Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Justice Dept: Israel stole U.S. defense secrets

Though he wasn't charged with spying for Israel, federal scientist Stewart Nozette had supplied Israel Aerospace Industries, which is owned by the Israeli government, with classified information in the past for a total of some $225,000, reports say. The payments came after Nozette answered specific questions supplied by the Israelis, the Justice Department said.

When leaving the country recently, U.S. Customs inspectors checked Nozette's airport baggage and took note of two computer discs. On his return, inspectors observed that the discs were missing. After that, the FBI set up a sting to obtain evidence of a willingness to commit espionage, the bait being cash offered by an FBI agent posing as a member of Mossad.

Some media, perhaps misled by an FBI press release, have made it appear that the Israeli government was not involved in this matter. Certainly, it seems unlikely that Mossad had previously been directly involved; otherwise Nozette would have recoiled from the impostor's offer. But, a Justice Dept. criminal complaint says that Nozette had in the past transferred U.S. defense secrets to the Israeli government, which asked specific questions of him. This allegation was omitted from an FBI press release.

It may be that that part of the case is too difficult to prosecute. And I suppose one could say that the Israeli government is innocent until proved guilty. However, we should beware assuming that that government was in no way involved in stealing American defense secrets, especially in light of the Justice Department assertion.

Sources for this post include a Bloomberg News article, an FBI press release and a Haaretz article.

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