WASHINGTON — A scientist credited with helping discover evidence of water on the moon was arrested Monday on charges of attempting to pass classified information to an FBI agent posing as an Israeli intelligence officer.
Stewart David Nozette, 52, of Chevy Chase, Md., was charged in a criminal complaint with attempting to communicate, deliver and transmit classified information, the Justice Department said. The complaint does not allege that the government of Israel or anyone acting on its behalf violated U.S. law.
Nozette was arrested by FBI agents and is expected to make his initial appearance in federal court in Washington today. Law enforcement officials said he did not immediately have a lawyer.
Nozette had worked at the Energy Department, NASA and, in 1989 and 1990, the National Space Council in the president's office. He developed the Clementine bi-static radar experiment that purportedly discovered water on the south pole of the moon. He worked at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where he designed highly advanced technology, from approximately 1990 to 1999.
An affidavit explains why FBI agents posed as agents of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.
From 1998 to 2008, the complaint alleges, Nozette was a technical advisor for a consulting company 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 did not return with them. Prosecutors quoted an unidentified colleague of Nozette as saying that the scientist told him 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.
In Jerusalem, Israeli government officials had no immediate comment.
The affidavit by FBI Special Agent Leslie G. Martell said that on Sept. 3, Nozette received a telephone call from an individual purporting to be an Israeli intelligence officer. The caller was an undercover FBI agent.
Nozette agreed to meet with the agent later that day at a hotel in Washington and, in the subsequent meeting, the two discussed Nozette's willingness to work for Israeli intelligence, the affidavit said.
Nozette allegedly told the agent that he had, in the past, held top security clearances and had access to U.S. satellite information, the affidavit said.
Nozette also allegedly said he would be willing to answer questions about this information in exchange for money.
According to the court papers, Nozette asked when he could expect to receive his first payment, saying he preferred cash "under 10 thousand" so he didn't have to report it.
Nozette reportedly told the agent, "Well, I should tell you my first need is that they should figure out how to pay me. . . . They don't expect me to do this for free."
Nozette agreed to provide regular, continuing information and asked for an Israeli passport, the affidavit alleged. Nozette and the agent allegedly met again the next day, and within weeks Nozette began to pass classified information to what he thought was the Mossad, the affidavit said.
Prosecutors alleged that the information he shared included secrets on U.S. satellites, early-warning systems, means of defense or retaliation against large-scale attack, communications intelligence information and major elements of defense strategy.