine nuclear weapons program.

"Arnon is a special man. His activities gave us a huge advantage, strategically, diplomatically, and technologically. In my present position as president, I am restrained from recommending any single individual for our highest defense-related honor, but undoubtedly, Arnon Milchan is worthy of such an acknowledgment, and that's as close to a recommendation that I, as president, can give." -- Shimon Peres, President of Israel.

Milchan was an agent in the darkly shadowy Science Liaison Bureau, known by its Hebrew acronym, LAKAM, according to Roger Mattson, author of Stealing the Atom Bomb: How Denial and Deception Armed Israel. In 1968, Mattson reports, the FBI became cognizant of LAKAM and set up a secret program code named “Scope” to track Israeli scientific delegations and embassy personnel inside the US. FBI wiretaps inside the Israeli embassy led to the expulsion of some Israelis.

From the time the Atomic Energy Commission first discovered that significant amounts of this atom-bomb-making material were missing, there was a concern that it went to Israel because of the connection between the plant’s owners and Israeli nuclear and intelligence officials. Because of the enormously high stakes involved, denial and deception clouded the affair for half a century thereafter. Although the AEC, its successor agency the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the FBI, the CIA, the Congressional Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, the General Accounting Office, the National Security Council, the Defense Intelligence Agency, two committees of the US House of Representatives and four presidential administrations purported to investigate what became of the uranium, they never found it. They all acknowledged that the material might have made its way to Israel, and some in high position were certain it went there.

"Let me state emphatically that I have never participated in any theft or diversion of special nuclear material," Shapiro told Udall and Interior Committee aides in December 1978. "I have no knowledge or information concerning any such diversion. Furthermore, I am not aware of any factual basis for the repeated allegations that 'material unaccounted for' at NUMEC was caused by an illegal diversion."

Because of undue government secrecy, the public is almost entirely unaware of this chapter of the Israeli nuclear weapons program and US nuclear history. According to the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists article by Victor Gilinsky & Roger J. Mattson "Revisiting the NUMEC Affair" published in March/April of 2010, NRC Chairman William Anders invited CIA Deputy Director for Operations Carl Duckett to brief senior NRC officials who were concerned about the potential for nuclear diversion in the US. In February, 1976 Duckett told the NRC that "the CIA believed Israel had illegally obtained HEU from a fuelprocessing plant run by the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC) in Apollo, PA, and that Israel had used this HEU for its first bombs." The CIA had information that it did not make available to the FBI.

In the 1990s, when the NUMEC plant was disassembled, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission reportedly found more than 100 kilograms of HEU in the structural components of the contaminated plant, casting doubt on 200 pounds going to Israel. The Department of Energy's 2001 report stated that Apollo's cumulative HEU loss from the start of operations in 1957 through 1968 was 269 kilograms of uranium 235, enough for 10 to 20 bombs.

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Page last modified: 13-08-2019 17:43:50 ZULU