Stewart Nozette, 52, arrested after demanding Israeli passport during FBI sting
A former Nasa scientist who helped discover evidence of water on the moon has been charged with attempting to sell Israel secrets about America’s military satellite systems.
Stewart Nozette, 52, from Maryland, was arrested in an FBI sting after demanding cash and an Israeli passport in return for classified information obtained when he worked with a high security clearance for the US space agency, the Pentagon and an energy department laboratory where he helped to develop a radar that indicated there is ice on the south pole of the moon.
Although the indictment does not allege that Israeli agents had already recruited Nozette, it says that he had already been paid a substantial amount of money to work as a consultant to an Israeli state-owned defence firm in return for “answering questions from the company”. During an FBI surveillance operation before the sting, Nozette also allegedly acknowledged to a colleague that he had committed a crime and threatened to flee the country and tell everything he knows to Israel.
The case is potentially a further embarrassment for Israel at a time of unusually strained relations with the US after a number of cases of Americans accused of spying for the Jewish state in recent years.
The prosecutor in Washington, Channing Phillips, said: “Those who would put our nation’s defence secrets up for sale can expect to be vigorously prosecuted.”
The FBI launched its sting last month when an agent contacted Nozette posing as a spy for Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad. The scientist and undercover agent met later in the day at a hotel and discussed an exchange of classified information for cash. Court papers say that Nozette told the agent he had access to much of what the “US has done in space”.
“These are among the most sensitive subjects and it will have to be recreated from memory over some time,” he said.
It was then agreed that the scientist would pass his information at a post office. “I don’t get recruited by Mossad every day. I knew this day would come,” Nozette is heard saying on a wiretap, according to the court papers.
In the following weeks, the FBI left two envelopes with a total of $11,000 (£6,700) in cash and questions about classified information for the scientist to answer. Nozette replied with information about the US satellite and military early warning systems, and its attack response system.
The undercover agent also supplied the scientist with a mobile phone to send text messages and gave him an alias that was supposedly to appear on his new Israeli passport.
Investigators have not said why they latched onto Nozette. But according to court papers, the scientist worked for more than a decade as a technical consultant for Israel Aerospace Industries, a government-owned defence firm during which he was paid $225,000 to answer “the company’s questions and, in return, Nozette received regular payments from the company”.