The arrest by the FBI of American space scientist Stewart David Nozette for espionage on Monday has cast a shadow over India’s Chandrayaan-I mission that successfully located water on the moon’s surface recently.
Although ISRO has distanced itself from Nozette and has dismissed the arrest as NASA’s internal matter, there is evidence that the scientist, who was spying for the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, was closely involved with India’s moon mission.
A Maryland scientist, Nozette worked for the US defence department, a White House space council and other agencies. He was arrested on charges of passing on classified information to an undercover FBI agent he believed was an Israeli intelligence officer. He was charged in a criminal complaint with attempting to communicate, deliver and transmit classified information. But the complaint does not allege that the government of Israel or anyone acting on its behalf violated US law. According to ISRO officials, Nozette did not compromise any secrets related to Chandrayaan-I whose primary objective was to locate the presence of water on the moon. But that can be verified and ascertained only if the Centre instituted an intensive and extensive enquiry into how closely involved Nozette was with ISRO scientists working on the moon mission.
It would be erroneous to assume that Chandrayaan-1 is the only ISRO-NASA collaboration. The two space agencies have signed agreements for exploring and using outer space for peaceful purposes. Their areas of cooperation include earth sciences, observation and monitoring, space science, exploration systems and space operations. Incidentally, in April, ISRO launched an Israeli satellite RISAT for radar imaging satellite, largely believed to be a spy satellite.
ISRO spokesperson S Satish said that no information from ISRO has been compromised. “He had visited our Bangalore facilities a couple of times. But we followed all security protocols required, as he was a foreigner and he was not allowed access to any of our critical facilities,” he said.