The arrest of a Maryland scientist in the latest case involving FBI stings aimed at individuals with connections to Israel has revived questions about whether the Justice Department is targeting Jews and the Jewish state.
The fact that the indictment of Stewart David Nozette, 52, a prominent space scientist and former Pentagon contractor, specifically noted that Israeli agencies were not involved did not stop bloggers and anti-Israel Web sites from trumpeting another “Israeli spy case” and citing it as proof that individuals with connections to Israel cannot be trusted with sensitive defense information.
“What I find troubling and perplexing is that our government seems only interested in investigating people who are connected to Israel,” said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. “It plays into the hands of those who say Jews or those connected to Israel are disloyal.”
Foxman said he doesn’t see similar attention being paid to “commercial espionage” by individuals working for Chinese, Russian, French or other concerns.
The Justice Department, another analyst said, is “always looking for the ‘next Pollard’” — a reference to Jonathan Pollard, who is serving a life sentence for spying for Israel.
Unlike in the Pollard case, the Nozette case does not involve allegations of Israeli government involvement.
The new indictment comes almost six months after the government dropped its botched case against two former employees of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), Steve Rosen and Keith Weissman, in a case critics said involved government entrapment. The two were charged with possessing government secrets and conveying them to Israeli officials, but critics said the case was mostly about the Bush administration’s excessive focus on secrecy.
Nozette was charged with attempting to “communicate, deliver and transmit United States national defense information to the government of the State of Israel.”
Details of the case against Nozette were revealed by the Justice Department on Monday, touching off a tsunami of headlines that seemed to link Israel to the case. But one critical detail was omitted: Why, exactly, was Nozette targeted?
An affidavit by FBI agent Leslie Martell, a counterintelligence officer in the FBI’s Washington field office, suggested it could be because for 10 years, from 1998 to 2008, Nozette “acted as a technical consultant for an aerospace company that was wholly owned by the Government of the State of Israel.” The company is Israel Aerospace Industries.
During that time, according to the affidavit, “the aerospace company requested that Nozette provide technical data. Approximately once a month, representatives of the aerospace company proposed questions, or taskings, to Nozette, and Nozette answered the aerospace company’s questions.”
In return, the FBI agent continued, “Nozette received regular payments from the company, totaling approximately $250,000.”
He also noted that early this year, Nozette traveled to a “different foreign country (foreign country A)” carrying portable thumb drives that he did not have on his return — and that he told a colleague that “if the United States government tried to ‘put him in jail’ (based on an unrelated criminal offense,) Nozette would move from the United States to Israel or foreign country A and ‘tell them everything’ he knows.”
That “unrelated criminal offense” was not specified in the affidavit, but in 2006 the Washington Times reported that federal officials were investigating the financial dealings of a nonprofit — the Alliance for Competitive Technology — that Nozette ran.
In early September, Nozette was contacted “by an individual purporting to be an Israeli intelligence officer, but who was, in fact, an undercover employee of the FBI.”
At a meeting in a hotel restaurant, Nozette indicated a “willingness to work for Israeli intelligence.”
As the meeting continued, Nozette allegedly indicated that he wanted money to provide information about U.S. satellite technology.
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And, bizarrely, Nozette said, “I don’t get recruited by Mossad every day. I knew this day would come … I knew you guys would show up.” They did show up — but it was an FBI sting, not Israeli spies.
None of the information released by the Justice Department indicates whether Nozette himself is Jewish. But in the affidavit he allegedly requested an Israeli passport and said “My parents are Jewish, right … so I … theoretically have the right of return.”
And he demanded that if he was brought to Israel, it must be on business class. “I always fly business class,” he allegedly said. “Have them pay for business class.”
Later the FBI sent Nozette a letter via a “dead drop” facility asking a series of questions about U.S. satellite technology, along with a $2,000 payment; a week later, agents retrieved a sealed envelope with his answers.
One of those answers contained classified information, the affidavit alleges. In addition, “Nozette offered to reveal additional classified information that directly concerned nuclear weaponry, military spacecraft or satellites and other major weapons systems.”
Nozette, who worked on the Reagan- era Strategic Defense Initiative, the controversial, high-tech missile-defense shield, is regarded as the scientist who discovered water on the moon.
Shoshana Bryen, senior director for security policy at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), said that while she is “troubled” that inaccurate reports of an Israeli spy operation have already been splashed across the Internet, her biggest disappointment is with Nozette — if the allegations are proven.
The reasons behind the FBI investigation “matter less, in the broader scheme of things, than the fact that this guy didn’t say ‘get out of here, this is offensive’ when he was asked to spy,” she said.
“Yes, it’s possible the FBI targeted him because they thought he was Jewish, or because he had worked for an Israeli company,” Bryen continued. “That’s possible, but it doesn’t change the fact his answer should have been “you’re out of your mind, get out of here.”
Cases like this, she said, inevitably make things more difficult for the many Jews in sensitive defense and intelligence jobs.
The impact will be multiplied by the bloggers, activists and conspiracy theorists who are already citing the Nozette case as yet another example of Jewish dual loyalty, she said.
“There’s no suggestion the Israel government did anything here, but people with their own agendas will say and do what they want,” she said. “And many of them are saying this is about an ‘Israeli’ spy. That should be worrisome to all Americans and to friends of Israel.”
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