How could a top government scientist with clearance to view a dizzying range of Top Secret weapons and technology information simultaneously work for an aerospace firm owned by a foreign government?
The question is prompted by one of the more curious sections of the criminal complaint against Stewart Nozette, who is accused of passing classified information to a person he believed was an Israeli agent.
“It’s hard to imagine that there are many individuals who had a broader cross section of classified access — overhead reconnaissance, signals intelligence, space technology, and nuclear weapons,” secrecy expert Steven Aftergood told TPMmuckraker. “He was all over the place, probably because he was an exceptionally skilled and competent technologist,” says Aftergood, director of the Project on Government Secrecy of the Federation of American Scientists.
He was cleared to access even a “hyper-classified” program called Timber Wind, which aimed to develop a nuclear-fueled rocket engine.
And, yet, overlapping with the period he had Top Secret clearance, Nozette was a paid consultant for an aerospace company owned by the government of Israel, according to the criminal complaint. He answered questions for the firm once a month from November 1998 to January 2008 and was paid $225,000. Haaretz has identified the company as Israel Aerospace Industries, which has reportedly done extensive work with the US military. (IAI has not returned our calls.)
One might think that a man with as much access as Nozette might need authorization from superiors before signing on with IAI, or at least to notify them of his plans. But, Aftergood tells TPMmuckraker, that’s not how things work.
“The government doesn’t say you can’t work for a foreign company, you can’t travel to a foreign country, or similar restrictions. What they do say is, your non-disclosure agreement remains in effect and you are obliged to comply with it.” In other words, you can work for whomever you want, you just can’t reveal classified information.
However, Aftergood adds, Nozette’s moonlighting for IAI “might raise urgent questions for program security officers or counterintelligence officials.”
The AP has reported that authorities became concerned about Nozette in 2006, at the same time the NASA Inspector General was investigating his Maryland non-profit, through which Nozette was doing research for the government. Investigators “found indications” at that time that Nozette was working for a foreign government.
But it’s not clear if the AP report refers to Nozette’s work for IAI. After all, if authorities in 2006 thought the consulting for IAI was improper, why would they have let Nozette continue it through January 2008?
The complaint does not allege any wrongdoing when it comes to Nozette’s consulting for IAI. Indeed, it’s not entirely clear why the information is included, as it’s not directly relevant to the charges. Also not clear is at what point authorities knew Nozette had the IAI gig.
Ultimately, of course, the Feds selected Israel as the foreign country to use in their sting. According to the complaint, in Nozette’s September dealings with the phony Mossad agent, he remarked: “I thought I was working for you already. I mean that’s what I always thought, [the foreign company] was just a front.”
Finally, it’s worth noting that there is another, unnamed country in the complaint, to which Nozette allegedly brought thumb drives earlier this year. We’ve explained that the unnamed country may be India.
Here’s a timeline, drawn from allegations in the complaint, of Nozette’s clearance history:
1989 to 2006: Nozette held clearances as high as Top Secret.
1990 to 1999: He had Department of Energy “Q” clearance, a top secret level of access to nuclear materials information. This was while he was a physicist at the Advanced Concepts Group at the Lawerence Livermore National Laboratory.
1998 to 2004: Nozette stated that in this period he “held at least 20+ SAP [special access program clearances]…”
November 1998 to January 2008: Nozette works for Israeli government aerospace company.
January 2000 to February 2006: Nozette through his company worked to develop “highly advanced technology” at the US Naval Research Laboratory, the DOD’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in Virginia, and a NASA facility in Maryland.
March 17, 2006: Nozette is notified that his clearance is revoked and reminded that the nondisclosure agreements are still in effect.
He signed at least five nondisclosure agreements, including in 2002, 2004, and 2005 — all dates when he was well into his work with IAI.