Department of Justice Wears Many Hats in NUMEC Affair

Fighting FOIA, secretly negotiating cleanup payouts and covering for CIA

by , February 16, 2016

As reported by Trib Total Media, the U.S. Department of Justice is secretly negotiating what share BWX Technologies of Lynchburg, Virginia must pay to clean up toxic NUMEC sites in Pennsylvania. Whatever portion BWXT doesn’t pay of the estimated $412 million cleanup bill will then be presented to US taxpayers. Under this cozy scenario, NUMEC, a government contractor that opened in the late 1950s, was acquired by Atlantic Richfield in the late 1960s under an Atomic Energy Commission maneuver, only to be absorbed into BWXT in the 1970s, was always a legitimate business. It just happened to be severely undercapitalized and overly polluting in its early years, during which time it lost more weapons-grade uranium than any other US contractor.

In reality, NUMEC was never a legitimate business before it was acquired by unsuspecting successors eager for more government contracts. NUMEC was capitalized by David Lowenthal and run by Zalman M. Shapiro. Both men had extensive ongoing contacts with Israeli intelligence officials and covert operatives tasked to obtain nuclear material and know-how for Israel’s clandestine nuclear weapons arsenal. Two high CIA officials went on record claiming NUMEC was “an Israeli operation from the beginning,” like the many others that smuggled tons of conventional weapons out of the United States in the 1940s. The CIA clandestinely collected information about how a specialized type of uranium provided to NUMEC for conversion into naval propulsion fuel and other applications wound up in Israel. It kept these operational findings secret from the FBI investigators, thwarting two separate efforts to investigate the matter.

The CIA is currently fighting a FOIA lawsuit claiming it does not have to release its operations files about the NUMEC affair. A Google Consumer Survey conducted in 2016 and introduced as evidence reveals almost 60 percent of Americans want such CIA diversion files released. The rather mundane bureaucratic files released by CIA in response to the lawsuit last October reveal how the CIA fought off investigations launched by Congress in the 1970s. A major filing in January by the plaintiff (PDF) reveals the President and the US Department of Justice were also investigating the CIA for “impropriety” in the conduct of intelligence activities. Under the CIA Information Act of 1984, when CIA is investigated by such enumerated parties, its operational files may be searched and released under FOIA. However, the CIA routinely refuses to conduct such searches under the law. In one particularly egregious case cited in the lawsuit it destroyed, rather than release, operational information even after a court order.

The most extensive investigation of NUMEC occurred in the late 1970’s after the US Attorney General ordered (PDF) a wide-ranging investigation, including into government cover-ups. A three-lawyer investigative team from the DOJ’s Criminal Division gathered up thousands of CIA’s files about NUMEC (PDF) and was clearly troubled by what it found. The final DOJ report was to be referred to the appropriate congressional committee for action, suggesting that improprieties at CIA were indeed finally uncovered.

Although a Freedom of Information Act request for the final report on the NUMEC affair was filed with Department of Justice in 2011, DOJ claimed it could not locate any documents. On February 11, 2016 the Department of Justice, without producing any solid evidence, told the US District Court of the District of Columbia to move on, and close down the CIA NUMEC FOIA lawsuit. (PDF) Presumably, any release of CIA files revealing that NUMEC was a criminal smuggling front from the very start – rather than a legitimate business with liabilities that could be legally assumed by successors – would undermine DOJ’s efforts to extort millions of dollars from both BWXT and unsuspecting US taxpayers who might otherwise prefer that the government of Israel pay for the Pennsylvania cleanup.

Stuck in the middle are the residents of Apollo and Parks Township who have long suffered the environmental fallout of a plant that spewed and improperly buried toxic waste in their midst even as NUMECs founders and Israeli covert operations teams hustled hundreds of kilos of highly enriched uranium to Dimona.

It is now up to a judge to decide whether the Department of Justice may continue to don so many hats in the NUMEC affair, or whether it should doff one of them to sit alongside the CIA as a defendant in the FOIA lawsuit. (PDF)

Grant F. Smith is the plaintiff of the FOIA lawsuit and author of DIVERT! NUMEC, Zalman Shapiro, and the diversion of US weapons-grade uranium into the Israeli nuclear weapons program.  He currently serves as director of research at the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy in Washington (IRmep), D.C. Read other articles by Smith, or visit the IRmep website.

Read more by Grant Smith