While conservative commentators continue to maintain a fairly deafening silence on the Stewart David Nozette spy case, additional information is emerging in the MSM.
For starters, Nozette’s appeal to foreign intelligence agencies becomes pretty transparently clear when you take a look at his background. According to the Washington Post, and this is just a brief summary of Nozette’s background–
Scott Hubbard, a former colleague, said that Nozette was primarily a defense technologist who had worked on the Reagan-era Star Wars effort formally named the Strategic Defense Initiative.
"This was leading edge, Department of Defense national security work," said Hubbard, a professor of aerospace at Stanford University who worked for 20 years at NASA. Hubbard said Nozette worked on the Star Wars project at the Energy Department’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
At Energy, Nozette held a special security clearance equivalent to the Defense Department’s top secret and "critical nuclear weapon design information" clearances. DOE clearances apply to access information specifically relating to atomic or nuclear-related materials.
Nozette, of Chevy Chase, Md., more recently developed the Clementine bi-static radar experiment that is credited with discovering water on the south pole of the moon.
As Peter J. Brown puts it in hisThe Spy Who Lost His Thumbdrives "Nozette’s resume was quite electric from a satellite standpoint. Inject a bit of foreign intrigue and missile defense, and the voltage soars."
We also now know what started the FBI investigation. As Time notes, "[A]round 2006 or so, investigators became suspicious that Nozette was secretly working for a foreign government…" The key word here, of course, is "secretly." This strongly suggests, as does the government response to this suspicion, that Nozette was engaged in this work without the necessary permission. The Washington Post adds some detail:
A law enforcement official familiar with the investigation said authorities became worried about possible espionage activity by Nozette after an investigation by NASA’s inspector general in 2006 began looking at whether Nozette submitted false claims for expenses that were not actually incurred.
In probing Nozette’s finances in that case, investigators found indications he might be working for a foreign government, and they launched a national security investigation that eventually led to the undercover FBI sting, the official said. The official was not authorized to discuss details of the investigation and spoke on condition of anonymity.
At the time of the IG probe, Nozette went to court to fight the inquiry. The IG investigation subpoenaed a bank account of Nozette’s firm, Alliance For Competitive Technology Inc. A federal judge rejected Nozette’s motion to quash the subpoena.
As it turned out, Nozette had been employed by an Israeli government-owned aerospace company from 1998 – 2008, although the US government was unaware of this, shall we say, conflict of interests until 2006. It was this discovery that led the Government to suspend Nozette’s clearances. In other words, it took US counterintelligence EIGHT YEARS to discover this breach of basic security, and it appears to have been discovered not as a result of normal security precautions but as a result of suspicions that Nozette was falsifying his expense claims at NASA. Moreover, the fact that Nozette went to court to fight the inquiry may indicate that he was concerned to conceal his secret work for the Israeli government, which in fact came to light as a result of the inquiry. [Here is Justin Elliott at TPM on the issue of how Nozette could be working for Israeli aerospace company.]
The waters are muddied to a certain extent by Nozette’s cooperation with India (presumably also the "Country A" in the FBI’s affidavit). No charges have arisen from that cooperation. Moreover, Nozette had ample reason to believe that he was under investigation and made no effort to hide his cooperation with the Indian project. The FBI affidavit included the business of Nozette taking two thumb drives to India in January, 2009, and returning without them, so we have to assume that the FBI attaches some significance to this, but unfortunately the affidavit sheds no light on what that significance may be.
Brown’s article relies heavily on comments attributed to "Scott Stewart, vice president of tactical intelligence at Texas-based STRATFOR, a global intelligence company." Some of these comments have to do with the timing of the arrest, which came just as Israel and the US were engaging in "one of the largest and most sophisticated ballistic missile defense drills that the world has ever seen." Since the prosecution of Nozette was certainly approved at the highest levels, speculation as to the timing remains just that–speculation. All we can say is that the prosecution was initiated with full knowledge of the effect it might have on relations with Israel, and nevertheless the decision was made to proceed.
STRATFOR’s Stewart also places Nozette’s actions in useful perspective for Brown:
It must be understood that Israel currently poses one of the most profound espionage threats to the United States – especially pertaining to defense technology – and they are very high on the FBI’s list of counter-intelligence priorities," said Stewart.
What has been the Israeli reaction to these developments, since it is Israel’s official position–in stark opposition to the FBI’s view–that it doesn’t pose any intelligence threat at all to the US? According to Brown, the Israeli government is "livid." As may well be supposed. Brown reports that
the Jerusalem Post turned to none other than Steve Rosen, former foreign policy chief at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).
Like Nozette, Rosen and Keith Weissman were accused by the US government of passing along classified information. The case against Rosen and Weissman was dropped last spring.
I should add that the case was dropped in controversial circumstances, over strenuous objections from the prosecutors and investigators. Rosen’s take is interesting:
"One of the things that our case revealed is the very extreme views that are held by some in counter-intelligence agencies of the CIA and FBI about Israel," Rosen told the Post. "They believe that the Mossad spied on the US on a huge scale and they believe that the Pollard case was the tip of some sort of iceberg."
Rosen, and his attorney, suspect something like anti-Semitism on the part of US intelligence agencies:
"One of the things that our case revealed is the very extreme views that are held by some in counter-intelligence agencies of the CIA and FBI about Israel."
Not to put too fine a point on it, they think this was a witch hunt. Who knows, first they came for Nozette…
"It’s revealing that they used Israel for the sting," Rosen added. "They could have used China, or others. But they chose Israel."
"This case certainly raises the legitimate question of whether this was a legitimate sting or whether it was an unfairly selective sting aimed at Jews to test dual loyalty," Weissman’s attorney in the AIPAC case, Baruch Weiss said.
Let’s think about this for a moment. Nozette had been secretly providing information to the Israeli government for close to 10 years, in violation of the security commitments he had repeatedly made to the US Government. So the investigators should have pretended to be representatives of Chinese intelligence? I think the choice of Israel made perfect sense–as Nozette’s welcoming response to the "Mossad" recruitment approach (detailed in the affidavit with verbatim transcripts) amply demonstrates. As for the case being "an unfairly selective sting aimed at Jews to test dual loyalty," it’s a bit difficult to see that. The case, rather than randomly targeting "Jews," appears to have very specifically targeted only Stewart David Nozette. The predication is hard to fault: Nozette, for up to 10 years had been working for and providing information to a foreign government which is known to conduct intelligence operations against the US–a fact which he concealed from his superiors in the US Government. One is at a loss to suggest what other course the Counterintelligence agencies should have taken in the circumstances. One also gets the rather sneaking suspicion that if Nozette had fulfilled the commitments he freely made to the US Government he’d be a free man today, and that his loyalty would never have been put to the test.