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 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

February 9, 2004
Vol. 1, No. 198




Claire Schaeffer-Duffy A spy for the people

By Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, NCR contributor

You are the secret agent of the people.
You are the eyes of the nation.
Agent-spy, tell us what you've seen. Tell us
what the insiders, the clever ones have hidden from us.

-- I Am Your Spy by Mordechai Vanunu

Intelligence is a hot topic these days especially if the subject is weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). Consider last week. Wednesday, Feb. 4, Pakistani nuclear scientist and national hero, Abdul Qadeer Khan, publicly apologized to his countrymen for passing on his nuclear know-how to Iran, Libya, and North Korea. Khan's shocking confession has set off speculation that Pakistan's "leak" occurred with the full knowledge of its military and executive branch.

Two days later, Feb. 6, President Bush announced he had appointed a bi-partisan commission to investigate pre-war intelligence claims concerning Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. In addition to investigating Iraq, the commission will sift through secret information compiled on North Korea, Iran, Libya and Afghanistan. According to President Bush, the revelations about who does and does not have WMDs present "intelligence challenges." What is now needed, he believes, is a fine-tuning of how we collect the nuclear secrets of others.

"The stakes for our country could not be higher and our standard of intelligence gathering and analysis must be equal to the challenge," he said when explaining the appointment of the new commission.

Looking over last week's flurry of disclosures and calls for probes, I could not help but think of Mordechai Vanunu, a man who doesn't believe in keeping nuclear secrets because he knows the stakes for our planet "could not be higher." To learn more about Vanunu, see Conscientious Objector to Israeli WMDs.

In the summer of 1986, Vanunu a former technician at Dimona, Israel's secret nuclear facility, provided photographs to The Sunday Times of London confirming that Israel, a purportedly non-nuclear state, possessed 100 to 200 weapons of advanced nuclear design.

"I wanted the matter to come under orderly supervision," he later told his bewildered mother. "Now [the government] can no longer lie and say that we don't have nuclear weapons. Now everyone knows."

Raised an Orthodox Jew, Vanunu became a Christian shortly before he exposed Israel's "nuclear secret" and he has said his conversion prompted him to speak out. Few people have paid such a high price for acting on the dictates of conscience. Technically speaking, he disclosed nothing new; many states were well aware of Israel's nuclear arsenal, initially created compliments of France and South Africa. But the newspaper photos infuriated the Israeli government so they kidnapped him, tried him in secret, charged him with espionage and aiding the enemy, and sentenced him to 18 years in prison, the first 12 of which were spent in grueling solitary confinement.

A prophet to some, a traitor to others, Vanunu is perhaps the boldest anti-nuclear activist alive for he challenged the assumption, common to all governments, that nuclear arsenals are a matter for state intelligence only.

Other Today's Takes by Claire Schaeffer-Duffy
Dec. 12, 03 What about those weapons of mass destruction?
Dec. 10, 03 On war and human rights
Dec. 8, 03 The archbishop's announcement
On April 21, 2004, Vanunu should be a free man. His 18-year sentence completed, he hopes to leave Israel and go to the United States to live the life he has long imagined. Yet there are murmurings in the Israeli press that the government there will impose a "package of restrictions" on the gray-haired man, they still consider to be a threat to state security. Yediot Ahronot, an Israeli daily, reported Feb. 1 that these restrictions could include prohibitions on obtaining a passport, corresponding with "foreign elements;" giving interviews to the media and publishing a book. Shabtai Shivit, the former director of Israel's secret intelligence, who admitted he once considered assassinating Vanunu, is now calling for him to be legally silenced.

In a column appealing for the just treatment of Vanunu upon his release, attorney Frederik Heffermehl, who is a member of the International Vanunu Committee, writes, "Vanunu felt that everyone -- out of loyalty to society -- has a duty to try to stop evil, dangerous plans. [we hope that] the Israelis will now ask themselves what reason there is for doubting that his honest intention was to raise a democratic debate on a weapons program that he saw as an urgent threat to Israel, the region and the world."

Worried that Israel's nuclear whistleblower could be subjected to "endless persecution," friends are organizing an international presence of support in Israel on the day of his scheduled release. It is the least that can be done for the brave man who acted as a spy for the people and shared his "intelligence" with everyone.

Schaeffer-Duffy, a longtime contributor to NCR, is a part-time writer and full-time member of the Sts. Francis and Therese Catholic Worker in Worcester, Mass.
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