Nozette spy FBI 248 88.
(photo credit: Screenshot from NASA's Web site)
US prosecutors accused an alleged American spy of having passed on secrets to Israel during a hearing Thursday which saw the defendant held without bond over concerns he would flee.
The former US scientist, 52-year-old Stewart Nozette, was arraigned last week in a sting operation in which Nozette allegedly sold classified information to an undercover FBI agent posing as a Mossad contact.
In the hearing in US District Court Thursday, the prosecution went further in alleging that before the FBI set-up, Nozette had claimed to have already actually transmitted information to Israel.
"He told the agent that he had indeed communicated classified information," prosecutor Anthony Asuncion said. "He had admitted to the agent actual espionage."
During the hearing, Asuncion played video excerpts of an undercover sting operation against Nozette in which the scientist lounges on a hotel room couch, discussing the possibility of having to flee the country if he came under scrutiny from US officials.
Nozette looked starkly different as he sat in court Thursday. Wearing baggy, black-and-white striped jail clothes, he stared passively as the screen showed him eating and laughing with the undercover agent.
Nozette's lawyer, John Kiyonaga, said there was no basis for that accusation, and noted the government's charges don't contain any such allegations.
He also argued the video recordings shown in court were misleading because they left out significant parts of a longer conversation.
Israeli officials have repeatedly pointed out that the case involves no accusations of Israeli wrongdoing, and at the time of Nozette's arrest 10 days ago several stressed they had found out about the situation through the media.
At Thursday's hearing, the prosecution succeeded in convincing Magistrate Judge Deborah Robinson that Nozette was a sufficient flight risk, and had enough important information, to be held without bond.
Nozette, a Maryland resident, pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted espionage, following his arrest last week. 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.
Nozette had high-level security clearances during decades of government work on science and space projects. 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.
Because he knows so many secrets, including about the nation's nuclear missile program, Attorney General Eric Holder has ordered special communications restrictions placed on him while he is in jail, authorities said.
"The defendant is himself a walking safe deposit box of classified information," said prosecutor Anthony Asuncion. "He is now a treasure trove of some of our most sensitive matters."
According to prosecutors, Nozette was paid more than $225,000 by a company that was wholly owned by the Israeli government and spoke to them regularly. In court Thursday, Kiyonaga identified the company as Israel Aircraft Industries. IAI officials in Israel had already acknowledged they were the company connected to Nozette.
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."
Prosecutors also say Nozette 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.