Jeffrey Lewis calls for ending the official U.S. pretense that Israel’s nuclear arsenal is some closely-guarded secret:
Since the late 1960s, the United States has treated the fact of Israel’s nuclear weapons as an important state secret. This is absurd, and it doesn’t do anyone any favors, least of all our friends in Israel. It’s time to declassify the fact of Israel’s bomb even if Jerusalem doesn’t admit it.
The reasons to do this are straightforward enough. Everyone already knows that Israel possesses nuclear weapons, and it has been a matter of public record for decades, so pretending that it is being kept a secret is pointless. Pretending to keep it a secret means that people can lose their security clearances and their jobs for admitting something that is already public knowledge. As Lewis points out, the rule isn’t enforced consistently. It was used earlier this year to punish Jim Doyle, a LANL employee who wrote an article that included a reference to Israel’s arsenal, but it hasn’t been enforced in other more high-profile cases:
One obvious downside to our absurd policy of refusing to acknowledge Israel’s bomb is that it ends up being enforced in an arbitrary and capricious manner. When Bob Gates, during his 2006 confirmation hearing to be secretary of Defense, referred to Iran being surrounded by nuclear-armed neighbors including “the Israelis to the West,” nothing happened — even though he had served as director of central intelligence and maintained his clearances. I’ve certainly heard plenty of current and former officials, in private conversation, state the obvious. It’s hard not to mention. Hell, even Ehud Olmert, when he was Israeli prime minister, slipped up once. As a result, the classification is little more than a handy excuse to prosecute someone we don’t like for some other reason — such as writing annoying articles about disarmament while working for a nuclear weapons lab or something.
As Lewis goes on to explain, the solution is very simple:
Change WPN-136 Foreign Nuclear Capabilities to declassify the “fact” that the United States intelligence community has believed that Israel has possessed nuclear weapons since the 1970s. That’s it. We don’t have to declassify the details of the stockpile. And we don’t have to hold a press conference….But U.S. officials should be free to acknowledge the obvious without fear of losing their clearances and their jobs. That’s all.
Israel is free to continue its policy of not acknowledging the existence of its nuclear weapons, but the U.S. shouldn’t be forcing people working for the government to “keep” a secret that was revealed long ago.