Israel wants jailed nuke whistleblower to keep mum
04 Jan 2004 19:34 / Reuters
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel is worried a nuclear whistleblower winding up an 18-year prison sentence has more secrets to tell, and may make his freedom conditional on his silence, security sources said on Sunday.
They said Mordechai Vanunu, who in 1986 went public with details of his work at Israel's main atomic reactor, could be barred from leaving the country when he is released on April 21, under emergency laws reserved for cases of national security.
"Vanunu dealt an enormous blow to the country, and we believe he has more in store," a Israeli security source said. "There is no double-jeopardy proviso when it comes to treason."
The Jewish state is still sore from a tell-all interview Vanunu, now 49, gave Britain's Sunday Times in October 1986 on the Dimona reactor where he had worked as a mid-level technician for eight years. He was to receive an undisclosed fee but was abducted by Mossad before payment could be made, the paper said.
Vanunu's revelations, and some 60 accompanying photographs, led independent experts to conclude Israel has between 100 and 200 nuclear warheads -- an embarrassment given Israel's policy of ambiguity regarding its non-conventional capabilities.
Absent from the expose were the names of Vanunu's former colleagues at Dimona. Security sources say these are among sensitive data he could still publish abroad after his release.
In Israel, any public statement Vanunu makes would be subject to military censors who have kept a tight lid on the case since he was spirited back and tried behind closed doors.
Vanunu's lawyer was not available for comment. But Vanunu, who dabbled in pro-Palestinian politics and became a Christian after quitting Dimona in 1985, apparently feels no remorse.
"The secrets collapsed without any bombs, without killing anyone. That was the great power of a non-violent act," the U.S. Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu web site quotes him as saying.
Newsweek, in a report to be published on Monday, said Vanunu last year refused to sign a non-disclosure pledge offered by an Israeli official in exchange for the promise of early release.
"He believes in freedom of speech," Mary Eoloff, an American peace activist who legally adopted Vanunu with her husband in a failed attempt to get him U.S. citizenship, told the magazine.