Last Thursday, MIT alum Dr. Stewart D Nozette PhD ’83 appeared before the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and plead not guilty to committing espionage against the United States government. He will be returning to court on November 10 to face a sentence that could put him in prison for life.
Nozette was arrested on October 19 in Washington D.C. as a result of an FBI sting operation. FBI Special Agent Leslie G. Martell filed a criminal complaint against Nozette for committing the criminal offense of attempting to deliver classified information on U.S. national defense to the Israeli intelligence agency known as Mossad.
On September 3, Nozette was contacted by an undercover FBI employee claiming to be an Mossad officer. The undercover employee and Nozette met later that day to discuss a deal in which Nozette would deliver classified information to Mossad in exchange for money. According to the affidavit of Martell, Nozette told the undercover employee that he used to have special access to U.S. nuclear facilities. In addition, Nozette said he had seen space projects for the U.S. military.
Nozette and the undercover employee met again the following day to discuss further details on the agreement. Both meetings were recorded and presented to the court.
One of Nozette’s concerns was how the posing Mussad officer was going to pay him. “Cash is fine,” said Nozette. Nozette also asked for a fake passport, “If I’m going to do other work internationally in space I wouldn’t mind having to, uh, having a, alternate, uh, passport.”
The undercover employee agreed to all of Nozette’s requests, and for the next couple of weeks, Nozette communicated with who he thought was the Mossad, but in actuality was the FBI. According to the affidavit, by September 17, Nozette had already sent “classified aspects and mission capabilities of a prototype overhead collection system, which disclosure could negate the ability to support United States military and intelligence operations.”
Nozette also exposed key information regarding secret “nuclear weaponry, military spacecraft or satellites, and other major weaponry systems.” Similar activities continued for approximately a month until the FBI finally arrested Nozette.
According to the Washington Post, the undercover investigation began when one of his colleagues confronted the FBI and told them Nozette’s intent to talk to Israel and tell them “everything he knows.” Nozette’s motivation came from his prior court case in January 2009, when he pleaded guilty to overbilling NASA and the Department of Defense around $256,000 for contracted work, when he was actually using the money for personal expenses.
Before the arrest and investigation, Nozette held several positions that involved working with the U.S. government. Between 1989 and 1990, he served on the White House National Space Council. Nozette also acted as the president of the Alliance for Competitive Technology between 2000–2006 during which time he oversaw and organized several deals with the U.S. government involving cutting-edge technology. Other organizations in which Nozette held positions include the U.S. Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Defense, and NASA.
According to the Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies, Nozette claimed to have 20 special access clearances including one to “Q Critical Nuclear Weapon Design Information.”