Prisoner Has No Secrets, Nuclear Expert Affirms

A top-ranked U.S. nuclear weapons designer has certified that Mordechai Vanunu, denied parole as a security risk, has no technical knowledge that could endanger Israel if he were allowed to go free.

Dr. Ray E. Kidder, a 35-year veteran of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California, gave his assurance in a November letter to the Israeli judiciary. He repeated it to reporters covering a February debate in the Israeli Knesset on the government's nuclear weapons policy.

Imprisoned since 1986 for blowing the whistle on Israel's nuclear weapons program, where he had worked as a technician, Vanunu was denied parole in 1998 on grounds that he remained a threat to Israel's foreign policy and national security because he still possessed state secrets.

Last July, at the request of Vanunu's Israeli supporters Kidder agreed to check into the possibility that Vanunu still held nuclear secrets that could endanger Israel. He spent four months reading the open literature, questioning those who had interviewed Vanunu for the London Sunday Times in 1986, examining photographs given by Vanunu to the Sunday Times, and consulting experts familiar with both the U.S. and Israeli nuclear weapons programs.

"On the basis of this research and my own professional experience I am prepared to challenge any official assertion that Mr. Vanunu possesses any technical nuclear information not already made public," Kidder wrote in his letter to the judiciary.

In a 12-point analysis of security rules common to the U.S. and Israeli weapons programs, Kidder argued that Vanunu's lack of expert knowledge and lack of access would have made it impossible for him to reveal useful technical information except in regard to plutonium separation, a process well known by other nations.

Kidder worked for 35 years at the Livermore laboratory as a nuclear weapons designer and analyst and has served as a staff associate since his retirement in 1990. He said his views on the Vanunu case did not reflect laboratory policy.

Before beginning his research last summer, Kidder, unlike some scientists, had taken no position on whether Vanunu might still have vital nuclear secrets or on the rights or wrongs of Vanunu leaking information to the British newspaper.

Others who have long called for Vanunu's release include the Federation of American Scientists; Dr. Hans Bethe, director of the theoretical division of the wartime Los Alamos Laboratory, where the first atomic bomb was designed and built; Dr. Joseph Rotblat, winner of the 1995 Nobel peace prize, and Dr. Thomas B. Cochran, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington, DC.