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Many details of NUMEC's Israel dealings still shrouded in secrecy

| Sunday, June 4, 2017, 1:54 a.m.

Zalman Shapiro, the late renowned nuclear scientist who founded the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corp. in Apollo, waited almost 50 years to reveal his involvement in the Six Day War.

And he did it not to take credit for his work, which almost certainly helped give Israel an edge over its Arab adversaries, but in an effort to clear his name.

In exclusive interviews with the Tribune-Review before his death in July, Shapiro told of at least some of his covert work for Israel and the United States, which he kept secret from media accounts and public statements released by government agencies for most of his life.

Shapiro was an accomplished scientist who helped develop fuel for the world's first nuclear submarine. But he and NUMEC were dogged by allegations of illegally providing nuclear material to Israel for its secret nuclear weapons program.

Shapiro, who denied the allegations until his death, never was charged with any crime and never lost his U.S. government security clearances during the numerous government investigations.

Curiously, details on NUMEC's supply of intelligence equipment to Israel and the United States weren't made public during those investigations.

Nor has the State of Israel confirmed Shapiro's contribution.

Requests for comment for this story from the Israeli embassy in Washington, D.C., and Israel's Defense Forces went unanswered.

Although public records for the secret surveillance devices Shapiro helped to make are scant, a report from Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission confirms NUMEC supplied Israel with the nuclear batteries in 1966, a year before the Six Day War, for “under­sea or surface” use.

Sections of the report about specific uses for the batteries were left blank, but Shapiro said those batteries powered listening devices that allow Israel to listen in on Arab military communications leading up the the Six Day War.

Because most of Shapiro's FBI files still are classified for national security reasons, it is unlikely the public will ever know the full scope of Shapiro's activities with Israel's Ministry of Defense and the U.S. government.

Shapiro never discussed his batteries for Israel in FBI and other government interviews.

At least the ones made public.

That didn't do much for Shapiro's image and fueled allegations that he was engaged in illegal activities with Israel, especially because government investigators in 1965 said NUMEC was “missing” 200 pounds of weapons-grade uranium and rumors were swirling in intelligence circles that Shapiro may have given the material to Israel to power a covert nuclear weapons program.

At a 1978 hearing before U.S. Sen. Morris Udall's Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, Shapiro admitted knowing Meir Amit, formerly a top spy for Israel, but denied knowing any other Israeli intelligence operators.

“(Shapiro's) denial was unnecessarily unequivocal, and probably a lie, since we know that Israeli intelligence officials visited NUMEC,” said Henry Myers, former aide to Udall, in a letter to the senator.

When pressed during a Tribune-Review interview about why so few details were available publicly about the visits of Israelis to NUMEC and their intelligence projects, Shapiro explained that the Israelis wanted to keep their missions secret.

“Meir Amit felt that our State Department was going to reveal the fact to Egypt that we were listening in and would know what was going on and warn Egypt,” Shapiro said.

“It was obviously secret,” he said.

Mary Ann Thomas is a Tribune-Review staff writer. She can be reached at 724-226-4691, mthomas@tribweb.com or via twitter @MaThomas_Trib.

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