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Did The US Department Of Defense Betray Israel With Report On Nuclear Secrets?

I have never been as angry at my own government as I was yesterday when I saw the jaw-dropping headlines that the US government had released a 1987 report describing Israel’s nuclear program in detail. Before I put pen to paper to rail against the US President (well OK, it was after I vented in an angry draft that will now never see the light of day) I did some fact-checking.

Here’s what I found in the space of about an hour and a half, with no background in journalism, and no access to information other that what is readily available, for free, on the internet.

The timing of the release of the document has raised many eyebrows, with some reporters noting that Grant Smith, the man who sought the release of the document, had been trying to obtain them for three years. Although Smith’s first FOIA request was about that long ago, his court case was only filed in September of 2014. From that point the timing seems about normal for a response to a document request.

Several reports highlight the fact that while the report in question included information on France, Italy, West Germany, and “other Nato allies,” all of the information on those countries is blacked out, and only the information on Israel is revealed. This is because Smith, who seems to be rabidly anti-Israel, only asked for information about Israel, and agreed to allow the government to redact the information on the other countries. Contrary to what is being implied, this alone is not indicative of malice on the part of the US government.

(click to enlarge and read this page from the report)

Page from report on Israeli nukes released by DOD

According to reports of the court case, the US Department of Justice did consult Israel before releasing the documents, and it seems as though Israel had a chance to review both the request and the report before it was released. I did not see anything, however, that indicates what the Israeli response was.

Again, all of the above was available on the internet, without any pay barriers, to anyone who took the time to look.

Finally, I went to the online database that makes federal court documents available to the public, with registration and for a nominal fee. A stipulation filed in the case shows that, once the court case was filed, a decision was made by the Department of Defense to release the report. It was not done subject to a court order. I still did not see any indication, however, of what the Israeli response to the request was. A transcript of court proceedings also makes clear that, contrary to news reports claiming that the document has been “declassified,” the 1987 report was never “classified” to begin with.

(click to enlarge and read this page from the court transcript)

Screen Shot 2015-03-26 at 2.38.20 PM

What is still unknown is how Israel responded when it was consulted on the request. That is the point that journalists should be trying to ascertain. That the current US administration has not been a friend to Israel can’t really be in dispute at this point, however, on this particular issue, without knowing what Israel’s position was on this matter, it’s not clear yet whether or not there has been any betrayal.

Beyond that, people who want to cast blame have two places to look: First, US President Reagan’s Department of Defense, for unknown reasons, never labeled the report “Classified” to begin with, despite the fact that it contains the nuclear secrets of several other US allies in addition to Israel. Second, the existence of the report was first disclosed by the Jerusalem Post in 1990. If the Post had never mentioned the report in an article about supercomputers, Smith would never have asked for it first in a FOIA request and then in court.

The spark for the current outrage seems to have come from the Jewish Daily Forward, and others seem to have picked the story up from there. What we are seeing is a very typical process in which a misleading but inflammatory story is repeated without other news sources doing their own diligence. Israel’s supporters are used to seeing this process work against us, when one publication (not naming names but it’s frequently one that starts with an “H” and ends with a “z”) publishes something hostile to Israel and it is picked up around the world without any additional fact checking. This time it has worked in the other direction, but the fact is, news media must learn to do their own diligence, and this should not happen at all.

About the author

Picture of Mirabelle

Mirabelle

A Zionist in exile, Mirabelle has, in past lives, been a lawyer, a skier, and a chef. Outside of Israel, her favorite place in the world is Sun Valley, Idaho.
Picture of Mirabelle

Mirabelle

A Zionist in exile, Mirabelle has, in past lives, been a lawyer, a skier, and a chef. Outside of Israel, her favorite place in the world is Sun Valley, Idaho.
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