Stewart Nozette seemed to have it all — he had a PHD from MIT, and had designed a satellite so impressive that a version of it is displayed in the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum.
He’d worked at the White House, and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and on the “Star Wars” satellite defense system. He had access to some of the nation’s most closely held satellite secrets.
But, apparently, he didn’t think he had enough money.
And, the government says, in a 2009 meeting at the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington, he offered to sell some of America’s most sensitive secrets to a man he thought was an agent of the Israeli Mossad intelligence service.
But that man was actually an undercover FBI agent.
And in a court hearing Wednesday, the government showed publicly the hidden camera video of Nozette’s meeting with the “spy.”
In that 2009 meeting, FBI hidden camera video shows Nozette bragging to the man he thought was a Mossad agent about his access to high level information.
“I haven’t been … involved in classified work for the last couple years,” he told the undercover agent. “But I had everything.”
Nozette detailed areas he could be helpful to Israeli intelligence. “I had all, all the way to Top Secret SCI… I had all the nuclear clearances… any that the US has done in space I’ve seen.”
Later, he negotiated the price he thought the Mossad should pay him for the secrets — based on how much it cost the US government to build and launch the technology in the first place.
“The cost to the US government was $200 million to develop it all. And then that’s not including the launching of it, integrating the satellites. So if you say OK, that probably brings it to almost a billion dollars. So I tell ya at least two hundred million, so I would say, theoretically I should charge you certainly, you know, at most one percent.”
Even during the meeting Nozette, who had already been cooperating with the undercover agent, seemed to realize how far he’d gone in betraying his country.
“So I gave you even in this first run, some of the most classified information that there is,” he said. “You know, I’ve sort of crossed the Rubicon."
And Nozette seemed to realize that meant he’d placed his fate in the hands of the man sitting across from him in the posh confines of the hotel room. “You know, so I’m yours. I mean, I, I’ve made the commitment.”
Shortly after making those comments, Nozette was arrested in that Mayflower hotel room. And Wednesday, he was sentenced to 13 years today on attempted espionage, fraud, and tax charges.
In filings with the court, Nozette’s attorney pleaded for leniency for his client, arguing that Nozette, who pled guilty to the charges against him, had no prior criminal history, posed no threat of recidivism and played an “important part” in the care and support of his ex-wife Wendy, who had been battling breast cancer.
“He has already greatly suffered for his offense, facing the loss of his reputation, the most important source of his most rewarding work, and essentially all of his personal resources through the costs and forfeitures arising from the two cases against him,” wrote attorney Bradford Berenson. And he noted that Nozette has become a cooperating witness for the FBI, working to expose potential misconduct inside government agencies by turning over documents, performing surveillance, and recording conversations.
And his attorney argued that the government set Nozette up to fail, calling the sting operation against him an “outrageous tactic.”
“There is no indication, however, that Dr. Nozette would ever have taken affirmative steps to engage in espionage-related activities absent the government’s decision to tailor-make an opportunity to tempt him into doing so,” wrote Berenson. “Until that unfortunate and unique sequence of events, Dr. Nozette had been a fully loyal custodian of the nation’s military and intelligence secrets for more than two decades.”