By Del Quentin Wilber
Monday, October 19, 2009 10:41 PM
A Chevy Chase scientist was charged Monday with trying to sell top-secret information to Israel for $11,000, federal prosecutors said.
Stewart D. Nozette, 52, was arrested on a charge of attempted espionage and is being held pending an initial appearance Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Washington, authorities said.
Authorities said the charges stemmed an undercover sting operation in which an FBI agent posed as an Israeli spy. Nozette allegedly passed the agent sensitive information through a "dead drop" at a D.C. post office in recent weeks, authorities said.
Nozette worked for the Energy Department's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from 1990 through 1999, prosecutors said. He was credited with helping develop a radar in 1994 that suggested ice on the south pole of the moon.
He was president of the Alliance for Competitive Technology, a nonprofit group he founded in 1990. He has held security clearances as high as top secret and had regular access to classified information as recently as 2006, federal authorities said.
Authorities would not say what prompted their investigation, but an FBI agent wrote in court papers that Nozette acted as a technical consultant for an unnamed aerospace firm that the Israeli government owned. From 1998 through 2008, the scientist "answered the company's questions and, in return, Nozette received regular payments from the company," the agent wrote.
The agent wrote that the Israeli company paid Nozette $225,000 during that span.
In 2007, federal authorities raided Nozette's nonprofit group and his residence in Chevy Chase, according to a computerized court docket. The docket did not indicate why authorities searched the locations, but the investigation appears to be unrelated to the espionage allegations.
Sometime before Nozette took a foreign trip in January, he told a colleague that he would flee the United States if charged with a crime, the agent wrote. Nozette added that he would tell officials from an unidentified country and Israel "everything" he knew, the court papers allege.
On Sept. 3, the FBI agent wrote, an undercover agent called Nozette, posing as a member of the Israeli spy agency Mossad. They met later that day at a hotel, the agent wrote, and discussed the scientist's willingness to give Israel classified material.
Nozette said he would turn over such information in exchange for money, the agent wrote.
He told the agent that he had access to most of the things the "U.S. has done in space," according to a transcript of a recorded conversation of the meeting, the court papers said.
At a meeting the next day, Nozette told the agent that he no longer had access to the classified information but pointed to his head and said "it's in" there, the agent wrote.
Still, the agent wrote, Nozette was worried about giving classified information to the Mossad. He then told the agent, "I'll show you mine, you show me yours," the court papers allege.
By the end of the meeting, Nozette had agreed to communicate with his source through a post office box, the FBI alleged.
The FBI twice left envelopes last month in the box, filled with a total of $11,000 in cash and a list of questions for Nozette to answer, the agent wrote. Nozette picked up the envelopes and returned with envelopes containing classified information about the country's satellites, early-warning systems and its ability to retaliate against a large-scale attack, prosecutors and FBI officials said.
An official in the communications office of the Israeli Embassy declined to comment late Monday on the allegations. In a news release, federal prosecutors noted that the Israeli government was not accused of any wrongdoing.