A top American scientist who once worked for the Pentagon and the US space agency NASA was arrested Monday and charged with attempted spying for Israel, the Department of Justice said.
Stewart David Nozette, 52, developed an experiment that fueled the discovery of water on the south pole of the moon, and previously held special security clearance at the Department of Energy on atomic materials, the DOJ said.
He is charged with "attempted espionage for knowingly and willfully attempting to communicate, deliver, and transmit classified information relating to the national defense of the United States to an individual that Nozette believed to be an Israeli intelligence officer," the DOJ said.
Nozette had been dealing with an FBI undercover agent in a sting operation, the department said, adding there was no wrongdoing by Israel.
Nozette, who was arrested in the Washington suburb of Chevy Chase, Maryland and taken into custody, could make his first court appearance Tuesday on the charge, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
"The conduct alleged in this complaint is serious and should serve as a warning to anyone who would consider compromising our nation's secrets for profit," said David Kris, assistant attorney general for national security.
Information concerned US satellites
In addition to stints with NASA and the Department of Energy, Nozette worked at the White House on the National Space Council under then-president George H.W. Bush in 1989 and 1990.
"From 1989 through 2006, Nozette held security clearances as high as top secret and had regular, frequent access to classified information and documents related to the US national defense," the Justice Department said.
In early September, Nozette received a phone call from a person "purporting to be an Israeli intelligence officer, but who was in fact an undercover employee of the FBI," the DOJ said.
"Nozette met with the UCE (undercover employee) that day and discussed his willingness to work for Israeli intelligence," informing the agent that "he had, in the past, held top security clearances and had access to US satellite information."
The scientist offered to "answer questions about this information in exchange for money."
Over the next several weeks, Nozette and the undercover agent exchanged envelopes of money for answers to lists of questions about US satellite technology.
"In addition, Nozette allegedly offered to reveal additional classified information that directly concerned nuclear weaponry, military spacecraft or satellites, and other major weapons systems," DOJ said.
FBI agents retrieved a manila envelope left by Nozette in a designated location this month that "contained information classified as both top secret and secret that concerned US satellites, early warning systems, means of defense or retaliation against large-scale attack, communications intelligence information, and major elements of defense strategy."