A leading US space scientist has pleaded guilty to attempted espionage for selling classified material to a US undercover agent he thought was an Israeli spy, the justice department said.
Stewart Nozette (54) entered the guilty plea as part of a deal with prosecutors that will result in a 13-year prison sentence if approved by a judge, sparing him a possible sentence of life in prison.
Nozette agreed to provide classified information from his top-secret work as a government scientist after meeting an undercover FBI agent who persuaded him he was an agent for Mossad, the Israeli secret service.
“Happy to be of assistance,” Nozette told the agent, according to a justice department account of their first meeting at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington in September 2009.
Trained at MIT, Nozette had worked at the Pentagon, the Energy Department, Nasa and the White House Space Council before starting a technology company with government contracts and high level security clearances.
He allegedly told the undercover agent that while he no longer held top-secret clearances, “it’s all in my” head, pointing to his head, according to the justice department.
Over the following month and a half, Nozette allegedly used dead drops to deposit answers to questionnaires about classified programs on at least three occasions.
The single charge he pleaded guilty to involved information that “directly concerned satellites, early warning systems, means of defence or retaliation against large-scale attack, communications intelligence information, and major elements of defense strategy,” the justice department said.
He also supplied information about research and development for an unidentified military weapon system, the justice department alleged.
After being paid a total of $225 000, Nozette allegedly demanded up to two million dollars more in a final meeting with the undercover agent on October 19, 2009.
He was arrested the following day in Chevy Chase, Maryland.
“Today he is a disgraced criminal who was caught red-handed attempting to trade American secrets for personal profit. He will now have the next 13 years behind bars to contemplate his betrayal,” said US Attorney Ronald Machen. — AFP