U.S. Campaign To Free Mordechai Vanunu
Contact: Sam Day, Ph.  257-4764 Ray Kidder, Ph.  846-4102
Pleasanton, CA, January 25--A senior scientist with 35 years of experience in the U.S. nuclear weapons program has certified that an Israeli nuclear technician imprisoned since 1986 for blowing the whistle on his government's nuclear arsenal "possesses no technical information not already available to the public."
The assurance came in a letter to the Israeli judiciary from Dr. Ray E. Kidder, a nuclear weapons designer and analyst at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, until his retirement in 1990.
Kidder wrote at the request of an Israeli group, which seeks the release of Mordechai Vanunu, who was convicted of espionage and treason and sentenced to 18 years for giving a British newspaper information and photographs of Israel's Dimona nuclear reactor, where he worked for nine years, processing plutonium for nuclear warheads. Kidder's letter was prepared last November for a possible parole hearing for Vanunu but was released early on the eve of the Israeli's Parliament's first public debate about Israel's unacknowledged nuclear weapons program. The scientist said his views did not reflect those of the Livermore laboratory, where he remains a staff associate.
Relying on testimony from security officials, the Israeli Ministry of Justice has maintained that Vanunu still has nuclear secrets that could endanger Israel if disclosed. That was a reason cited by prison officials for denying parole to Vanunu when he became eligible in May 1998, after completing two-thirds of his sentence.
In his letter Kidder states, when first asked last July to look into the case, he had formed no opinion on whether Vanunu still might possess dangerous nuclear secrets. Nor had he an opinion on the rights or wrongs of Vanunu leaking classified information to the London Sunday Times in violation of his secrecy oath.
He said he came to his conclusion after reading most of the available literature on the subject, questioning British reporter Peter Hounam and scientist Frank Barnaby, who had interviewed Vanunu for the London Sunday Times story, and consulting American experts familiar with the U.S. nuclear weapons program and those of other countries, including Israel's.
"On the basis of this research and my own professional experience I am prepared to challenge any official assertion that Vanunu possesses any technical nuclear information not already available to the public," Kidder wrote.
In a 12-point analysis of the issue, Kidder argued that Vanunu's secret technical information was limited by his lack of training in nuclear weapons design, and by tight security restrictions common to the Israeli and American nuclear weapons programs. He said Vanunu's expert knowledge of plutonium separation and related techniques is widely available elsewhere.
Kidder has written more than 100 classified reports on the physics, properties, design, and the effects of nuclear weapons, especially thermonuclear and enhanced radiation [neutron bomb] warheads. He is regarded internationally as a leading expert in the field.
Vanunu's release long has been sought by Amnesty International, the European Parliament, the Federation of American Scientists, the Jewish Peace Fellowship, and other groups. Last spring 36 Members of Congress asked President Clinton to seek Vanunu's release on humanitarian grounds. Clinton responded that he shares their concerns.
Note: The text of Dr. Ray E. Kidder's letter to the Judiciary of Israel is available upon request. Also available is a brief biography of Kidder.