US Scientist’s Espionage Arrest Raises Questions
By Ian Allen* | intelNews | 10.22.2009
STEWART DAVID NOZETTE, WHO WAS arrested by the FBI on October 19, on charges of sharing classified US government data with a man he believed was an Israeli government officer, is to remain in jail. The reason given by the US federal judge in charge of the case is that Nozette might flee to Israel if not confined. However, unlike the case of former US Navy intelligence analyst Jonathan Jay Pollard, who was jailed in 1987 for spying on the US for Israel, the government of Israel is said to have had no role in Nozette’s attempted espionage. The FBI itself admits that it “does not allege that the government of Israel or anyone acting on its behalf committed any offense under US laws in this case”. This is because Nozette shared classified US government data with an undercover FBI officer posing as a handler of Israeli intelligence agency Mossad. But if this is so, then two important counterintelligence questions are raised: first, how did the FBI know to lure Nozette with an agent posing as an Israeli –as opposed to a Russian or Chinese– handler? Second, why would Nozette flee to –and presumably be protected by– Israel, even though the government of Israel was not involved in this case, according to the FBI?
The answers may lie in Nozette’s background. There is little question that the Maryland-based scientist, who held a US government security clearance and previously worked for the US Departments of Defense and Energy, as well as for NASA, offered to share classified US government data in return for money. His telephone and face-to-face conversations with the FBI undercover officer posing as a Mossad handler have been recorded, and there is even video footage of Nozette delivering incriminating evidence to a post office box, as instructed by his supposed Israeli handler.
What is interesting in Nozette’s case is his instant willingness to cooperate with the phony Mossad handler. As soon as he was contacted on the telephone by the FBI undercover officer, on September 3, 2009, he “discussed his willingness to work for Israeli intelligence” and offered “to answer questions about this information in exchange for money”, according to the FBI press release. And that was even before he had a chance to meet the supposed Mossad agent face-to-face. This he did on the same day, in Washington, DC. The US scientist, who held a top security clearance, appears to have failed to ask for any proof of his contact’s identity. Instead he stipulated the cash payments he required, along with his wish for an Israeli passport, saying “[m]y parents are Jewish. So […] theoretically I have the right of return”. This clue may partly explain the FBI’s choice of using Mossad as a cover in the counterintelligence operation.
More importantly, the FBI affidavit [.pdf] reveals that for the past ten years Nozette was employed as a “technical consultant for an aerospace company that was wholly owned by the government of the State of Israel”. The company was most likely Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) –previously known as Israel Aircraft Industries– which is Israel’s foremost civil and military aviation and aerospace manufacturer. Historically, US manufacturers have actively supported IAI’s projects, but relations have soured in recent years. In 2006, IAI halted its lucrative Avocet ProJet air taxi project after a US partner quit the project for “unspecified reasons”. Last summer IAI made headlines by agreeing to supply Moscow with $53-million-worth of intelligence-gathering drones, a move that angered the US Pentagon. The latter has for a long time suspected that IAI scientists are routinely involved in espionage operations on behalf of the Israeli government.
Stewart Nozette apparently shared this suspicion. The FBI affidavit [.pdf] alleges that during his first face-to-face meeting with the phony Mossad handler, the US scientist confided that he thought his recruitment by Israel was a matter of time. He told the FBI undercover agent that “I thought I was working for you [Mossad] already. I mean that’s what I always thought; [IAI] was just a front”. This may have been a factual statement. Information has emerged that the FBI began to organize the counterintelligence sting against Nozette after the US scientist made a “suspicious trip abroad”, taking with him a number of computer thumb drives that he failed to return to work. This would explain Nozette’s impression that he was already working for Israeli intelligence, as well as the FBI’s suspicion that he might flee to Israel, if released on bail.
Meanwhile, commenting on Nozette’s arrest, Channing Phillips, acting US attorney for the District of Columbia, said that “those who would put our nation’s defense secrets up for sale can expect to be vigorously prosecuted”. However, recent court cases of Israeli-instigated espionage against the US, such as those of Ben-Ami Kadish and Lawrence Anthony Franklin, demonstrate that Phillips’ confidence remains to be seen in court.
* Ian Allen has spent nearly twenty-five years working in intelligence-related fields, and is now active in intelligence consulting. He has worked in North America, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. He is currently living and working in South Korea. He is co-founder and Editor of intelNews.org. His latest writings for intelNews.org are available here.