(CN) – A former government scientist pleaded guilty to attempted espionage following an undercover investigation in which he gave American secrets to an FBI agent posing as an Israeli intelligence officer.
Stewart David Nozette has been in custody since his October 2009 arrest. With a doctoral degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Nozette helped develop advanced satellite technology for government and had special security clearance while working on the so-called Star Wars project to develop missile shields under the Reagan administration.
Nozette also served as president of the Alliance for Competitive Technology, which helped develop advanced technologies for NASA and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, among others.
In February 2007, law enforcement searched Nozette’s home as part of a fraud investigation and found classified documents. Agents discovered that in 2002, Nozette sent an email “threatening to take a classified program he was working on ‘to [foreign country] or Israel and do it there selling internationally.'”
This led the FBI to launch an undercover operation into suspected espionage.
An agent pretending to be a Mossad officer from Israel called Nozette in September 2009 and arranged a meeting with him.
During their conversation, Nozette told the undercover agent that he had not had access to classified documents “for the last couple years,” but said he once “had everything.” “Any that the U.S. has done in space, I’ve seen,” he said, according to a transcript quoted in Nozette’s plea.
The undercover agent told Nozette that Mossad had arranged a “dead drop” system to pass classified information to the Israeli intelligence office.
Nozette also requested an Israeli passport so he could work outside of the U.S. to have “another base of operations.”
Later that month, FBI agents left Nozette a letter with a list of questions about classified U.S. satellite information, along with $2,000 in cash. The agents asked Nozette to provide four passport-sized photos and an alias signature to make an Israeli passport.
The next day, Nozette dropped off a manila envelope containing all the requested information at a prearranged location. Two more drop-offs occurred, with the FBI paying Nozette more money for the information each time.
Nozette also agreed to “reveal additional classified information that directly concerned nuclear weaponry, military spacecraft or satellites, and other major weapons systems,” prosecutors said.
At a subsequent meeting with the undercover agent, Nozette said his initial request for $50,000 was “probably too low.”
“The cost to the U.S. government was two hundred million … to develop it all. Uh, and then that’s not including the launching of it. … Uh, integrating the satellites. … So if you say okay that probably brings it to almost a billion dollars,” Nozette told the agent.
“So I tell ya at least two hundred million so I would say, you know, theoretically I should charge you certainly, you know, at most a one percent.”
Senior U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman in Washington scheduled a status hearing for Nov. 15, but did not set a sentencing date. The plea agreement calls for a 13-year sentence.
The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Asuncion.