Every few months or so Washington seems to witness a spy scandal. The most recent one concerned Cuba and had a rather old-fashioned flavor. The alleged spies for Cuba-Walter and Gwendolyn Myers-actually seemed to be enthusiastic fans of Fidel Castro's communist paradise rather than simply in it for the money. The case of Stewart D. Nozette appears to conform to the more modern entrepreneurial type. According to ABC News, Nozette told the undercover FBI agents he thought were Israeli representatives, "Cash is fine . . . [I know] how to handle cash . . . you buy consumables . . . cash is good for anything . . . you can eat it, drink it or screw it."
On Monday, Nozette was arrested at the Mayflower Hotel by FBI agents and charged with trying to sell classified information to Israel. Nozette is a gifted scientist who boasts a glittering resume. He worked, among other places, on the Strategic Defense Initiative, at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and the White House National Space Council during the George H. W. Bush presidency. And as president of the Alliance for Competitive Technology, he continued to enjoy high-level security clearances. Federal prosecutors say that they are targeting Nozette, not the Israeli government. But the case is bound to raise further questions about Israeli spying in the United States.
Nozette may have been a good scientist, but he appears to have been a bad spy. He was unquestionably reckless. In 2007, federal agents searched his offices, prompting him to tell colleagues that he would reveal everything he knows, the Washington Post reports, if charged with a crime. The Post further says that Nozette worked as a "technical consultant for an unnamed aerospace firm that the Israeli government owned." It is this work that could produce complications for the Israeli government. Was Nozette already providing Israel with secret information in his capacity as a technical consultant?
He was paid $225,000 from 1998-2008 for his services as a consultant. This alone is now bound to serve as a red flag for critics of Israel, let alone the conspiracy-minded. With both the Jonathan Pollard affair and the more recent case of former-Pentagon employee Lawrence Franklin lurking in the background, there is already plenty of fodder for those convinced that Israel and America's interests are inimical and that American Jews are guilty, by definition, of dual loyalty. Franklin is a PR headache by remaining so visible in such a nutty way, just as Nozette is a nuisance because even if he wasn't spying for Israel, it still gets the blame for his activities. But in this regard, Nozette's avarice may be something of a good thing. It would offer a clear and simple explanation for his alleged traitorous behavior that has nothing to do with a belief in Zionism or the Jewish state. Still, there is the matter of the Israeli passport that Nozette asked for from his FBI handlers . . .
So the Nozette case will probably never be settled to the satisfaction of Israel's adversaries. Instead, a new round of finger-pointing at the Jewish state is surely in the offing. Whether there is much to point at, however, will become clearer in the next few days. With high-level talks taking place in Vienna on Iran's nuclear program and Washington convulsed by a debate over Afghanistan, the Nozette case couldn't have come at a better time for Israel. With any luck, it will quickly disappear from the headlines-at least until the next Israeli spy case pops up.
Jacob Heilbrunn is a senior editor at The National Interest.