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No bail for federal scientist accused of spying

A federal space exploration scientist accused of seeking $2 million in exchange for secrets will be held without bond until trial, a judge rules.
Image: Stewart Nozette
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.AFP-Getty Images file
/ Source: The Associated Press

A judge on Thursday ordered a U.S. space exploration scientist accused of attempted espionage to stay behind bars, after prosecutors said he claimed to have passed secrets to Israel.

Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson decided there was too much of a flight risk for Stewart Nozette, 52, to be free while he awaits trial.

Nozette pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted espionage. He is accused of seeking $2 million for selling secrets to an undercover FBI agent posing as an Israeli intelligence officer. The Justice Department could seek the death penalty.

At the hearing, prosecutor Anthony Asuncion said Nozette told the agent he had passed classified information to Israel in the past. Nozette is not charged with doing so.

Nozette was arrested last week.

In court papers filed ahead of Thursday's detention hearing, prosecutors say Nozette asked for $2 million to share what he knew about top-secret government programs.

They also say he kept a stash of gold Krugerrand coins worth tens of thousands of dollars in a safe deposit box in California — more evidence, they say, of his risk of flight.

His lawyer, John Kiyonaga, filed papers urging Nozette be released.

"Never having actually dealt with a foreign intelligence service, he lacks any demonstrable connection to the resources presumably available to such an entity for moving people covertly between countries," the lawyer wrote.

In decades of government work on various science and space projects, Nozette had high-level security clearances. He was known primarily as a defense technologist who had worked on the Reagan-era Star Wars missile shield effort formally named the Strategic Defense Initiative.

Authorities do not charge Nozette passed any classified information to the Israeli government. The charges against him, though, suggest he thought he had.

According to prosecutors, Nozette was paid more than $200,000 by a company that was wholly owned by the Israeli government, and spoke to them regularly.

During one of his secretly recorded conversations with the undercover FBI agent posing as an Israeli intelligence officer, Nozette said: "I thought I was working for you already. I mean, that's what I always thought, (the foreign company) was just a front."