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By James Vicini
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A former U.S. government scientist was arrested on Monday for attempted espionage in an undercover operation with FBI agents posing as Israeli intelligence officers, the Justice Department said.
Stewart Nozette, 52, of Chevy Chase, Maryland, was charged with attempting to deliver classified national defence information to an individual he believed to be an Israeli intelligence officer.
In reality, it was an undercover FBI employee, the Justice Department said, adding that the criminal complaint does not allege that the government of Israel or anyone acting on its behalf committed any offence under U.S. laws in the case.
Nozette has worked for various government agencies, including the Department of Energy, the Department of Defence and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
He worked at the White House on the National Space Council in 1989 and 1990, developing a radar experiment that helped discover water on the south pole of the moon.
Nozette then worked at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory from 1990 to 1999, designing highly advanced technology.
He became president of the Alliance for Competitive Technology, a non-profit corporation where he had access to classified information.
According to court documents, Nozette was contacted by telephone on September 3 by an undercover FBI employee. Nozette met the agent that day and discussed his willingness to work for Israeli intelligence.
Nozette agreed to provide information to the employee and asked for an Israeli passport, according to FBI officials.
FBI agents asked Nozette to answer a list of questions about U.S. satellite information and also provided him $2,000 in cash, they said.
On September 16, Nozette was captured on videotape leaving a manila envelope in a designated post office box in Washington. The envelope contained answers to the list of questions, the officials said.
They said the FBI agents then asked Nozette to answer another list of questions about U.S. satellite information and left a cash payment of $9,000 in the post office box.
On October 1, Nozette was filmed leaving a manila envelope in the post office box. It contained classified information on U.S. satellites, early warning systems, means of defence or retaliation against large-scale attack, communications intelligence, and major elements of defence strategy, the officials said.
If convicted, Nozette faces up to life in prison.
(Editing by Philip Barbara)