There's nothing like a good, diverting spy scandal. The FBI today arrested an eminent space scientist, Stewart
David Nozette, and charged him with espionage. He allegedly agreed to sell information about American nuclear weapons to an operative of Israel's Mossad -- only the agent turned out to be an uncover FBI agent. Nozette was the principal investigator on the NASA team that discovered water on the moon. But he spent years as a top scientist at the Department of Energy, where he specialized in satellite technology. According to CBS News, his work for an Israeli defense/aerospace consulting company owned by the Israeli government -- work that involved providing unspecified but presumably sensitive technical assistance -- brought him to the attention of investigators. The affidavit alleges that Nozette secreted two computer drives out of the company and brought them to a third country. What he did with them -- and what was contained on those disks the FBI isn't saying. From
the FBI release, it's hard to figure out what he might have given the
Israelis when he worked for them. Left somewhat vague is what he tried to sell to the undercover agent. But his resume provides a clue.
Take it as a given that Israel's nuclear weapons stockpile and its half dozen nuclear facilities in the country are targets for U.S. espionage -- be it from the the SIGINT satellites tasked by the National Security Agency to the imagery satelittes run by the National Reconaissance Office. At the Pentagon's Ballistic Missile Defense Agency, Nozette ran a program that focused on dual-use nuclear compliance monitoring satellites. The Clementine
satellite that discovered water on the moon was, before it was used by civilian scientists, a platform for a sohpisticated nuclear compliance sensor. Among the technologies that Clementine validated was a capacity to peer beneath the ground
-- one of the ways that hidden water was discovered.
No doubt that Nozette would be in a good position to know how easily it is for U.S. technologies to pierce the veil of Israel's secret nuke program.
Nozette had a "Q" clearance from the Department of Energy, which gave him access to data about nuclear weapons themselves, which might have been of interest to the Israelis. More generally, though, since Israel has nuclear weapons, its espionage efforts are probably more directed towards figuring out what the U.S. knows about them, how the U.S. monitors, say, Israeli launch preparation sites, and who the U.S. shares this data with.
During the Reagan administration, Nozette was a special assistant to the Strategic Defense Initiative "Star Wars" program's Office of Survivability, Lethality and Key Technologies.
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is a contributing editor at The Atlantic
. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One
, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week