updated 10/27/2009 11:53:21 AM ET 2009-10-27T15:53:21

Scientists familiar with the work of a former Los Alamos National Laboratory nuclear physicist whose house was searched by the FBI said he is not a spy.

Hugh DeWitt, a retired physicist from Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California, called the FBI action against scientist P. Leonardo Mascheroni foolish.

"The FBI action is stupid and foolish and misguided and utterly wrong," said DeWitt, a retired physicist who was a lecturer in the physics department at the University of California, Berkeley when Mascheroni was a doctoral student there.

"There's nothing classified or secret in this at all. His files are big papers, letters and mission statements. There's nothing whatever that would endanger national security," he said.

An FBI spokesman has confirmed the agency is pursuing an investigation but declined further comment Monday.

Mascheroni has insisted the U.S. government is wrongly targeting him. His home was searched Oct. 19, with the FBI seizing computers, letters, photographs, books and cell phones. No charges have been filed.

Mascheroni believes the FBI is investigating after he gave a CD containing what he called unclassified information to a man claiming to represent Venezuela.

He said he approached Venezuela only after the United States rejected his theories that support a hydrogen-fluoride laser to produce nuclear energy.

He said he hoped the information would persuade Venezuela not to go forward with a nuclear weapons program.

He was paid $20,000 for the work by a man he believed represented the Venezuelan government. Mascheroni never spent the money, which he said was recovered by the FBI.

Greg Mello, head of the lab watchdog Los Alamos Study Group, said he met Mascheroni several times during the 1990s.

"He believes physics has great promise for humanity and he thinks that that promise has been derailed by politics and institutional greed," Mello said. "He wants it set right and he wants to be part of what sets it right."

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