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ISRO Clams Up on Spy Case, Declares Nozette Info “Classified”

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
October 22, 2009
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Accused spy Stewart David Nozette in India.

Accused spy Stewart David Nozette in India.

The Indian space agency has began to clam up about accused spy’s Stewart David Nozette’s visits to the country as part of his work on the Chandrayaan-1 lunar probe. The Deccan Herald reports that ISRO is now stonewalling requests for more information:

When contacted, agency spokesperson S Satish said: “I have consulted the concerned department but that information cannot be divulged as it is classified.”

The silence comes amid speculation that India is the “Country A” named in the government’s indictment against Nozette. Although Nozette was arrested for allegedly trying to sell secrets to an undercover FBI agent posing as a representative of the Mossad, there are suspicions that he might have been already spying for “Country A.”

In its indictment, the Justice Department claims that Nozette left the United States for the unnamed country with two thumb drives in his possession that could not be found when he was searched upon his return. The trip occurred in January at a time when there was a lot of activity on the Chandrayaan-1 project. Nozette was a co-investigator on one of two instruments that NASA supplied for ISRO’s orbiter.

ISRO had previously confirmed that Nozette had visited its facilities twice but says that he had no access to classified areas. However, the exact timing of his visits there have not been publicly nailed down.

The indictment doesn’t allege any crimes regarding the January trip, but its inclusion certainly raises questions. The document also claims that prior to the trip, Nozette told if the United States brought charges against him on an unrelated NASA investigation, he would flee to Israel or Country A and “tell them everything” he knew.

The Deccan Herald asks the obvious question about ISRO’s sudden silence on the case:

What makes ISRO now say that Nozette’s visit is classified when he was present at the time the Chandrayaan-I moon mission was launched?

So far, there’s no answer from ISRO. The space agency was already under fire for its handling of the Chandrayaan-1 mission, which failed after only 10 months in orbit.  There was widespread criticism of ISRO’s failure to fully disclose problems aboard the lunar orbiter that had begun shortly after launch.

In fairness, the Indian government might be acting at the behest of the U.S. Justice Department, which is not revealing the identity of the unnamed country. But, if it’s not India that’s under suspicion, then why not say so?