US scientist with top clearance thought he was spying for Israel, say prosecutors

 

A SCIENTIST who once worked at the White House and had high-level clearance within America’s national security apparatus for 17 years was due to appear in a Washington court yesterday, charged with passing classified information to what he thought was Israeli intelligence.

In fact, Stewart David Nozette (52) was allegedly trapped in an FBI sting. The person he believed to be recruiting him on behalf of Mossad was an undercover FBI agent. Mr Nozette was arrested on Monday. Prosecutors claim he twice deposited secret information in a post office box in return for several thousand dollars.

Court documents allege the undercover agent called Mr Nozette in early September and arranged to meet him at a Washington hotel. The meeting appears to have been covertly taped. Mr Nozette allegedly boasted “I had all the nuclear clearances.”

At the conclusion of another meeting the following day, Mr Nozette is said to have asked “repeatedly” when he would begin receiving payments, and was insistent “they don’t expect me to do this for free”.

In a statement announcing the arrest, the department of justice noted “the complaint does not allege that the government of Israel or anyone acting on its behalf committed any offence under US laws”. However, a number of questions still remain. From 1998 to 2008, Mr Nozette worked as a consultant for a state-owned Israeli aerospace company. Once a month, he answered questions from the company and received $225,000 in that period.

During the FBI sting, Mr Nozette reportedly told the man he believed to be a Mossad agent that he was surprised Israeli intelligence had not sought to recruit him earlier. He allegedly added: “I thought I was working for you already. I mean, that’s what I always thought, [the foreign company] was just a front.”

The company is believed to be Israel Aerospace Industries, though there is no evidence it is a front. Phone calls and e-mails to its representatives in the US and Israel were not returned yesterday.

The complaint filed against Mr Nozette also referred to a trip he made to an unnamed foreign country – not Israel – in January of this year. It stated a security officer noticed Mr Nozette had two “thumb” drives – small data storage devices also known as “flash” drives – among his belongings as he left Washington DC’s Dulles airport. When he returned three weeks later, a “thorough search” of his belongings did not turn up the thumb drives.

Such close attention, eight months before the FBI sting that resulted in Mr Nozette’s arrest, suggests he had been of interest to the authorities for some time.

Mr Nozette, a native of Chicago, ran a not-for-profit group called the Alliance for Competitive Technology. Through the company, he worked on research and development for a range of security-sensitive US agencies, most notably the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa). Darpa’s stated mission is “to maintain the technological superiority of the US military” and to “create technological surprise for our adversaries”. A Darpa spokesman declined to comment yesterday.

Mr Nozette also worked with the US Naval Research Laboratory and Nasa. Earlier in his career, during 1989 and 1990, he worked at the White House on the National Space Council, part of the executive office of ex-president George Bush snr.

The complaint against him states he held “security clearances as high as ‘top secret’” from 1989 until 2006, when he stopped working for the government. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.