NASA sci­en­tist pleads guilty in es­pi­onage case

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - BY JIM MCELHATTON

Ste­wart Nozette, once a prom­i­nent sci­en­tist for NASA who served on the Space Coun­cil un­der Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush, pleaded guilty Sept. 7 to at­tempted es­pi­onage, a case that at­tracted wide­spread no­tice but be­gan as a seem­ingly rou­tine fraud in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

“To­day, he is a dis­graced crim­i­nal who was caught red­handed at­tempt­ing to trade Amer­i­can se­crets for per­sonal profit,” said Ron­ald C. Machen Jr., U.S. at­tor­ney for the District, af­ter Nozette, 54, pleaded guilty to giv­ing clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion to an un­der­cover FBI agent.

But when the fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Nozette be­gan back in 2006, there was no hint he was ca­pa­ble of sell­ing U.S. se­crets, ac­cord­ing to court records.

In­stead, NASA’s of­fice of in­spec­tor gen­eral be­gan look­ing into Nozette be­cause of ques­tions about the fi­nances of a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion he ran called the Al­liance for Com­pet­i­tive Tech­nol­ogy, which charged NASA for work he was per­form­ing for the space agency.

The numbers weren’t adding up. While NASA said the al­liance in­voiced the agency for Nozette’s $141,718 salar y, records showed the non­profit group re­ported less than $20,000 in salary ex­penses on its 2004 re­port to the In­ter­nal Rev­enue Ser­vice. When re­view­ing the non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion’s bank records, an agent for the in­spec­tor gen­eral un­cov­ered nu­mer­ous per­sonal ex­penses.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tor found pay­ments for util­i­ties, three mort­gages, nine credit cards, the La Jolla, Calif., Tennis Club, pool clean­ing and the MercedesBenz Credit Corp.

In 2006, The Washington Times re­ported that fed­eral au­thor­i­ties had sub­poe­naed bank records from Nozette’s non­profit group.

The Jus­tice Depart­ment, fil­ing pa­pers on be­half of the in­spec­tor gen­eral, said Nozette’s or­ga­ni­za­tion didn’t com­ply with a re­quest for bank records and tax doc­u­ments.

That was around the time the in­ves­ti­ga­tion took a sharp turn.

When fed­eral agents later raided Nozette’s house, they found clas­si­fied doc­u­ments that led them to a 2002 email in which Nozette threat­ened to take a clas­si­fied pro­gram on which he was work­ing to an un­named for­eign coun­try or to Is­rael.

The FBI then launched a sep­a­rate un­der­cover in­ves­ti­ga­tion into Nozette over po­ten­tial es­pi­onage.

An un­der­cover agent pos­ing as an Is­raeli in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer called Nozette on Sept. 3, 2009, and set up a meet­ing that day in front of the Mayflower ho­tel in Washington.

Over the next few weeks, FBI agents gave cash to Nozette in ex­change for in­for­ma­tion he pro­vided on a clas­si­fied satel­lite, weapons-sys­tem re­search and other se­cret national se­cu­rity mat­ters.

Nozette met with the un­der­cover agent again in Oc­to­ber at the Mayflower and asked for more money, ac­cord­ing to ex­changes of the meet­ing re­leased by pros­e­cu­tors.

“So, uh, I gave you even in this first run, some of the most clas­si­fied in­for­ma­tion that there is,” Nozette said. “Now the, uh, so I think when I said like fifty K, I think that was prob­a­bly too low. [. . . ] The cost of the U.S. govern­ment was $200 mil­lion [. . . ] to de­velop it all. Uh, and then that’s not in­clud­ing the launch­ing of it. [. . . ] Uh, in­te­grat­ing satel­lites.

“So if you say OK, that prob­a­bly brings it to al­most a bil­lion dol­lars. [. . . ] So I tell ya, at least $200 mil­lion, so I would say, you know, the­o­ret­i­cally I should charge you cer­tainly, you know, at most a one per­cent,” he said.

Nozette was ar­rested at the Mayflower and charged with es­pi­onage while he al­ready was await­ing sen­tenc­ing on fraud charges stem­ming from the ear­lier in­ves­ti­ga­tion into his non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Un­der a plea deal, which is sub­ject to a judge’s ap­proval, Nozette will serve 13 years in fed­eral prison con­cur­rently for guilty pleas to the es­pi­onage and fraud charges.

Nozette’s work as a govern­ment sci­en­tist spanned decades. He worked on the National Space Coun­cil un­der Mr. Bush from 1989 to 1990 and as a physi­cist at the Depart­ment of En­ergy’s Lawrence Liver­more National Lab­o­ra­tory from 1990 to 1999.

The U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice said Nozette “as­sisted in the de­vel­op­ment of the Cle­men­tine bi-static radar ex­per­i­ment, which pur­port­edly dis­cov­ered water ice on the south pole of the moon.” Pros­e­cu­tors also noted that a ver­sion of the Cle­men­tine satel­lite still hangs on dis­play at the National Air and Space Mu­seum in Washington.

De­spite all of his ac­com­plish­ments, at the time Nozette met with the un­der­cover FBI agent, he didn’t have ac­cess to clas­si­fied govern­ment in­for­ma­tion any­more. None­the­less, pros­e­cu­tors said, Nozette made clear that he could still re­call the in­for­ma­tion.

“It’s in my . . . ” Nozette said, be­fore point­ing to his head.

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