Since the Feds unsealed a criminal complaint against a former high level NASA scientist yesterday, charging him with attempted espionage, media interest has focused on the Israel angle: an FBI employee posed as a Mossad agent and gave Stewart Nozette money for classified satellite information.
Even the Justice Department’s press release on the arrest played up the Mossad ploy, while noting that Israel is not accused of breaking any laws.
But a curious section in the criminal complaint suggests that there was a foreign country — identified only as “Country A” — to which Nozette may have passed information.
And there’s circumstantial evidence suggesting one “Country A” candidate is India.Nozette, who worked on Reagan’s Star Wars program and was a top scientist at the Department of Energy and other government agencies, was a co-investigator on the Chandrayaan-1 lunar craft project on which NASA collaborated with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO). That’s the craft that recently found evidence of water in the moon’s soil.
One of the ways Nozette passed information to the “Mossad” agent in September was on a computer thumb drive. He also offered information on nukes and other weapons systems.
But before that, according to the complaint, Nozette in January traveled to Country A, taking two computer thumb drives along, but returning without them.
There’s no crime alleged regarding the trip to Country A, but the Feds were clearly tracking Nozette at the time, because a TSA officer searched him as he was leaving the country, noting the drives, and a customs officer “thoroughly” searched him on the way back, observing that he no longer had the drives.
According to the complaint, Nozette also told a colleague sometime before the January trip that, if the government tried to “put him in jail” in an unrelated case involving his non-profit, Nozette would move to Israel or Country A and “tell them everything” he knew.
And right around the dates of Nozette’s trip to Country A — roughly January 6 to 28, according to the complaint — there was a lot of activity going on with Chandrayaan-1, which was launched in October 2008.
This document from a planetary science conference notes that the first opportunity to try out a key spectrometer on the craft came on Jan. 8, over the Apollo 16 landing site. A paper co-signed by Nozette noted that the “first mapping season” of an imaging radar on the craft was set to begin in mid-January 2009. At the very end of the month, scientists gathered for the 100 day review of the project, though it appears to have overlapped only partially with Nozette’s time abroad.
A. Bhaskara Narayana, scientific secretary of ISRO, told a New Delhi TV station that Nozette visited ISRO facilities at least twice. One of those trips was presumably in October 2008 when Nozette did a Q&A with the TV station.
The picture above, posted on a NASA site, clearly shows Nozette in India.
Is it possible that Nozette could have been giving information to the real Mossad on that January trip? Probably not, because Nozette made comments to the undercover FBI employee in September suggesting that the Mossad had never recruited him previously. That’s despite the fact the Nozette for a decade worked for an Israeli government-owned aerospace company.
As for the complaint, it doesn’t mention Nozette’s role in the Indian project, despite a lengthy section on his career.
Nozette, of Chevy Chase, Maryland, appeared in court in Washington today but did not speak.
The Indian embassy in Washington did not immediately return a call seeking comment.