Whatever the truth, the FBI's arrest of Stewart David Nozette in Washington Monday on charges of spying for Israel is bad news. It will provide fodder for enemies of this country and cause them to hope that the energies of the pro-Israel community will be diverted, dissipated or delegitimized. It will bolster anti-Zionist extremists across the political spectrum who promulgate the canard that Jewish Americans are guilty of dual loyalty. And though there is no evidence whatsoever that Israeli intelligence had any connection to Nozette, the arrest will reinforce the slander about Israeli spying in the US.
NOZETTE, BY all accounts, is an odd genius. He holds a PhD in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It was his expertise - radar that can penetrate through earth and rocks - that helped establish the presence of water on the south pole of the moon.
The 52-year-old Maryland resident has a stunning resume, having worked for the US Energy Department's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Goddard Space Flight Center, and even the White House.
Nozette had high security clearance, gaining him access to top-secret material.
After he left full-time government service, he became a paid consultant to a defense/aerospace company in Israel - some speculate Israel Aircraft Industries - between 1998 and 2008, accruing over $225,000 in fees.
Was it this work that aroused suspicions in the American counterintelligence community? Did they suspect that Nozette was divulging secrets about the technology US spy satellites utilized to "see" sensitive security locations in Israel - or, perhaps, with whom the US was sharing this data?
In reality, there is no evidence that Nozette crossed the line in his consultancy work by giving the Israeli firm data that was top-secret.
Left unsaid amid the barrage of news coverage concerning the arrest is the simple truth that the US does spy on Israel and - who knows - maybe withholds information it is morally bound to share.
At any rate, in January of this year, Nozette left the US carrying computer disks, content unknown, that American counterespionage apparently believes were turned over to someone while he was abroad.
Perhaps because the FBI didn't have proof of any of its suspicions - let alone hard evidence that would stand up in court - the decision was made to entrap him.
Or was the case ignited by a weird comment Nozette was reported by a colleague to have made, that he would travel to Israel or some another country and "tell them everything he knows" were he ever arrested - presumably for a crime having nothing to do with espionage?
Whatever the impetus, on September 3, Nozette received a phone call from an FBI man identifying himself as an Israeli secret agent. It seems incredible, but within days, Nozette - long retired from the US government - was duped into delivering envelopes containing supposedly sensitive materials about American intelligence capabilities.
NOZETTE IS said to be Jewish. It's plain, however, that neither ideology nor ethnicity served as a catalyst for his alleged treason.
"Don't expect me to do this for free," he told the FBI agent posing as a Mossad operative.
At another point he said, "I thought I was working for you already," referring to the the payments he had previously received for his consultancy work.
In the words of Channing D. Phillips, acting US attorney for the District of Columbia: "This case reflects our firm resolve to hold accountable any individual who betrays the public trust by compromising our national security for his or her own personal gain."
SOME WILL see this case as part of an ongoing vendetta by US counterespionage against Israel - contributing to an overzealousness that has seen some of its cases thrown out of court. The feud purportedly stems from a conviction in Washington that an Israeli "super mole" infiltrated the US government and that until Jerusalem admits this and makes amends, the witch-hunts will go on.
But Israel's position since the 1984 Pollard affair is that it does not spy on the United States.
The Nozette case only reinforces the need to adhere strictly to this promise and not to let anything undermine the special relationship between our two countries.