WASHINGTON - A former government space scientist pleaded guilty yesterday to one count of attempted espionage for trying to sell classified information to an undercover FBI agent posing as an Israeli spy.
During an appearance in federal court, Stewart David Nozette admitted that he tried to provide Israel with top secret information about satellites, early warning systems, ways of retaliating against large-scale attack, communications intelligence information, and major elements of defense strategy.
Both the Justice Department and Nozette’s lawyers have agreed to a sentence of 13 years in prison, with credit for two years Nozette has already spent behind bars. US District Judge Paul Friedman said he was prepared to accept the deal, pending Nozette’s cooperation with prosecutors, a procedure expected to last into November.
In court, Nozette said he understood the charge to which he was pleading. He could have been sentenced to death had he been convicted of all four counts of attempted espionage.
Before his arrest, Nozette told an undercover FBI agent in the sting operation on Oct. 19, 2009, that the information he was passing to Israel had cost the US government anywhere from $200 million to almost $1 billion to develop, according to newly filed court papers.
In the Oct. 19 conversation at the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington, Nozette told the undercover agent that “I’ve crossed the Rubicon . . . I’ve made a career choice.’’
Nozette had high-level security clearances during decades of government work on projects at NASA, the Energy Department, and the National Space Council in President George H.W. Bush’s White House. He has a doctorate in planetary sciences from MIT and was known primarily as a defense technologist who had worked on the Reagan-era missile defense shield effort.