from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2005, Issue No. 29
March 30, 2005


Mordechai Vanunu, who was released from an Israeli prison last April after serving 18 years for disclosing secret information on Israel's nuclear weapons program and who has been seeking to leave that country, now faces new charges of violating a gag order prohibiting foreign press interviews.

Y writes from Jerusalem:

"You've probably heard that Mordechai Vanunu has been charged with violating the restrictions placed on him when he was freed from prison. The charges list 21 interviews he has given to the foreign media [...]. The restrictions were due to expire on April 21, but now the new charges and the pending trial will prevent him from leaving the country. Mordechai has hired Avigdor Feldman and Michael Sfard to defend him in this case. (The other day Daniel Ellsberg, Vanunu's longtime ardent supporter, was here and spoke at a press conference and on Israeli television. Very impressive.)"

"I should point out that where the media refer to the restrictions as the terms of Vanunu's parole, they are mistaken. Vanunu is not on parole - he served his sentence in full. The restrictions derive from a British Mandatory state-of-emergency regulation."

"Moreover, not a single word in any of the interviews went further - in terms of information re Dimona [an Israeli nuclear facility] etc - than the revelations he made to the Sunday Times in 1986, so they can hardly be said to affect Israel's security in 2005."

"Some supporters (and Mordechai's brother Meir) advised him to keep quiet after his release, but Mordechai is not the sort of person who bends under pressure. I personally think that he was right to do what he did. If he'd kept shtum [silent] the government could have said, 'Aha, he's quiet here because he wants to leave, but if we let him out he'll start giving interviews all over the place and god knows what he'll say...' - So long as the vindictive impulse continues to animate the system, Mordechai can't win."

During World War I, Kaiser Wilhelm's Germany sought to curtail foreign travel by dissidents such as Albert Einstein, among others. Historian Fritz Stern writes that German authorities imposed the travel barriers on Einstein because they feared him as "a dangerous pacifist with international commitments and friendships." (Einstein's German World, Princeton Univ Press, 1999, p. 116).


The Bioterrorism Act of 2002 prohibited scientists from gaining access to particularly hazardous biological agents and toxins (such as anthrax and Ebola virus) unless they had a legitimate need for them and had received authorization from the FBI.

A new Justice Department Inspector General (IG) report reviewed the FBI's "security risk assessment" program for granting such authorization and found that previous backlogs of researcher requests had been largely reduced.

Along the way, the IG report provides some new details about the mechanics of the FBI review process and the number of applications -- in the thousands -- that the Bureau has received for handling the restricted biological agents.

"Our inspection showed that the FBI had 3,855 ... Applications pending in November 2003, but by June 2004, had reduced that number to 401. The FBI maintained a stable average monthly caseload of approximately 339 pending ... applications through December 2004 and was routinely processing the applications in 45 days or less."

A copy of the new IG report, "Inspection of the FBI's Security Risk Assessment Program for Individuals Requesting Access to Biological Agents and Toxins," March 2005, may be found here (thanks to


If one stood on top of a pile of all of the studies of space nuclear power that have been performed over the past twenty years, one would be several feet closer to Mars (at least during some hours of the day).

Mars will come even closer now that NASA is undertaking a new programmatic environmental impact statement concerning the development of nuclear reactors for use in future space missions, as announced in the Federal Register today:

As a technological enterprise, space nuclear reactors have been subject to a remarkable cycle of boom and bust over the past 50 years, as ambitious programs have been commenced every decade or so only to be terminated a few years later. The most recent major space reactor initiative was the SP-100 program, which was cancelled ten years ago after the expenditure of some $400 million.

The U.S. did launch one space nuclear reactor in 1965; following 43 days of operation, it remains in orbit today. The Soviet Union launched dozens of nuclear reactors, several of which reentered the atmosphere, distributing measurable quantities of radioactive debris. Several other U.S. plutonium heat sources have also produced accidental releases of radioactive materials.

Proponents note that space reactors hold the promise of dramatic enhancements in the scope, lifetime and effectiveness of space exploration activities.

"Space nuclear fission reactor systems could enable exploration missions requiring substantially greater amounts of electrical power (on the order of many kilowatts of electricity), where currently available and reasonably foreseeable energy systems are likely to be inadequate. The ability to generate high levels of sustained electrical power regardless of location in the solar system would permit a new class of missions designed for longevity, flexibility, and comprehensive scientific exploration," according to the NASA Federal Register notice.


The suggestion by a Congressional Research Service analyst that money from South Korea's Hyundai Group may have been diverted to support North Korea's nuclear weapons program, noted in yesterday's Secrecy News, was harshly dismissed by a North Korean spokesman yesterday.

"Those arguments are not worthy of comment," the spokesman said before he proceeded to comment.

"Those allegations showed clearly their ignorance and lack of common sense," the spokesman said, as quoted by Yonhap News Agency.

"Our nuclear weapons were developed on the base of an independent economy." So there.

See "N.Korea Dismissed U.S. Claim Funds were Siphoned for Nuke Program," Yonhap, March 29:


Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.

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