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Spycatchers accuse nuke boffin of selling secrets to 'Mossad'

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A senior US government satellite scientist has been arrested for attempted espionage after being caught in a complex sting operation targeting his links to Israel.

Stewart David Nozette, 52, is expected to make an initial court appearance today. He will stand accused of attempting to sell classified information to an uncercover FBI agent posing as a Mossad officer. The charges carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

According to the undercover agent's sworn affadavit, Nozette has worked in secret US government atomic and satellite science for the last 20 years and held clearances up to Top Secret.

Between 2000 and 2006 his company, ACT, developed secret projects for DARPA, the Pentagon's high technology bureau. For nine years prior, Nozette worked ar the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, at the heart of the US nuclear weapons programme. Before that, he spent a year at the White House, on Dan Quayle's National Space Council, which was still pushing the "Star Wars" programme.

Although the complaint (pdf) against him does not allege outside involvement in the specific events that led to his arrest, it says that between 2000 and 2008 Nozette was paid $225,000 as technical adviser to an aerospace company wholly owned by the Israeli government.

In January this year, prosecutors allege, he travelled to another foreign country (referred to as "foregn country A") carrying two USB thumb drives and returned without them. An unnamed colleague also alleged Nozette had talked of threatening go to Israel or "foreign country A" and "tell them everything" if the US ever tried to "put him in jail" over an unrelated matter.

According to the papers, the FBI began to lure Nozette into a trap last month. An undercover agent rang him on 3 September purporting to represent Mossad. The scientist agreed to meet him at a Washington DC hotel that day. At the meeting it is alleged he said he would pass secret satellite information to "Mossad" in exchange for money and and Israeli passport.

Nozette met the agent again the next day, according to the court documents. He allegedly said that although he no longer had access, he remembered classified information and wanted to be paid in cash in amounts of under $10,000, to avoid bank reporting laws.

"Cash is fine...[I know] how to handle cash... you buy consumables... cash is good for anything... you can eat it, drink it or screw it," he allegedly told the undercover 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."

On 10 September, the FBI left a list of questions about US satellites at an agreed post office box, along with $2,000. Days later, Nozette was caught on video answering the questions, via one page of text in a manila envelope and an encrypted thumb drive. At the same time he also offered more secrets "that directly concerned nuclear weaponry", the FBI said.

The process was repeated, with more questions and this time a $9,000 bundle left at the post office box. Nozette collected and was filmed answering on 1 October. His response allegedly "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".

The trap was then sprung and Nozette was arrested.

According to the New York Times, Israeli officials are yet to comment on the arrest.

Nozette has seemingly been on authorities' radar for some time. In 2006 his non-profit, the Alliance for Competitive Technology, was accused of failing to comply with an order to open its financial records. ®

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