Leading American scientist faces trial over attempt to spy for Israel

WASHINGTON: A leading American scientist who has worked for the White House and NASA was expected to appear in court today charged with attempting to spy for Israel.

Stewart David Nozette, 52, was arrested after a sting operation involving an undercover FBI agent posing as an Israeli agent, the Department of Justice said, adding that there was no wrongdoing by Israel.

He is charged with “attempted espionage for knowingly and willfully attempting to communicate, deliver, and transmit classified information relating to the national defense of the United States to an individual that Nozette believed to be an Israeli intelligence officer.” A prominent scientist credited with involvement in the discovery of water on the moon, Nozette had experience working for the US space agency NASA, the Energy Department and even served on the White House’s National Space Council in 1989 and 1990, under then-president George HW Bush.

He was arrested in the Washington suburb of Chevy Chase, Maryland yesterday. “The conduct alleged in this complaint is serious and should serve as a warning to anyone who would consider compromising our nation’s secrets for profit,” said David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security.

Nozette developed an experiment that fueled the discovery of water on the south pole of the moon, and previously held special security clearance at the Department of Energy on atomic materials.

“From 1989 through 2006, Nozette held security clearances as high as top secret and had regular, frequent access to classified information and documents related to the US national defense,” the Justice Department said. The FBI’s case centers around an undercover agent who posed as an Israeli intelligence officer.

“Nozette met with the UCE (undercover employee)... and discussed his willingness to work for Israeli intelligence,” informing the agent that “he had, in the past, held top security clearances and had access to US satellite information.” Nozette said he would answer questions about the information in exchange for money and offered “to reveal additional classified information that directly concerned nuclear weaponry, military spacecraft or satellites, and other major weapons systems,” the Justice Department said.

Over the next several weeks, Nozette and the undercover agent exchanged envelopes of money containing thousands of dollars at a time for answers to lists of questions about US satellite technology.

“The answers contained information classified as both Top Secret and Secret that concerned US satellites, early warning systems, means of defense or retaliation against large-scale attack, communications intelligence information, and major elements of defense strategy,” the Justice Department said.

The investigation into Nozette appears to have been sparked by his work with an Israeli company, and comments he made to a colleague.

A criminal complaint against says Nozette was employed between November 1998 and January 2008 as a “technical consultant for an aerospace company that was wholly owned by the government of Israel” and received payments totalling approximately 225,000 dollars in exchange for answering questions.

In January 2009, Nozette allegedly travelled abroad to “foreign country A” carrying two computer “thumb” drives that Customs and Border Control could not find among his belongings in a search conducted upon his return. Before the trip, “Nozette informed a colleague that if the United States tried to ‘put him in jail’ based on an unrelated criminal offense, Nozette would move from the United States to Israel or foreign country A, and tell them everything he knows,” the complaint adds.