Being from Oklahoma, I've been familiar with the Karen Silkwood case for some time. Many readers here may have seen the excellent Meryl Streep film 'Silkwood' that is based on the case.

A brief summary:

Karen Silkwood worked the Kerr-McGee Cimmaron plutonium processing facility in Oklahoma in the early-to-mid 70s. She worked in quality control and began to observe inadequate safety protocols and violations at the plant which put people's lives in danger.

She spoke up about it, and became a 'target' for that--was viewed as 'disloyal' and 'a complainer' by management. Not long after that she became contaminated through her work. This got the attention of Kerr-McGee's corporate security, who, taking a page from William Sullivan's FBI, began a character assassination campaign. This former National Honors Society student and highly committed quality control employee was branded as a 'slut' and a 'drug abuser' via whisper campaign. Her phones were tapped. She was under surveillance. Company shills insinuated Silkwood had poisoned herself, to make the company look bad. Which makes no sense at all: why would you expose yourself to something that causes cancer in order to make the company that cuts your paycheck look bad? It just doesn't track.

The company's director of security even suggested that she was making things up and contaminated herself 'because she's bisexual, and lesbians don't care. They'll do anything!'. What a piece of work, and that's just surface detail, this rabbit hole is a dark one. (recommended reading at the bottom of this post for more details)

Silkwood was on to something. She began to gather evidence. She obtained proof of fraud in testing samples at the facility and documented safety lapses. Through her work, she also discovered that 30+ pounds of weapons-grade plutonium was missing. Gone. This is what I believe got her killed. More on that:

Silkwood arranged to meet with a journalist w/ the NY Times and a union official to show them her evidence. Before meeting them she stopped at a local diner, showing a couple trusted friends her 3-ring binder of evidence that she had prepared to produce to the journalist and union official. Then she hit the road to drive just 30 miles to Oklahoma City for her scheduled meeting.

Karen Silkwood never made it to her meeting.

She was found dead in her Honda Civic, smashed into a culvert. A single-car accident, Lee Bowers style.

The documents she had with her? Gone from the vehicle. Which essentially confirms, to me at least, that it was a murder.

Investigators found that the bumper of her vehicle had damage to it that indicated a metal-on-metal contact, suggesting she was rammed from behind or possibly forced off the road.

There is much more to this story, so much awful skullduggery by the OSBI (Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation), FBI, Kerr-McGee security, you name it. Even Congress was pressured to drop efforts to investigate. Clearly this was a very sensitive issue. A whistleblower exposing lax safety precautions simply does not explain the level of corruption and pressure shown in this case. So, what was so sensitive about Karen Silkwood and her investigation?

Well, what got my attention was the missing plutonium. 30 pounds of weapons grade plutonium. For reference, it takes 13 pounds to make a nuclear weapon.

This is not exactly the sort of thing that organized crime would go after or trade in. So who would be the culprit? Well, certain nation-states certainly wanted plutonium and uranium. A gamut of intelligence agencies would have loved to have got their hands on plutonium in 1974: Israel, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, you name it. Out of these foreign intelligence services which would be the most skilled in carrying out operations inside the United States, targeting Americans? I would venture to say Israel, by a huge margin, for a number of reasons.

In fact, as revealed in one of the better parts of Jeff Morley's book on James Angleton, "The Ghost," Israel procured uranium from a company called NUMEC. NUMEC, like the company Silkwood worked for (Kerr-McGee) had the contract with the Atomic Energy Commission to provide nuclear materials for the Hanford nuclear program. They provided fuel rods and fissile material. The two sources for this material were NUMEC, and Kerr-McGee. Morley's book details how over 160 kilograms of uranium had gone missing from a NUMEC plant. As it turns out, the material was being surreptitiously transferred to Israel through the actions of Jim Angleton, the Mossad, and some sympathetic company men at NUMEC. (see pgs 166-167 of 'Ghost' by Jeff Morley for details).

It is noteworthy to me that at the time of Karen Silkwood's murder, and the missing Kerr-McGeee plutonium (1974), Jim Angleton was still head of CI at CIA and the Israeli desk.

* Was Kerr-McGee targeted for illicit diversion of nuclear materials like their competitor NUMEC had been?
* Was Karen Silkwood's whistleblowing a threat to exposing the large cache of missing plutonium at Kerr-McGee? (A resounding 'YES')
* Was Karen Silkwood 'neutralized' because her efforts threatened to expose the missing plutonium? (A resounding 'YES')

Based on what we know about NUMEC and the transfer of fissile material from their plants to Israel, is it a stretch to suggest that Kerr-McGee might have similarly been a conduit?

And if so, would that not then make the key suspects in her murder those responsible for the transfer of nuclear material, who had every reason to keep that secret concealed at all costs.

The idea that the CIA--let's say, through a vestpocket operation by Angleton for his Mossad friends--was involved in obtaining plutonium from Kerr-McGeee and then killed Karen Silkwood because she threatened to expose it stands to me as one that isn't unreasonable. In fact, it's about the only thing that makes sense. I can't see Kerr-McGee security, as dirty and rotten as they were, actually murdering someone over safety violations. Much less possessing the sophistication necessary to carry out a targeted assassination and make it look like an accident. But we do know there are people capable of that, and those people are found within the operations division of intelligence agencies.

The more I read about Silkwood's death and the missing plutonium the more suspect Israel and Angleton might have been behind it. I had never thought of this years past--I was not aware of the NUMEC uranium smuggling until reading about that in Morley's book. The NUMEC/uranium operation makes me wonder in a similar operation was underway at NUMEC's competitor, Kerr-McGee. Is this the key to Karen Silkwood's murder?

Further reading:
The Killing of Karen Silkwood by Richard Rashke (
The Ghost by Jefferson Morley