Ex-NASA Scientist Nozette Gets 13-Year Term in Spying Case

A former National Aeronautics and Space Administration scientist was sentenced to 13 years in prison for attempted spying after admitting he tried to pass classified data on U.S. satellites to Israel.

Stewart David Nozette, 54, was sentenced today in Washington to the term agreed to by prosecutors and defense lawyers in September when Nozette pleaded guilty to attempted espionage. He was also sentenced for an earlier guilty plea in a false-claims and tax-evasion case. U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman ordered Nozette to pay about $218,000 in restitution.

“I accept full responsibility for this error,” the former government physicist told Friedman.

Nozette, of Chevy Chase, Maryland, was arrested in October 2009 in a sting operation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in which one of its agents posed as an Israeli security officer.

Nozette held security clearances as high as “top secret” and had access to information about national defense, according to court papers filed in the case.

He worked at the Energy Department’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and did research at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in Arlington, Virginia, and the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

The U.S. hasn’t alleged that Israel or anyone acting on its behalf committed a crime.

Fraud Case

The undercover operation sprang from an earlier case against Nozette, in which the government accused him of defrauding federal agencies through a nonprofit organization. Nozette admitted he submitted more than $265,000 in false claims to the government and evaded more than $200,000 in taxes.

The nonprofit probe led investigators to suspect that he misused classified information. During a search of Nozette’s home, investigators found classified documents and an e-mail in which he threatened to take a classified program he was working on to another country.

From 1989 through 2006, Nozette had access to confidential documents related to national defense, prosecutors said.

In September 2009, he was contacted by the agent posing as an Israeli intelligence officer. Nozette described his security clearance and agreed to provide classified data for money and a passport to a country without extradition to the U.S.

Nozette took $10,000 left at drop-off sites and gave the agent top-secret information on satellites, early warning systems, defense systems and strategies for dealing with a large-scale attack, according to prosecutors.

‘Greed Exceeded Loyalty’

“Stewart Nozette’s greed exceeded his loyalty to this country,” U.S. Attorney Ronald Machen said in a statement.

Prosecutors today played a video recording on which Nozette boasted to the undercover agent about technical data he kept on disks in a safe deposit box. He said the information cost the U.S. $200 million.

“I’d charge you, at most, 1 percent,” of that, Nozette said.

“Four minutes is all it takes to show that he agreed to be a traitor against the United States, with a smile on his face and with unbridled enthusiasm,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Anthony Asuncion told the judge.

The defense accused the government of preying on a vulnerable person who was in the midst of losing his career due to the fraud allegations and who had contemplated suicide. If there were concerns about Nozette’s possessing classified data, the government should have contacted his lawyers, one said.

“It wasn’t necessary,” attorney Robert Tucker told Friedman. “They destroyed this man when they didn’t have to.”

The case is U.S. v. Nozette, 09-cr-00276, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

To contact the reporter on this story: Tom Schoenberg in Washington at tschoenberg@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net

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