The Secret Gag Order That Prohibits Debate About Israeli Nuclear Weapons
On August 20, 2015 the Department of Energy released under the Freedom of Information Act its “Guidance on Release of Information Relating to the Potential for an Israeli Nuclear Capability.” (PDF) The Orwellian title of the year 2012 document, designated WNP-136, seems to suggest that Israel might not yet even have nuclear weapons. This is in stark contrast to the public opinion of 63.9 percent of Americans polled who believe it does. Interestingly, it covers only Israel and not the other non-signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty such as India, North Korea and South Sudan.
The official reason for publishing the gag order, its history and development, bureaucratic champions and most of its redacted contents remain unclear. What is clear is that it is one of the reasons federal employees and government contractors, and sometimes even the President, equivocate and run for the exits whenever they are asked to make substantive remarks. The Israeli nuclear weapons gag order answers the question posed last week by McClatchy, “Why is Israel’s nuclear arsenal not mentioned in Iran deal debate?” Because any federal employee who does can be summarily fired and possibly go to prison.
Los Alamos National Laboratory nuclear analyst James Doyle wrote candidly about Israel’s nuclear weapons for a magazine in 2013. After a congressional staffer read the article, which had passed a classification review, it was referred to classification officials for a second review. Doyle’s pay was then cut, his home computer searched, and he was fired.
Aside from prohibiting any informed input in the run-up to the September congressional vote on the Iran nuclear deal, the secret gag order has a far more costly function—it makes enforcement of the Symington and Glenn Amendments to the 1961 Foreign Aid Act impossible.
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Time has cracked the edifice of silence. State Department documents (PDF) released this week add color to previous accounts about the maneuvering of Henry Kissinger in the early 1970s, functioning as Israel’s lawyer, to secretly exempt the arsenal from safeguards demands the US and international community imposed on others—as well as Nixon’s intense fear of an Israel-lobby backlash.
In February this year the Pentagon released its chartered study from 1987 about how Israel’s nuclear weapons development facilities already paralleled American national laboratories even as the country raced for hydrogen bomb capabilities. However the gag order outlaws any current releases about the true nuclear balance of power in the Middle East when it would matter most. This buttresses Israel and its lobby’s attempts to keep a focus on Iran, but harms Americans positioned outside of the Israel affinity ecosystem.
The Symington and Glenn laws prohibit US foreign aid to any country found trafficking in nuclear weapons technology outside the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. An estimated (considering inflation and assumed value of US intelligence support) $234 billion in taxpayer-funded aid has been delivered to Israel since their passage. But absent unencumbered, informed and authoritative public information from the federal government on the state of Israel’s nuclear weapons infrastructure, the law is impossible to enforce.
Whether such subversion of taxpayer rights and foreign aid laws is the Israeli nuclear weapons gag order’s core intent remains to be seen in the upcoming FOIA appeal and public interest legal actions. Grant Smith is now undertaking that FOIA appeal process.
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