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When Is “Israeli Espionage” Not Israeli Espionage?

How about when it was not actually solicited by Israel? Most of the media have reported the Stewart Nozette case responsibly enough. The FBI arrested him yesterday in a sting operation in which an FBI agent impersonated a member of Mossad and asked Nozette to sell American secrets. Nozette, a sometime scientist for the U.S. government, has had high-level clearances in the past. Israel’s spy agency was selected for the impersonation in part because Nozette was a contractor for Israel Aerospace Industries and would find that approach credible. Nozette had reportedly also told a colleague that he would sell secrets to Israel or another unnamed country in certain circumstances. The FBI affirmed on Monday that Israel had not broken any U.S. laws. Indeed, the suspicious overseas trip taken by Nozette in January, which set the FBI’s operation in motion, was not to Israel but to another unnamed country.

So why is Marc Ambinder looking for clues about what information the Israelis might have been targeting? It is not apparent that the Israelis were targeting anything. This was a sting operation, not the interdiction of espionage solicited by a foreign government. The FBI affidavit alleges no act of targeting Nozette or his information by a foreign spy agency. Nozette’s own behavior was what alerted the FBI to his potential susceptibility. Anyone who has had clearances has secrets to sell, but nothing in this episode indicates that the Israelis were looking for the particular ones Nozette has.

Nozette will probably deserve whatever he gets. But let’s wait until espionage involves actual evidence of initiation by a foreign government — as with Cuban spies in the State Department, Chinese spies in an NSA facility in Hawaii, and cyber-espionage by Russia and China against the U.S. power grid — before attributing interests to that government in a specific incident.



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