THE SAMSON OPTION: ISRAEL'S NUCLEAR ARSENAL AND AMERICAN FOREIGN POLICY
Chapter 7: Dual Loyalty
Lewis Strauss, John McCone's predecessor as chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, was the epitome of the 1950s Cold Warrior, an American booster who was adamantly opposed to the spread of nuclear weapons. Strauss certainly knew as much about Dimona as anybody in the intelligence community by the time he left the AEC in 1958. There is no evidence, however, that he raised questions about the Israeli weapons program while in government; nor was he known to have ever discussed Dimona after leaving office. He most certainly did not tell McCone, a devout Roman Catholic, about it.
Strauss chose not to talk about the Israeli nuclear program because, as a Jew with deep feelings about the Holocaust, he approved of it. His strong private feelings about Israel and its need for security were in sharp contrast to his public image of a thoroughly assimilated Jew who offended many-and amused others-by insisting that his name be pronounced "Straws."
A conservative investment banker from Virginia who rose to admiral in the Navy Reserves during World War II, Strauss viewed America's nuclear arsenal as essential to survival against the Soviet Union; those who disagreed with him were not merely wrong, they were Communist dupes. He had left his Wall Street firm after the war to serve until 1950 as one of the original members of the Atomic Energy Commission, an independent federal agency set up to be custodian of America's nuclear materials, just as the Army's Manhattan Engineering District had been administratively in charge of Oppenheimer's secret work in Los Alamos. Strauss and his five fellow commissioners now found themselves the proprietors of all fissionable materials; they also were responsible for operating the nation's nuclear reactors and developing atomic bombs. Civilian control of the nuclear arsenal was so total that the commission initially did not tell the military either the number or the yield of the bombs being manufactured, creating havoc with the Joint Chiefs of Staff's early nuclear war planning. (The Department of Energy is in charge of nuclear weapons production today.)
Strauss quickly emerged as the strongman of the commission, and he became even more powerful in 1953 when Eisenhower asked him to return to the AEC as its chairman. Strauss supported loyalty oaths for citizens with access to nuclear information. He was insistent on continued nuclear testing and publicly took issue with those who claimed that fallout from the tests was dangerous to human health. He also fought against attempts by the Eisenhower administration to negotiate a nuclear test ban treaty or any other nuclear arms agreement with the Soviet Union. Strauss sided with those in the government and Congress who sought to prevent the passing of weapons information to the European allies in fear that the Soviet bloc would gain access to it.
At the same time, he championed Atoms for Peace, the Eisenhower administration program that called for America's allies to be provided with American nuclear technology and nuclear fuel-under international safeguards-to promote the peaceful use of atomic energy. The assumption, which turned out to be dreadfully wrong, was that smaller nations, once supplied with the enriched uranium or plutonium needed to drive a nuclear power plant, would have no incentive or desire to develop nuclear weapons. Strauss was, not surprisingly, a proponent of private enterprise and worked hard to ensure that industry-and not the government-would be permitted to build and operate nuclear power plants.
The AEC commissioner became best known to most Americans, however, for his dislike of J. Robert Oppenheimer, who had sparked a furor in the early 1950s by calling on the United States to abate the arms race by forgoing the hydrogen bomb. In 1954, Strauss led a bitter and successful fight to strip Oppenheimer of his security clearance; the hearings, which eventually centered on Oppenheimer's loyalty and integrity, captivated the nation. Strauss's activities against Oppenheimer were not always in the open; evidence subsequently was revealed showing that Strauss had directed the FBI to monitor Oppenheimer's movements and tap his telephone, including calls to his attorney, in an effort to make sure that the clearance would be denied.
Strauss's tactics and his prickly public demeanor ensured that he would never be well liked, despite his playing a major role in American nuclear policy until his death in 1974, at age seventy-seven. Even close associates viewed him as aloof, arrogant, and calculating; many others viewed his demand that he be called "Straws" as a sign that he was defensive about being Jewish. None of this seemed to matter to Dwight Eisenhower, who trusted, his judgment and would later describe him as among the "towering governmental figures" of Western civilization. Eisenhower offered him a series of top jobs after Strauss decided in 1958 to leave the AEC-as secretary of state and White House chief of staff, both of which Strauss refused-and finally got him to agree to become secretary of commerce. The 1959 confirmation hearings were a disaster-Strauss was caught· being less than candid with the Senate Commerce Committee -and led to a humiliating rejection. He was the only cabinet nominee not to be confirmed during Eisenhower's two terms, and only the eighth such rejection in American history.
Strauss remained undaunted in his hostility to the Soviet Union after leaving public life, telling a congressional panel during hearings on the Kennedy administration's proposed nuclear test ban, "I'm not sure that the reduction of [U.S.- USSR] tension is necessarily a good thing." He also continued to advocate the use of atomic energy, and in 1964 made a visit to Israel -apparently his first-to consult with the government on a proposed nuclear-powered water desalinization plant.
At some point in his AEC career, Strauss, who attended most of the international conferences on the peaceful uses of the atom, met and befriended his Israeli counterpart, Ernst David Bergmann. It was a relationship shared with few; neither Strauss's biographer nor his son, Lewis, who has had access to all of his father's personal papers, knew that the two had met.
The friendship with Bergmann provides the strongest evidence of Strauss's sympathy for the Israeli nuclear weapons program. In the fall of 1966, Strauss used his influence to get Bergmann a two-month appointment as a visiting fellow at the prestigious Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton. Strauss, who never graduated from college, had joined the institute's board of trustees during World War II, and he continued to be one of its major contributors and fund-raisers. The institute rarely dealt with chemists-its fellows are. physicists and mathematicians-but the rules were bent for Strauss. Bergmann was a bitter man at that point; he had been forced to resign his posts at the defense ministry and as head of the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission after his continued objections to Prime Minister Levi Eshkol's decision-in part because of pressure from President Lyndon B. Johnson-to delay full-scale nuclear weapons production.
"Strauss had nudged me about Bergmann," recalled Carl Kaysen, then the institute's newly appointed director. "He told me he was a very distinguished scientist." It was only after Bergmann arrived, Kaysen added, that he learned who he was and what he did. Bergmann wasn't very busy, and "he would come by and talk to me. It became clear that he and Strauss were close, and also clear that he was working on [the Israeli nuclear] weapons program. He was very relaxed about it." It was also obvious that Bergmann was telling Kaysen all that he had told Strauss. Kaysen, a distinguished political economist who had been deputy assistant to the President for national security affairs, wasn't surprised to learn that Israel was interested in nuclear bombs, but it was a jolt to realize that Strauss -seemingly so ambivalent about his Jewishness and so opposed to any spread of nuclear weapons technology-privately was in favor of a nuclear-armed Israel.
Perhaps because Strauss's political life was so mired in turbulence, the public and the press never had a chance to get more than a glimpse of his private feelings about being Jewish and his guilt about not doing more in the 1930s to save Jews caught up in the Holocaust.
There was really no secret about his Jewishness--Strauss had been a leader since 1938 of Congregation Emanu-El, the largest and most prominent Reform synagogue in New York City. In 1957, Eisenhower had briefly toyed with the idea of naming him secretary of defense, but decided that his Jewishness would cause too many problems with the Arab nations in the Middle East. Yet Strauss's activities on behalf of a Jewish homeland apparently were not known, not even to his close associates in the Atomic Energy Commission. In his memoirs, published in 1962, Strauss wrote bitterly about the Nazi Holocaust and those -including himself-who did not do enough: "The years from 1933 to the outbreak of World War II will ever be a nightmare to me, and the puny efforts I made to alleviate the tragedies were utter failures, save in a few individual cases-pitifully few."
In 1933, Strauss had been asked by the American Jewish Committee to attend an international conference in London on the Jewish plight. There he met Dr. Chaim Weizmann and listened as the conferees agreed that an "astronomical sum" of money from the United States must be raised to help resettle what could be millions of Jews. Strauss, then fervently opposed to a Jewish state in Palestine, was the only delegate to raise his voice in dissent during the conference, a position he came to· regret. Six years later, Strauss would spend much time and effort in an unsuccessful attempt to convince the British government to donate a large chunk of colonial Africa for resettlement by European refugees, Jews and non-Jews alike. With the Nazi blitzkrieg only months away, money was no longer an object: Strauss and his American colleagues, who included Bernard Baruch, the financier, were agreed that as much as $300 million could be raised.  It was too late; Strauss's strong feelings about that failure-and the failure of world leadership -- are explicit in his memoir: "The tidal wave of war swept over the continents and across the ocean and a world in shock closed its eyes, figuratively and literally, to the plight of the unfortunate beings who were engulfed." 
Like many Jews, Strauss remained hostile to Zionism all of his life, but he won the confidence of his colleagues in the Israeli Atomic Energy Commission by publicly joining them in prayer in Geneva during the 1955 United Nations Conference on the Peaceful Uses of Atomic Energy, at the time the largest international scientific conference ever held. More than fifteen hundred delegates from seventy nations, including Israel, whose delegation was led by Ernst Bergmann, took part. Moshe Sharett, then foreign minister, received a full report-as he noted in a diary entry for September 18, 1955-from a deputy, who characteristically thought it important to tell Sharett that at least three hundred of the delegates were Jewish. Despite that large number, Sharett wrote, when the Jewish community of Geneva arranged for a special Friday-night service, "present only were the Jewish delegation [to the conference] and the head of the U.S. delegation, Admiral Strauss."
Strauss, nonetheless, worked hard while in Washington at reining in his intense feelings about being Jewish and about the Holocaust, although many of his former subordinates from the AEC remarked in interviews about his unrelenting hostility to Germans and his reluctance to deal with Germans on any issue. Yet the longtime AEC official Myron Kratzer, who is also Jewish, did not find out until Strauss had left the AEC that the former chairman followed the tradition of fasting during Yom Kippur, the holiest Jewish holiday. Strauss had been asked by Eisenhower after his retirement to head the American delegation to an international meeting in Vienna, and on Yom Kippur, Kratzer recalled, "Strauss did not show up. He simply closed himself in his room on that day."
Strauss's background and his strong feelings about the Holocaust cannot be disregarded in analyzing why he did not tell anyone-especially John McCone-about Dimona. Fair or not, the issue of "dual loyalty"-exemplified by Strauss's actions -- has been a very real concern to the American intelligence community since the creation of Israel in 1948. American Jews, for example, were routinely barred for many years from dealing with Israeli issues inside CIA headquarters; none of the early station chiefs or agents assigned to Israel was Jewish. One Jew who served decades later in a high position in the CIA angrily acknowledged that when he arrived, "every fucking Jew in the CIA was in accounting or legal." The official wasn't quite right, but even those few Jews who did get to the top, such as Edward W. Proctor, who served as deputy director for intelligence in the mid-1970s, were not given access to all of the sensitive files in connection with Israel. Jews also were excluded from Hebrew language training (at one time called "special Arabic") in the National Security Agency; such training, of course, is a prerequisite for being assigned to NSA field stations hat intercept Israeli communications. There was a flat ban in the Navy communications intelligence agency (known as the Naval Security Group) on the assignment of a Jew to a Middle East issue.
There was-and still is-a widespread belief among American foreign service officers that any diplomatic reporting critical of Israel would somehow be delivered within days to the Israeli embassy in Washington. In 1963 the Kennedy administration informally agreed with Israel that neither country would spy on or conduct espionage activities against the other. The agreement was sought by American officials, a former Kennedy aide recalled, in an attempt to limit the extent of Israeli penetration of America.
The truth is that Jews and non-Jews alike looked the other way when it came to Israel's nuclear capability. The notion of dual loyalty solely as a Jewish problem is far too narrow; the Jewish survivors who became Israelis, with their incredible travails and sufferings during World War II, had and still have enormous appeal to Americans of all backgrounds. The primary effect of "dual loyalty" has been a form of self-censorship that has kept the United States government from dealing rationally and coherently with the strategic and political issues raised by a nuclear-armed Israel. The issue is not whether rules or laws have been broken, but that very few officials who supported Israel, Jewish or not, have used their position to try to obtain a complete and accurate picture of the Israeli nuclear program. And no one tried to stop it. Those few government bureaucrats in the nonproliferation field who even tried to learn all there was to learn about Dimona were often accused of being "zealots"-and thus not fully trustworthy.
Yet, being Jewish inevitably raised questions, even among the most fair-minded of men. Dino Brugioni briefed Strauss regularly on U-2 nuclear intelligence, but found him inscrutable when it came to information on the Israeli nuclear reactor: "I never knew what he was thinking; never understood him. I'd get the reaction 'That's all right.'" Brugioni had his own reasons for wondering about Strauss. He knew there was evidence inside the CIA suggesting that American and European Jews had been directly involved in the financing and construction of Dimona from the start. "There was a fervor, especially among New York Jews," Brugioni added. "The attitude was 'You had to protect Israel,' and anybody [in the intelligence community] who did not suffered."
In interviews for this book with senior officials of the American nuclear weapons program-men similar to Lewis Strauss, who spent part or all of their life making bombs-none expressed any doubt about Israel's nuclear ambitions. Most told of close personal friendships with Israeli physicists who were working on the Israeli weapons program. No one with the sophistication and expertise of Lewis Strauss could have had any question about the significance of a secret reactor in the Negev. His widow, Alice, still spry in 1991 at the age of eighty-eight, acknowledged that her husband, who was very closemouthed about his work, "would have approved of Israel trying to defend itself. No question of that." Strauss also had to know that a Jewish nuclear physicist named Raymond Fox had created high-level consternation by emigrating to Israel in 1957 from California, where he had access to weapons design information at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the nuclear research facility operated by the University of California for the Atomic Energy Commission. Fox's secrets could be invaluable to the Israelis at Dimona.
Strauss's failure to discuss Dimona with John McCone may have been done in the belief that he had an obligation to ensure that what happened to the Jews of Europe under Hitler could not happen again. Perhaps he thought he was atoning for what he did not do, or could not do, to help the Jews of Europe before World War II. Similar choices were made over the next thirty years by Jews and non-Jews in the American government, who looked the other way when it came to Dimona. Were they guilty of a double standard, as Dino Brugioni and others in the intelligence community suggest? Did Lewis Strauss, who so eagerly assumed the worst when it came to the loyalty of men such as J. Robert Oppenheimer, fail to fulfill the obligations of his office in terms of the known intelligence on Dimona and his obligation to tell his successor about it?
Many American Jews, perhaps understandably, believe the question of "dual loyalty" is an issue that should never be raised in public. They fear that any discussion of Jewish support for Israel at the expense of the United States would feed anti-Semitism; the fear seems to be that non-Jews are convinced that any Jewish support for Israel precludes primary loyalty to the United States. A second issue, in terms of American Jewish support for Israel, is that any public accounting of Israel's nuclear capacity would trigger renewed fears among Arab nations of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy and a redoubling of Arab efforts to get the bomb.
Weighing against those concerns are several questions. Can the world afford to pretend that Israel is not a nuclear power because to do otherwise would raise difficult issues? Can any international agreement to limit the spread of nuclear weapons be enforced if Israel's bombs are not fully accounted for? Can the Arab nations truly be expected to ignore Israel's possession of atomic weapons simply because the weapons are not publicized? Should Israel, because of its widespread and emotional support in America, be held to a different moral standard than Pakistan or North Korea or South Africa?
Many senior nonproliferation officials in the American government were convinced by the early 1990S that the Middle East remained the one place where nuclear weapons might be used. "Israel has a well-thought-out nuclear strategy and, if sufficiently threatened, they will use it," said one expert who has been involved in government studies on the nuclear issue in the Middle East for two decades.
Some of Strauss's former subordinates in the AEC find it difficult to believe that his Jewishness would have been the reason that Strauss would or would not tell John McCone about Dimona. Algie A. Wells, who was director of international affairs for the AEC in mid-1958, at the time McCone replaced Strauss, suggested that there were far more trivial reasons for Strauss to have ignored his statutory responsibility as AEC chairman: "Why would Strauss have told McCone? The men weren't close. They both had colossal egos. I can't imagine them being buddy-buddy and having a drink together." In Wells's view, whether Strauss did or did not tell McCone wasn't that important. Wells had been in Israel in 1958, he recalled, and learned then-as had any government official who chose to do so-that Israel was building a nuclear reactor. If McCone was surprised to learn about the reactor in late 1960, added Wells, "he shouldn't have been."
1. The goal was to convince the British to cede a tract of land in Kenya, Tanganyika (now Tanzania), or northern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). Strauss carried a letter to London from Baruch in the late summer of 1939 noting that the land to be ceded in Africa could be "cleaned up with modern equipment. The world has not always been as clean as it is now. Our own country was full of morasses. Panama and Cuba were cleaned up, and Africa can be cleaned up, too. ... [I]n this new land there would be a place for tens of millions and they would be the best, the strongest and the most courageous peoples... ," Missing from the Baruch-Strauss proposal is any thought or concern about the Africans who lived in the areas to be ceded. Any such resettlement would have inevitably resulted in internal conflict similar to that raging then-and now-between the Israelis and those Palestinians who were ousted from their homelands by the Zionist movement.
2. Neither Strauss nor the CIA's Dino Brugioni knew it at the time, of course, but reconnaissance aircraft of the Mediterranean Allied Air Force and the Fifteenth U.S. Air Force repeatedly overflew and photographed the Nazi crematoriums at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland in the last year of the war, where twelve thousand Jews and gypsies were being murdered daily by 1944. The death camps were about five miles from an LG. Farben synthetic oil and rubber complex that was bombed four times in World War II. In 1978, Brugioni and Robert Poirier, a CIA colleague, noticed that the camps were in direct alignment with the reconnaissance path for the Farben complex. Brugioni knew from his own experiences that reconnaissance cameras were always turned on well before the target was reached. Were there aerial photos of the camps buried in Pentagon World War II archives? In a subsequent essay, Brugioni wrote: "We found that the extermination complex had been photographed at least thirty times. Analyzing the photographs, we could see the four large complexes of gas chamber and crematoriums.. . Bodies were 'being buried in trenches or burned in large open pits. Some of the photos showed victims being marched to their deaths, while others showed prisoners being processed for slave labour." The photographs were invaluable as a historical record-the Nazis had forbidden any photography while the camps were in operation -and President Jimmy Carter personally presented a monograph based on them to the President's Commission on the Holocaust. During the war, Brugioni added, there was no historical or social background that would have enabled Air Force photo interpreters, intent on targeting the IG. Farben plant, to understand what they were seeing: "Anytime a line of people near a building were seen in a picture, it was usually labeled 'mess hall.'" There were other factors that prevented a close study of the camp photographs at the time, insisted Brugioni, most significantly the intense intelligence needs of the June 1944 D-Day invasion of Europe, which resulted in heavy workloads for all Allied photo interpreters. Allied warplanes also were attempting to break the back of the Luftwaffe in late 1944 by heavy raids on all of the synthetic fuel plants in Germany, Brugioni said, creating yet another demand for photo interpretation and bomb damage assessment.