The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has arrested on espionage charge a U.S. scientist who visited India several times and worked on Chandrayaan-I.
Stewart David Nozette allegedly had links with an Israeli defence company for a decade and was paid for replying to their queries, prompting the FBI to lure him with an undercover agent posing as an Israeli intelligence officer.
Dr. Nozette, a frequent visitor to India, was playing a prominent role in the India-U.S. space collaboration that began under the Next Steps in Strategic Partnership (NSSP) agreement in 2004 to expand cooperation in civilian nuclear and space programmes and high-technology trade. In particular, he was the “co-investigator” of a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) instrument on Chandrayaan-I, recalls NDTV’s Science Editor Pallava Bagla, who interviewed the senior scientist in Bangalore last year.
The scientist has had access to the White House space centre, several NASA projects and even worked on Ronald Reagan’s Star Wars concept. “He is a well-known man and was involved in NASA instrument MiniSar, which was to search for water on lunar poles,” Mr. Bagla said.
The MiniSar was one of the two NASA instruments on Chandrayaan, and its operational results are not in the public domain.
Earlier, an India-U.S. collaboration on cyber security soured after proximity between a U.S. official and her Indian colleagues led to the spiriting away of sensitive data from an intelligence-related establishment.
The FBI complaint does not allege that the Israeli government or anyone acting on its behalf violated U.S. laws. However, American newspapers, claiming access to court papers, have alleged that Dr. Nozette acted as a technical consultant for an unnamed aerospace firm owned by the Israeli government. From 1998 through 2008, the scientist “answered the company’s questions and in return, he received regular payments from the company.”
The FBI further said the Israeli company paid Dr. Nozette $2,25,000 during that span.
The FBI came into the picture on September 3. Dr. Nozette received a telephone call from an individual purporting to be an Israeli intelligence officer but was actually an undercover FBI agent. The scientist was taken into custody after he answered a set of questions and accepted pre-marked currency notes.