US Did Not Build Nuclear Weapons-Handling Facilities for Israel

Grant Smith, February 13, 2013

A November Washington Post report by national security journalist Walter Pincus revealed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was building a mysterious underground facility for the Israel Defense Forces near Tel Aviv. Deeper in the report Pincus claimed, "Over the years, the Corps has built underground hangers for Israeli fighter-bombers, facilities for handling nuclear weapons (though Israel does not admit having such weapons), command centers, training bases, intelligence facilities and simulators, according to Corps publications."

Pincus did not respond to an immediate email request for citations of USACE publications detailing "facilities for handling nuclear weapons, " but a January 4, 2013 Freedom of Information Act request to USACE Humphreys Engineer Support Center in Alexandria requesting documents summarizing "its role in building nuclear weapons handling facilities in Israel" was swiftly answered.

USACE’s response was unusually comprehensive. (PDF) "This office is responsible for administering requests involving USACE Headquarters. The USACE Europe District is the office responsible for projects involving Israel. I have coordinated with the Europe District and have been informed that none of the facilities that USACE has been involved with were nuclear weapons handling facilities; therefore I will not be requesting that a document search be conducted."

Although an appeal demanding that USACE Europe actually conduct a bona fide document search was filed on January 22, no further replies have been forthcoming. Walter Pincus has written no more about the U.S. lending a helpful hand in Israel’s officially unacknowledged nuclear arsenal. If Pincus is wrong about USACE, it would not be the first time the veteran reporter has gotten basic facts about an important story completely wrong. Although then a fairly recent graduate of Georgetown Law School, Pincus misinterpreted basic facts about the 1917 Espionage Act in a 2006 story. Pincus then engaged in a long fight after the ombudsman’s attention was brought to the issue. Although the flawed Pincus story contributed to the Post’s overall editorial line that criminal charges against two AIPAC officials indicted for espionage should be dropped, to its credit the newspaper publicly corrected the Pincus helpful error a month later.

Hinting that the U.S. government has an ongoing official—though deeply secret—role in helping Israel develop and deploy nuclear weapons is a line periodically pushed by Israel lobby partisans when uncomfortable facts about questionable funding flows from the U.S. or illicit material and technology diversions arise. For Pincus, the "USACE nuke facilities" story may mark the final twist of his long transformation from the Israel lobby’s fiercest investigator under Senator J. W. Fulbright in the 1960s to just another lobby trumpet in the establishment media. In the short reference Pincus upholds the ever-less-credible policy of "strategic ambiguity" while insinuating an official U.S. role. While it is remotely possible the USACE is fibbing and Pincus is right, if that is true all future U.S. funding to Israel will have to be cut under foreign aid restrictions mandated by the Symington and Glenn Amendments. Or perhaps the Corps built nuclear facilities without understanding their purpose. Whatever the truth, Americans deserve far more clarity and fact-based reporting about how their tax dollars may be funding Israel’s nuclear weapons.

Grant Smith is Director of the Institute for Research: Middle East Policy, Inc.

31 Responses to “US Did Not Build Nuclear Weapons-Handling Facilities for Israel”

  1. One wonders if, in the event of a nuclear exchange between DC and Moscow, Tel Aviv's birds would fly. Could be interesting if after the Cuban missile crisis, the US removed its missiles from Eastern Turkey but lent the technology to the Isrealis, to develop their own that they could use in the event of a Arab Invasion but also missilies the US would have an option on in an exchange with the soviets. just speculation.

  2. Grant Smith should know that although the statute uses the disjunctive "or," the Honorable T. S. Ellis (Harvard Law '69 and a classmate of — get this–Jane Harman) "interpreted" it to always require proof "injury of the United States." Using stolen secrets to the "advantage of a foreign nation" would not be enough, regardless of what the law says–at least, for sure, when that foreign nation is the bastard off-spring of Adolf Hitler. So Pincus was just writing what they wanted him to write.

  3. What's with this 'nuclear ambiguity' myth? Mordichai Vannunu spilled the beans on Israel's secret nuclear facility some 20 years ago. It's basically an established fact. For this disclosure, Vannunu spent some 18 years in solitary confinement in an Israeli prison. Vannunu paid a very heavy price for telling the truth. Remember his name.

  4. I believe the Dimona Nuclear Research Facility where Vannunu worked at was built with a lot of French assistance starting in the late 1950s/early 60s time frame. Not sure how much US help there was as President Kennedy was actively trying to prevent Israel from acquiring nukes. This of course, pissed off Israel, so there probably was a Mossad involvement in JFK's assassination. Later in the 1960s, Israel stole nuclear material from the NUMEC company's facility in Apollo, Pennsylvania to use in developing Israel's nuclear weapons program.

  5. Mossad possibly use the JFK assassination as an example of 'the perfect political hit'.

  6. This is in no way a defense of Pincus, but the FOIA response is a complete blowoff. First, it comes from "Counsel", an attorney. No title specified. USACE should have a designated FOIA officer. Second, he "coordinated" with USACE Europe? That's his basis for not requesting a document search?

    A number of things look funny here. I'd have an attorney review the federal FOIA and see if this is an acceptable response.

    I'd also follow-up with Pincus. His paragraph ends with "according to Corps publications." Can Pincus tell you which publications? Can you get your hands on them? If so, you can go through the USACE Public Affairs office (or division responsible for issuing the publications). You can also send the publications to the FOIA officer and let him play the author of the publication against his source in USACE.

  7. Grant, forgot to add that the article mentions "facilities for handling nuclear weapons" rather than your request for information on "nuclear weapons handling facilities in Israel". There is a difference, especially to an FOIA bureaucrat.

    Last, the military euphemistically refers to these types of facilities as "special weapons" facilities (we don't use "weapons of mass destruction" when they are ours), so maybe a request for teh construction of special weapons facilities in EUCOM (Israel is the only middle east country in EUCOM; the rest are in CENTCOM) will yield more fruit.

  8. 1. Pincus, as stated, has not responded to my request for USACE publication citations.
    2. The FOIA request included a copy of the Pincus piece.
    3. It is common practice for federal agency lawyers to respond to FOIAs.

    “Facilities for handling nuclear weapons,” as Pincus put it, implies they were purpose-built by USACE.

    The point of the FOIA is official clarity, rather than playing along with the costly “nuclear ambiguity” charade. If USACE built the facilities Pincus claims they did, they certainly should know about it.

  9. Hmmm, so says the US gov. And at this point, especially on anything concerning Israel, if the US gov said the sun is going to rise in the east in the morning, I'd be very suspicious of the claim unless provided independent proof.

  10. For that matter, Israeli prime minister Olmert made a mistake and let slip that Israel has nuclear weapons. There really isn't much doubt these days that Israel is a rogue nuclear state outside the NPT and IAEA inspections. In other words, worse than anything that is claimed about Iran.

  11. You can also send the publications to the FOIA officer and let him play the author of the publication against his source in USACE.

  12. Thank you, Matt. I think you mean Kim Jong Nam, jawohl? Kim Yong Nam is of course someone completely different and a bit too old to be a successor.

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