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New documents presented in federal court in Washington, D.C. reveal deep ties (more than was known) between Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and Dr. Stewart David Nozette, an American astronomer accused of spying for Israel.

The media here covered his arrest on October 19, 2009 and then interest waned, though the American media are still monitoring the case.

Two attorneys in the counterespionage unit of the U.S. Department's of Justice National Security division, Deborah Curtis and Heather Schmidt, presented documents found on the scientist's computer. One document, titled "Proposed Operations for 2005-2006," referred to the need to carry out "a penetration of NASA," the U.S. space agency.

Another document, according to the prosecution, shows Nozette attempted to obtain highly confidential material by using his high-level security clearance and infiltrating other people's computers.

Other documents mention the names of Yossi Weiss and Yossi Fishman. Weiss is a former project manager and today the deputy CEO of IAI and head of the company's missile and space division. Fishman was the IAI's representative in the U.S. and is today the CEO of ODF Optronics.

Fishman told Haaretz he knew Nozette the way he knew other Americans employed by the IAI at the time as consultants. "We did not engage in any kind of spying activity or information gathering, perish the thought. The relationship was business as usual."

The IAI is not mentioned specifically by name in the documents. It is referred to as a foreign company or as a space company owned by the Israeli government." Background talks with administration officials indicate the references are indeed to IAI.

Unreported visits

The indictment and the documents indicate that Nozette was employed for nine years as an IAI consultant. Versions vary as to how much he was paid, from $170,000 to $225,000. His direct superior was Israel Aircraft Industries International, a U.S.-registered company.

The FBI searched Nozette's home and computer and found additional proof of his connection to Israel. He visited here several times, but did not report this - as is required by his high security clearance. The FBI confiscated letters he wrote to Israelis, reports he forwarded to the IAI, a map of Israel, photos of assorted places in Israel, a Hebrew-language catalog of archaeological artifacts and other items.

Nozette, 52, of Chevy Chase, Maryland, was arrested after FBI surveillance that included wiretapping and undercover photography. The operation followed the former astronomer's interrogation on suspicion of tax evasion and defrauding the U.S. government. Nozette worked out plea bargain with the Justice Department; he admitted to fraud and accepted a sentence of up to three years in jail, plus a fine of $265,000. His jail term would have started in November, but he was arrested on the new and more serious charge of espionage.

Nozette, who was born in Chicago, has Jewish parents but there is no evidence he ever went to synagogue or Jewish community centers. His neighbors said he was "a Zionist" but without evidence attesting to this. From a young age, his interest was science. He studied at the University of Arizona and earned a doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Immediately, in 1983, he went to work for U.S. agencies, including NASA, the Pentagon and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory near San Francisco, which focuses on nuclear weapons. By virtue of these positions, he enjoyed a very high security clearance. One of the important studies he participated in found water at the Moon's southern pole. Nozette subsequently left government work and set up a private company as a consultant to firms in India and the IAI. The latter continues to refuse, vehemently, to address this embarrassing episode, which apparently has not done damage to the company.

Nozette was not the only person employed by the company as a consultant. Over the years, the IAI as well as other Israeli defense-related industries operating in the U.S., such as Elbit and Rafael, hired as consultants dozens of Americans, mainly retired former army officers and senior officials.

Today as well, the IAI and its subsidiaries in the U.S. continue to do business there and to cultivate ties. It is rather clear to them, and this is indeed fairly routine business practice, that to obtain contracts and win grants from the U.S. administration, doors must be opened. For that, people with connections are needed to open those doors. This was one of Nozette's assignments. Against this backdrop he apparently tried (among other things) to help the "penetration" of NASA. IAI, which produces space missile launchers, satellites and other space technologies, hoped to win contracts and development grants and enter joint ventures.

While he was being investigated for fraud, Nozette told a friend he would be willing to work for the Mossad. This information, along with the fact that he was a consultant to the IAI, led the FBI to suspect Nozette of being a Mossad agent, or at least psychologically ready to be one. So a sting operation was set up. An FBI agent pretending to be a Mossad agent met with Nozette and asked him for information. Nozette reportedly agreed, supplied information and received $11,000. These contacts were documented.

The indictment does not mention Israel nor has the administration made any complaints. Nevertheless Israel since its establishment systematically conducted spying missions on U.S. soil - for around a quarter of a century. Primarily, it was nuclear and technological-military spying.

The Jonathan Pollard case brought an end to all spying activities; there is a clear directive from prime ministers, defense ministers, Military Intelligence chiefs and the Mossad on this matter. But the U.S. media and the administration officials have a hard time believing Israel on this subject, and the Nozette case does not contribute to clearing the atmosphere of suspicion regarding future intentions.