A November Washington Post report by national security journalist Walter Pincus revealed the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was building a mysterious underground facility for the Israel Defense Forces near Tel Aviv. Deeper in the report Pincus claimed, "Over the years, the Corps has built underground hangers for Israeli fighter-bombers, facilities for handling nuclear weapons (though Israel does not admit having such weapons), command centers, training bases, intelligence facilities and simulators, according to Corps publications."
Pincus did not respond to an immediate email request for citations of USACE publications detailing "facilities for handling nuclear weapons, " but a January 4, 2013 Freedom of Information Act request to USACE Humphreys Engineer Support Center in Alexandria requesting documents summarizing "its role in building nuclear weapons handling facilities in Israel" was swiftly answered.
USACE’s response was unusually comprehensive. (PDF) "This office is responsible for administering requests involving USACE Headquarters. The USACE Europe District is the office responsible for projects involving Israel. I have coordinated with the Europe District and have been informed that none of the facilities that USACE has been involved with were nuclear weapons handling facilities; therefore I will not be requesting that a document search be conducted."
Although an appeal demanding that USACE Europe actually conduct a bona fide document search was filed on January 22, no further replies have been forthcoming. Walter Pincus has written no more about the U.S. lending a helpful hand in Israel’s officially unacknowledged nuclear arsenal. If Pincus is wrong about USACE, it would not be the first time the veteran reporter has gotten basic facts about an important story completely wrong. Although then a fairly recent graduate of Georgetown Law School, Pincus misinterpreted basic facts about the 1917 Espionage Act in a 2006 story. Pincus then engaged in a long fight after the ombudsman’s attention was brought to the issue. Although the flawed Pincus story contributed to the Post’s overall editorial line that criminal charges against two AIPAC officials indicted for espionage should be dropped, to its credit the newspaper publicly corrected the Pincus helpful error a month later.
Hinting that the U.S. government has an ongoing official—though deeply secret—role in helping Israel develop and deploy nuclear weapons is a line periodically pushed by Israel lobby partisans when uncomfortable facts about questionable funding flows from the U.S. or illicit material and technology diversions arise. For Pincus, the "USACE nuke facilities" story may mark the final twist of his long transformation from the Israel lobby’s fiercest investigator under Senator J. W. Fulbright in the 1960s to just another lobby trumpet in the establishment media. In the short reference Pincus upholds the ever-less-credible policy of "strategic ambiguity" while insinuating an official U.S. role. While it is remotely possible the USACE is fibbing and Pincus is right, if that is true all future U.S. funding to Israel will have to be cut under foreign aid restrictions mandated by the Symington and Glenn Amendments. Or perhaps the Corps built nuclear facilities without understanding their purpose. Whatever the truth, Americans deserve far more clarity and fact-based reporting about how their tax dollars may be funding Israel’s nuclear weapons.
Grant Smith is Director of the Institute for Research: Middle East Policy, Inc.