Maryland scientist Stewart Nozette sentenced for passing secrets to supposed Mossad agent, expresses regret

March 21, 2012

The Washington Post on March 21, 2012 released the following:

“By Del Quentin Wilber
A 54-year-old Maryland scientist said Wednesday that he regretted supplying classified information in exchange for cash to a person he believed was a member of Israeli intelligence but was really an undercover FBI agent.

Stewart D. Nozette of Chevy Chase, who had previously pleaded guilty to attempted espionage in a deal with prosecutors that set his sentence at 13 years, was officially sentenced Wednesday to that term by U.S. District Judge Paul L. Friedman during a lengthy hearing in the District’s federal court. Friedman also sentenced him to just over three years in prison – a term to run concurrently with his espionage sentence – in an unrelated fraud and tax case.

At the end of the proceeding, which included the playing of secretly recorded video of Nozette meeting with an undercover FBI agent posing as a member of the Israeli intelligence agency, the Mossad, Nozette spoke publicly for the first time since his arrest in October 2009.

“I regret failing to report” to authorities that he was approached by a man he suspected of being an Israeli agent, he told Friedman. The scientist added, “I accept full responsibility for this error” and noted the meetings occurred just as his life began to “snowball downhill.” His lawyers have said he was contemplating suicide at the time and was angry at how he was being treated in the fraud investigation, making him an easy target for FBI agents seeking a big arrest. They noted that he at first refused to provide the undercover agent classified information.

In pleading guilty to attempted espionage in September, Nozette admitted he passed secrets to the undercover agent in exchange for more than $20,000. The agent approached Nozette in September 2009 and they had a series of secretly recorded meetings at the District’s Mayflower Hotel. The undercover agent also arranged to exchange information, questions and money with Nozette through a “dead drop,” which was a P.O. Box in the District. In those exchanges, Nozette provided classified information about “satellites, early warning systems, means of defense or retaliation against a large-scale attack, communications intelligence information, and major elements of defense strategy,” court records show.

Though the sentencing was largely a formality, both sides took pains to paint divergent pictures of Nozette, who was once one of the country’s leading space scientists who had access during his career to key defense programs.

Prosecutors say Nozette was motivated to become a traitor by greed and played a video clip in court of the final meeting between Nozette and the undercover agent. “I’ve crossed the Rubicon,” Nozette calmly tells the agent, because he would no longer be able to pass a government polygraph. Nozette adds that his initial price of $50,000 was too low and suggests that the Israeli government pay him at least $2 million.

“He agreed to be a traitor to the United States with a smile on his face,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Asuncion told the judge.

Defense lawyers countered that Nozette was under enormous strain when FBI agents began to target him in the sting operation. At the time, Nozette was actually working as an undercover informant for the government in the hopes of getting a reduced sentence in a fraud and tax case tied to contracting work he provided federal agencies. He pleaded guilty in early 2009 to charges of conspiring to defraud the U.S. government and to commit tax evasion, admitting that over a number of years he had filed false invoices for work totaling $265,000 and evaded more than $200,000 in taxes.

While investigating that case, federal agents in 2007 stumbled across classified information on his home computer and an e-mail he sent in 2002 threatening to provide classified information to an unidentified country or Israel. Agents trailed Nozette for a year, his lawyers said, but discovered no evidence that he provided any classified information to a foreign power. In 2009, the FBI launched its sting.

Bradford Berenson, one of Nozette’s attorneys, on Wednesday accused the government of entrapment and of “ignoble, dishonorable conduct.” He said there was no evidence that Nozette would ever have passed secrets to a foreign government absent the FBI operation. Instead of launching a sting operation, agents should have questioned Nozette or spoken to his attorneys, Berenson said.

Berenson and Nozette’s other lawyers, Robert Tucker and John C. Kiyonaga, argued that the government carefully tailored the sting to take advantage of the scientist’s frustrations with the fraud case and his sympathy for Israel.

The hearing was a final chapter in the legal saga involving Nozette, a scientist who has a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is credited with developing a satellite-based radar system that helped discover water on the moon during a 1994 mission.”

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Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


Scientist pleads guilty to attempted espionage

September 7, 2011

The Associated Press (AP) on September 7, 2011 released the following:

“By PETE YOST and NEDRA PICKLER
Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — A former government space scientist pleaded guilty Wednesday to one count of attempted espionage for trying to sell classified information to an undercover FBI agent posing as an Israeli spy.

Stewart David Nozette entered the plea in federal court, where both the Justice Department and Nozette’s lawyers agreed to a sentence of 13 years in prison, with credit for two years he has already spent behind bars. U.S. 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.

Nozette has been in jail since he was arrested nearly two years ago after an undercover sting operation. He was accused of seeking millions to sell secrets to an FBI agent posing as an Israeli intelligence officer.

Appearing in court in a prison jumpsuit, 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 that the secrets he was passing to Israel had cost the U.S. government anywhere from $200 million to almost a billion dollars to develop.

“So I tell ya, … theoretically I should charge you certainly, you know, at most” 1 percent, court papers in the case quoted Nozette as telling the agent.

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 defense technologist who had worked on the Reagan-era missile defense shield effort formally called the Strategic Defense Initiative. He also helped discover evidence of water on the moon.

Because Nozette knows so many secrets, including about the nation’s nuclear missile program, Attorney General Eric Holder ordered special communications restrictions placed on him in jail.

During a hearing after his arrest, the prosecutor played video from the September 2009 sting 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, through a post office box in exchange for money. They accuse him of asking for an Israeli passport and payments in cash under $10,000 each to avoid reporting it. Authorities said he took two payments – one for $2,000 and another for $9,000 – from the post office box to answer questions about U.S. satellites, including early warning systems, means of defense or retaliation against large-scale attack, communications intelligence information and major elements of defense strategy.

Nozette also ran a nonprofit corporation out of his Chevy Chase, Md., home called the Alliance for Competitive Technology that had several agreements to develop advanced technology for the U.S. government. In January 2009, he pleaded guilty to two counts of tax evasion and admitted overstating his costs for reimbursement and failing to report the income on his tax returns. His sentencing in that case has been held while the espionage charges have been pending.”

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.

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