Most Americans would place limitations on U.S. aid to Israel under laws triggered by its nuclear weapons program. When told the CIA believed Israel has nuclear weapons, 54.8% of Americans agreed that Arms Export Control Act limitations to the non-signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) should apply.
Question: Arms Export Control Act law limits foreign aid to countries with nuclear weapons that haven’t signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. CIA says Israel has nuclear weapons.
The representative poll was submitted as evidence (PDF) in an ongoing legal battle to force the Departments of State and Energy to release WNP-136. WNP-136 is titled “Guidance on Release of Information Relating to the Potential for an Israeli Nuclear Capability.” It functions as a secret gag order preventing federal agency employees and contractors from publicly discussing or releasing US government information about Israel’s nuclear weapons program. The Department of Justice attorney arguing for the defendants had suggested that there may not be much public interest in whether the presiding judge reviews the secret gag order privately in chambers for possible release. The poll results indicate high interest in the broader implications of the lawsuit.
On September 6, Eric F. Stein, the US Department of State director of the Office of Information Programs and Services, submitted a second affidavit opposing release of WNP-136. Stein analyzed whether a 1974 CIA Special National Intelligence Estimate constituted an official US governmental acknowledgment that Israel possesses nuclear weapons. Such acknowledgment would call into question any State Department claims within WNP-136 that the fact of Israel’s nuclear weapons program itself was a secret.
Stein concluded that the CIA’s 1974 estimate about Israel’s nuclear weapons program, and the State Department’s secret content in WNP-136, were "not identical." Because the content is not identical, Stein concluded, it "did not constitute an official acknowledgment of the information withheld…" Stein hinted that the passage of time may be the factor in his comparison, emphasizing the CIA SNIE was dated 1974, while the WNP-136 was issued in 2012. (PDF)
Evidence submitted by Plaintiff in the lawsuit argues that the Department of Energy and US Department of State are improperly applying classification guidelines claiming Israel’s nuclear weapons program is a government secret in order to subvert restrictions on US aid to Israel.
Arms Export Control Act amendments restrict and condition US foreign aid to countries that have not signed the NPT but are known to have nuclear weapons programs. The amendments were authored by Senator Stuart Symington, a close confidant of NPT champion President John F. Kennedy, and Senator John Glenn who was concerned about the NUMEC diversion.
With all scheduled briefs now filed, it is up to the court to decide whether Stein’s affidavit is compelling enough to dismiss the lawsuit. The judge may also choose to review the two-page WNP-136 in the privacy of chambers to determine what function it actually serves, and possibly release it to the concerned public.
Grant F. Smith is research director of the Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy and the plaintiff in civil action no. 18-CV-00777 filed in April seeking unredacted release of WNP-136.