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Former government scientist pleads guilty to attempted espionage

September 7, 2011 |  9:52 am

Nozette 
Stewart David Nozette, a former government scientist, pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of attempted espionage and will be sentenced to 13 years in prison for trying to sell classified information to a person who Nozette  thought was an Israeli intelligence officer, the Department of Justice announced.

Nozette entered his guilty plea before U.S. District Senior Judge Paul Friedman of the District of Columbia. Friedman said he was prepared to accept the plea, part of an agreement between the defendant and the government that includes the 13-year sentence and depends on Nozette’s cooperation with governmental authorities.  Friedman set Nov. 15 for a status hearing.

As part of the agreement, Nozette would get credit for the two years in jail he has already served. He had also previously pleaded guilty to federal charges of conspiracy to defraud the government with respect to false claims and tax evasion of up to $399,999. The sentence in that case will be served concurrently with the espionage case.

According to the Justice Department, Nozette, 54, of Chevy Chase, Md., was accused of seeking $2 million to sell secrets to an FBI agent posing as an Israeli intelligence officer.

Nozette, who has a doctorate in planetary sciences from MIT, worked at a variety of government posts including the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the White House’s National Space Council. Justice officials 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.”

Nozette, who has been in custody since Oct. 19, 2009, was charged with providing classified materials on three occasions. The indictment does not allege that the government of Israel or anyone acting on its behalf committed any offense, DOJ noted in a statement.

“Stewart Nozette was once a trusted scientist who maintained high-level government security clearances and was frequently granted access to classified information relating to our national defense. 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 Ronald C. Machen Jr., the U.S attorney for the District of Columbia.

The Justice Department said the espionage investigation began in February 2007 after agents found classified documents in Nozette’s home during a search that stemmed from the fraud investigation. Authorities said they found a 2002 email from Nozette threatening to take a classified program he was working on "to [a foreign country] or Israel and do it there selling internationally..."

That led to the undercover operation in which an FBI employee posed as a Mossad agent. On Oct. 1, 2009, Nozette received cash and left an envelope containing top-secret information on an encrypted thumb drive.

“The classified information related to the national defense, in that it directly concerned satellites, early warning systems, means of defense or retaliation against large-scale attack, communications intelligence information, and major elements of defense strategy,” DOJ stated.

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-- Michael Muskal

Photo: This screen shot taken from NASA's website shows an undated image of Stewart David Nozette.  Credit:  Associated Press

 

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