By Del Quentin Wilber and Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
A federal judge ordered that a Chevy Chase scientist remain jailed on a charge that he tried to pass national secrets to the Israeli government in exchange for $11,000.
Stewart D. Nozette, 52, was arrested Monday afternoon on a charge of attempted espionage after authorities accused him of passing classified information to an undercover FBI agent posing as an Israeli intelligence operative. U.S. Magistrate Judge Deborah A. Robinson ordered Nozette detained until a preliminary hearing Oct. 29.
Nozette has held multiple government research jobs and gained notice for working on a satellite radar system that detected ice on the moon in 1994. Nozette also conducted research in recent years for the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, authorities said.
The scientist held security clearances as high as top secret and had access to classified material as recently as 2006, authorities said. His access to such material was suspended that year after the NASA inspector general launched an investigation of his firm's billing practices, court records show. From 1989 through 2008, Nozette worked as a consultant for an aerospace firm owned by the Israeli government.
Nozette also was president of a nonprofit group, Alliance for Competitive Technology, that he founded in 1990. The group and Nozette had contracts from 2000 through 2006 to provide technology to the U.S. government, including NASA. In 2006, the NASA inspector general began an investigation of Nozette and his firm based on allegations that they submitted false expense claims, court records show.
Federal authorities searched Nozette's house in February 2007 and seized computer gear and a bong, records indicate.
Federal law enforcement officials said that case had been resolved, but declined to discuss it further.
Authorities would not say why they began to investigate Nozette.
In early September, an FBI agent posing as an Israeli intelligence officer called Nozette, and the scientist said he would be willing to work as a spy, authorities said. Over the next few weeks, the agent paid $11,000 in cash, left in two installments in a post office box in the District. Nozette took the cash and questions left by the FBI agent, authorities alleged.
He returned, the FBI said, with envelopes containing classified information he recalled handling. That included details about U.S. satellites, early warning systems and defense strategy, the FBI wrote in court papers.
The meetings with the FBI agent were taped. At one point, Nozette said he knew how to handle the Israeli's cash. "You buy consumables," he told the agent, according to a partial transcript of the conversation in a District hotel suite Sept. 4. "Cash is good for anything."