Why was Nozette targeted?

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

I was surprised at the paltry second day coverage of the strange case of Stewart Nozette, the Maryland space scientist arrested this week in an FBI sting operation in which he allegedly agreed to spy for Israel.


The reason coverage was thin, I suspect, is that this is a hard case to figure out. Was this entrapment, or were there good reasons for federal authorities to suspect Nozette was a national security danger?


There are still a lot of unanswered questions, but an AP story answers a few nagging ones – including why Nozette may have been targeted. (Thanks to Laura Rozen, who included the story in her excellent summary of the case so far in her Politico blog.)


According to the AP, “A law enforcement official familiar with the investigation said authorities became worried about possible espionage activity by Nozette after an investigation by NASA’s inspector general in 2006 began looking at whether Nozette submitted false claims for expenses that were not actually incurred.”


That might suggest there were solid reasons for looking at Nozette, and that it wasn’t just a fishing expedition hoping to lure people with Israel connections into criminal activity.


It strikes me that the Nozette affair may turn out to reveal the risky side of U.S.-Israel strategic cooperation. The two allies work closely together on a range of military projects, with significant interaction between U.S. and Israeli defense companies.


That may cause a lot of blurry lines when it comes to sharing sensitive information.


Nozette moonlighted as a consultant to a government owned Israeli aerospace company – since identified in the press as Israel Aircraft Industries. The FBI affidavit released yesterday said this: “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.”


Is that a normal part of “strategic cooperation?” Does that suggest situations that might be normal in defense circles but arouse suspicions in law enforcement and counterintelligence agencies?


I’m just asking.


There’s a lot here we just don’t know, which is probably why there was so little second-day coverage in today’s papers.

About the Author
Douglas M. Bloomfield is a syndicated columnist, Washington lobbyist and consultant. He spent nine years as the legislative director and chief lobbyist for AIPAC.