Stewart D. Nozette, 52, a former NASA scientist who designed instruments for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and India’s Chandrayaan-1 Moon probe, was arrested Oct. 19 at his home in Chevy Chase, Md., on a charge that he sold classified information about U.S. satellites, early warning systems and other national defense capabilities to an undercover FBI agent posing as an Israeli intelligence officer. A federal judge ordered Nozette to remain in jail until an Oct. 29 detention hearing.
Nozette is well known for his work on Clementine, a Naval Research Laboratory-built satellite launched in 1994 to probe the Moon for signs of water ice.
The Massachusetts Institute of Technology-educated planetary scientist has worked in various capacities for NASA, the Defense Department and the Energy Department and held security clearances as high as Top Secret. Nozette’s access to classified information was suspended in 2006 after the NASA inspector general began looking at whether Nozette’s company, Alliance for Competitive Technology, had submitted false expense claims to the space agency.
The FBI’s sting operation began in early September when a female agent posing as an Israeli intelligence officer approached Nozette about his willingness to work for Israeli intelligence, according to the criminal complaint. Over the next several weeks, the complaint says, Nozette gave the undercover agent classified information about “a prototype overhead collection system” and other defense programs in exchange for $11,000 in cash. The FBI secretly videotaped Nozette retrieving the cash and leaving the classified information at a prearranged “dead drop.”
NASA Web sites identify Nozette as the principal investigator for a miniature synthetic aperture radar instrument currently flying on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and as co-investigator for a nearly identical instrument on India’s recently completed Chandrayaan-1 mission.