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US scientist Stewart Nozette charged with trying to sell secrets to Israel

Stewart Nozette, a scientist who worked for NASA and had a top-level government security clearance, is charged with trying to sell US secrets to Israel after an FBI sting operation.

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Such suspicion is a byproduct of the Jonathan Pollard affair in the late 1980s, Melman believes. "They are looking at Israel's record of 40 years, in which Israel was regularly spying in America – in other words, the Pollard case wasn't an isolated one – and they won't believe that Israeli no longer spies on American soil or against Americans," he says.

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Mr. Pollard, a former American intelligence officer who was convicted in 1987 of spying for Israel, is serving a life sentence in a US prison. Though when he was arrested Israel denied he had spied for them, Israeli officials eventually gave Pollard citizenship and acknowledged in 1998 that he had been an Israeli asset.

Israel maintains that it has not conducted any spying activities in the US since the Pollard affair.

FBI traps

The FBI "has clearly tried to trap Israelis and Israeli diplomats, to see if they are really committed to the idea of not spying," says Melman.

Melman says that this climate of suspicion has been fed by the surfacing of other cases. In one last year, 85-year-old former army engineer Ben-ami Kadish was convicted of spying for Israel for 20 years during the same time when Pollard was active. Both Pollard and Kadish had the same handler, Yosef Yagur. Mr. Yagur had worked for the company that became IAI.

In 2006, Lawrence Franklin, a former defense department official, pled guilty to passing information about Iran to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the main pro-Israel lobby in the US.

Before the FBI cornered Nozette, he had quipped that if the US government ever tried to prosecute him for a criminal offense, he would go to Israel or another foreign country and "tell them everything" he knows, according to court papers that cite an unnamed colleague.

A former White House expert, Nozette had helped discover evidence of water on the moon, worked in various positions over the years for NASA and the US Department of Energy, and held security clearances considered top secret.

The court papers say that as part of the sting operation, an FBI agent contacted Nozette posing as a spy for the Mossad. When the scientist and undercover agent met later in the day at a hotel, Nozette told the agent he had access to much of what the "US has done in space." As part of the operation, he received an Israeli passport under an alias.