A Maryland scientist is facing attempted espionage charges.
Stewart Nozette, 52, of Chevy Chase, once worked on the cutting edge of moon exploration and for the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense and NASA in varying roles. FBI agents arrested him Monday and removed boxes of possible evidence from his house.
During the past month, Nozette tried to deliver classified national defense information related to nuclear weaponry, military sapcecraft and satellites to an individual he believed was an Israeli intelligence officer, federal agents said. That person was an undercover FBI agent.
An affidavit unsealed today says Nozette asked for cash and an Israeli passport. And he agreed to give away secrets on tape, according to the FBI.
"We can just talk and you can have people come and we can chat and they can, like, record it or something," Nozette allegedly told the undercover agent.
Nozette was first contacted by the undercover agent by phone on Sept. 3, according to the Department of Justice. He met with the agent later that day and the next day and agreed to provide classified information that he had access to in the past.
On two occasions, Nozette retrieved questions and cash -- $2,000 and $9,000 --from a designated post office box to which he'd later return with answers to the questions, according to Justice.
Neither Israel nor any party acting on Israel's behalf is accused of any offenses.
Nozette has been a leader in recent lunar exploration work, the Associated Press reported. He developed the Clementine bi-static radar experiment that is credited with discovering water on the south pole of the moon. He also worked at the Energy Department's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where he designed highly advanced technology, from approximately 1990 to 1999.
At Energy, Nozette held a special security clearance equivalent to the Defense Department's top secret and "critical nuclear weapon design information" clearances. DOE clearances apply to access to information specifically relating to atomic or nuclear-related materials.
Nozette also held top offices at the Alliance for Competitive Technology, a nonprofit corporation that he organized. Between January 2000 and February 2006, Nozette, through his company, had several agreements to develop advanced technology for the U.S. government.
Scott Hubbard, a professor of aerospace at Stanford University who worked for 20 years at NASA, said Nozette worked on President Ronald Reagan's administration's Star Wars missile shield program primarily as a technical defense expert, the AP reported.
"This was leading edge, Department of Defense national security work," said Hubbard.
A law enforcement official familiar with the investigation said authorities became worried about possible espionage activity by Nozette after an Inspector General investigation in 2006 began looking at whether Nozette submitted false claims for expenses that were not actually incurred, the AP reported.
In probing Nozette's finances in that case, investigators found indications he might be working for a foreign government, and launched a national security investigation that eventually led to the undercover FBI sting, the official said. The official was not authorized to discuss details of the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.
From 1998 to 2008, the complaint alleges, Nozette was a technical adviser for a consultant company that was wholly owned by the Israeli government. Nozette was paid about $225,000 over that period, the court papers say.
Then, in January of this year, Nozette allegedly traveled to another foreign country with two computer thumb drives and apparently did not return with them, the AP reported. Prosecutors also quote an unnamed colleague of Nozette who said the scientist said that if the U.S. government ever tried to put him in jail for an unrelated criminal offense, he would go to Israel or another foreign country and "tell them everything" he knows.
Nozette was expected to make his initial appearance in federal court in Washington on Tuesday.