An apparently Jewish scientist was charged this week with attempting to sell classified secrets to Israel.
Stewart Nozette, 52, of Maryland, was caught in a sting operation by an FBI agent posing as an Israeli spy. He twice passed classified information to the agent over several weeks.
Mr Nozette appeared in court on Tuesday, accused of two counts of attempting to communicate, deliver and transmit classified information. If convicted he faces life in jail.
Assistant US attorney Anthony Asuncion told the court that Mr Nozette had access to some of America’s “most guarded secrets”.
Until 2006, Mr Nozette had held a common but coveted top secret clearance with the US government. During the 1990s, he worked at the US Energy Department on non-military applications of the Star Wars missile shield programme. He had access to nuclear and atomic-related projects as well as information on satellites. He had even spoken at Pentagon briefings.
He also worked at Nasa, where he is credited with helping to discover water on the south pole of the moon. However, a few years ago, Nasa became suspicious of his expense claims.
According to a law enforcement official quoted in the NYT, during that inquiry “investigators found indications he might be working for a foreign government”.
Mr Nozette received about $225,000 between 1998 and 2008 from an aerospace firm owned by the Israeli government for whom he was a consultant.
Israeli media have identified the firm as Israel Aircraft Industries, the largest company in Israel, which, with Boeing, makes the Arrow-2 anti-ballistic missile interceptor Israel relies upon to defend against nuclear attack.
Nasa’s suspicions sparked the FBI operation. The FBI agent met Mr Nozette at a Washington hotel and Mr Nozette agreed to pass on information in return for money and an Israeli passport. Mr Nozette made two drops of information, including classified details of a US overhead surveillance system.
The Israeli consulate in New York denied Israel had any involvement with Mr Nozette.
US Jews worried by the FBI’s focus on ‘Jewish spies’
The arrest of Mr Nozette — who claimed his parents were Jewish — in a “sting” operation has fuelled concern amongst US Jews that they are being targeted by the FBI as potential spies for Israel.
Since the Pollard affair in 1984, Israel has maintained it does not spy on the US. But just six months ago, former senior Aipac staffers Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman were finally released when a judge dismissed the US government’s case that they had been involved in leaking classified information to Israel.
“What I find troubling is that our government seems only interested in investigating people who are connected to Israel,” Abraham Foxman, director of the Anti-Defamation League, told NY Jewish Week. “It plays into the hands of those who say Jews or those connected to Israel are disloyal.”
However, a federal security source denied that they are singling out potential Israeli espionage threats. The FBI, which has prime responsibility for counter-intelligence in the domestic United States, takes the threat of Russian and Chinese espionage especially seriously, they said.
US intelligence sources said that during the six-year incumbency of strongly pro-Israel defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, there was widespread resentment in US military circles at the liberty Israeli military officials enjoyed in their dealings with the Department of Defence.
Martin Sieff is a Chief Global Analyst for ‘The Globalist’