Former Nasa scientist guilty of spying

A FORMER US government space scientist pleaded guilty yesterday to attempted espionage for trying to sell classified information to an undercover FBI agent posing as an Israeli spy.

During an appearance in federal court, Stewart David Nozette admitted that he tried to provide Israel with top secret information about satellites, early warning systems, ways of retaliating against large-scale attack, communications intelligence information and elements of defence strategy.

The Justice Department and Nozette’s lawyers have agreed to a sentence of 13 years in prison. US District Judge Paul Friedman said he was prepared to accept the deal, pending Nozette’s cooperation with prosecutors, a procedure expected to last into November.

In court, Nozette said he understood the charge to which he was pleading. He could have been sentenced to death had he been convicted of all four counts of attempted espionage that he faced.

Just before his arrest, Nozette told an undercover FBI agent in the sting operation in October 2009 that the secrets he was passing to Israel had cost the US government anywhere from $200 million (€141.8m) to almost $1 billion (€709m).

Nozette told the undercover agent: “I’ve crossed the Rubicon ... I’ve made a career choice.”

Nozette had high-level security clearances during decades of government work on science and space projects at Nasa, the Energy Department and the National Space Council in President George H. W. Bush’s White House. He has a doctorate in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was known primarily as a defence technologist who had worked on the Reagan-era missile defence shield. He also helped discover evidence of water on the moon.

Because Nozette knows so many secrets, including about the nation’s nuclear missile program, special communications restrictions were imposed on him in jail.

During a hearing after his arrest, the prosecutor played video from the sting operation in which Nozette lounged on a hotel room couch, eating and laughing with the undercover agent. He discussed the possibility of having to flee the country if he came under scrutiny.

Prosecutors say Nozette agreed to provide regular information to the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad. They accuse him of asking for an Israeli passport and payments in cash under $10,000 (€7,093) each to avoid reporting it. Authorities said he took two payments — one for $2,000 (€14,18) and another for $9,000 (€6,383) — to answer questions about US satellites.

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