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US scientist who worked in Chandrayaan arrested for 'espionage'

Last updated on: October 20, 2009 23:20 IST
An American scientist who played a key role in India's Chandrayaan mission in finding evidence of water on the Moon has been arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation on charges of spying for Israel, but the Indian Space Research Organisation said its security has not been compromised.

Stewart David Nozette, a leader in recent lunar exploration work of ISRO and the NASA, was arrested on Monday and charged in a criminal complaint with attempting to communicate, deliver and transmit classified information, the Justice Department said.

Nozette(52) was caught trying to sell classified United States' secrets to an FBI agent posing as an Israeli intelligence agent, the department said. Indian officials in contact with US scientists in relation to the country's maiden unmanned lunar mission insisted that there was no compromise with ISROs security since he was not given access to any sensitive information during his visit to India as part of his collaboration with ISRO on Chandrayaan.

Nozette, a Mini-RF principal investigator from the Universities Space Research Associations Lunar and Planetary Institute, was widely quoted and interviewed by the media both in US and in India during the Chandrayaan mission.

In its complaint filed by the FBI before a US court, he is being accused of spying for Israel; and an unnamed country, which is being code-worded as 'Country A' in the 18- page charge sheet.

ISRO sources in Bangalore said the arrest is an internal matter of NASA and ISRO's security has not been compromised. Nozette did visit ISRO facilities at least twice but he was not allowed into the sensitive and restricted areas, the sources said.

According to the criminal complaint, Nozette worked at various sensitive positions in the US government for more than two decades including the White House on the National Space Council, Executive Office of the President.

He worked at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from approximately 1990 to 1999 where he designed highly advanced technology.

At the Department of Energy, he held a special security clearance -- equivalent to the Defense Department Top Secret and Critical Nuclear Weapon Design Information clearances -- and had access to information specifically relating to atomic or nuclear-related materials.

"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.

According to the affidavit, Nozette had been under investigation for sometime. In early January 2009 as he traveled overseas, a security check of his personal bags indicated he had two computer thumb drives in his possession; yet, when he returned on his trip, the drives were no longer in his possession, the affidavit said.

Before his travel to a unnamed foreign country, identified as 'Country A,' Nozette reportedly informed an unnamed colleague of his that if the US ever tried to put him in jail, he would move from the United States to Israel or foreign 'Country A' and 'tell them everything' he knows.

Lalit K Jha in Washington/Bangalore
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