Image: Stewart Nozette
AFP - Getty Images file
Stewart Nozette, middle, and Paul Spudis, then both of the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory, hold a photo of the moon's south pole at a Dec. 3, 1996 press briefing at the Pentagon. At left is Col. Pedro Ruston, then director of the National Reconnaissance Office's Small Satellite Program.
updated 10/20/2009 2:59:40 PM ET 2009-10-20T18:59:40

A scientist who allegedly tried to sell classified secrets to Israel had worked on the U.S. government's Star Wars missile shield program, and the Justice Department declared Tuesday that he had tried to share some of the nation's most guarded secrets.

Arrested in an FBI sting operation, Stewart David Nozette was jailed without bond and accused in a criminal complaint of two counts of attempting to communicate, deliver and transmit classified information.

A former colleague of Nozette says the scientist worked on the Reagan administration's Star Wars missile shield program.

In an interview, Scott Hubbard said that the scientist arrested in an FBI sting, Stewart David Nozette, was primarily a technical defense expert working on the Reagan-era 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.

Security clearance
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 to information specifically relating to atomic or nuclear-related materials.

Nozette more recently developed the Clementine bi-static radar experiment that is credited with discovering water on the south pole of the moon. A leader in recent lunar exploration work, Nozette was arrested Monday and charged in a criminal complaint with attempting to communicate, deliver and transmit classified information, the Justice Department said.

Hubbard said that the Clementine project Nozette worked on in the 1990s was essentially a non-military application of Star Wars technology. Nozette also worked for the White House's National Space Council in 1989 and 1990.

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Video: NASA scientist accused of being a spy

  1. Closed captioning of: NASA scientist accused of being a spy

    >> new york. david , a nasa scientist has allegedly been caught trying to spy for a foreign country . 52-year-old stewart david nozette, a former scientist government credited with helping discover water on the moon was arrested. he's charged with trying to pass information to a man he thought was an israeli intelligence officer. nbc news justice correspondent pete williams joins us live.

    >> it's a fairly standard sting case, i guess you could say. the allegation here is that he met a couple of times with this man who claimed to be an agent of the israeli intelligence operation and said he would try to remember classified secrets about u.s. satellite systems in return for money. according to court documents the under cover agent said is there something we can do for you. he said, yes, you can pay me. a couple of times they would put questions in to a post office box here in washington. he would take questions out, answer them, the man posing as an israeli official would put money. know ze nozette would take the money. he had been in essence a consultant to an israeli aircraft agency owned entirely by the israeli government for which he had been paid $225,000. so it would seem that that's what got the u.s. interested in him in the first place. that he was providing sensitive information to the israelis for quite a long time before they trapped him up in this sting.

    >> pete, i love that you called it a standard sting. i guess as standard as any spy sting involving a nasa employee could be. you don't see that every day. nonetheless, what else do we know about his background?

    >> well, he'd been a government scientist. not just nasa but also the department of energy , department of defense . he'd worked on all sorts of radars. he was a specialist in satellite systems. he was a specialist, the government says, in top secret programs. and that is the allegation that is the essence of the government complaint here. that he was passing to this man posing as an israeli agent information about government programs that was classified secret or top secret . that's why they've charged him with attempted espionage.

    >> nbc news justice correspondent, thank you very much, pete williams . david , intrigue there for sure.


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