A scientist credited with helping discover water on the moon has been charged with trying to sell classified information to Israel, according to the Justice Department.
Stewart Nozette, who worked at NASA, the Pentagon and the Energy Department until he left government service three years ago, was arrested on Monday and charged with espionage.
He is expected to appear in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Tuesday. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The 52-year-old allegedly met with an FBI agent posing as an Israeli intelligence officer at a hotel in D.C. on Sept. 3. During the meeting, Nozette expressed willingness to work as a spy, and agreed "to provide regular, continuing information" through a communication system with the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency.
Nozette met with the undercover agent the next day at the same hotel. In their second meeting, the scientist explained that although he no longer held top security clearances at a government facility, he could still remember the classified data to which he previously had access. He also asked when he should expect his first payment, and made clear that he would like them in cash installments of "under ten thousand."
On Sept. 10, federal agents left a letter with questions about U.S. satellite information in a post office box for Nozette to retrieve. The letter included $2,000 in payment. Six days later, the scientist was recorded on video leaving a manila envelope in the designated post office box. The document he left contained answers to the questions, including secret information about a prototype overhead collection system. Nozette also left an encrypted computer thumb drive, and offered to provide classified data about nuclear weapons and military spacecraft.
Federal agents left another questionnaire for Nozette the next day in the post office box. They included $9,000 in their second letter, which Nozette answered on Oct. 1 with top secret and secret information about how the United States would respond to large-scale attacks, and early warning systems to detect these attacks.
Nozette held security clearances as high as Top Secret from 1989 to 2006, when he successively worked at the White House on the National Space Council, the Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in D.C., the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in Arlington, and at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
A doctoral graduate of the the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Nozette developed radar technology that is said to have led to the discovery of water on the south pole of the moon. He was part of the team of scientists of NASA's Miniature Radio Frequency (Mini-RF) project, a program to fly radar instruments to the moon in search of water ice and to map the lunar poles.