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Couple indicted in nuclear weapons case
Question of the Day
A former scientist at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and his wife have been indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of communicating classified nuclear weapons data to a person they believed to be a Venezuelan government official and conspiring to participate in the development of an atomic weapon for Venezuela, the Justice Department said on Friday.
The 22-count indictment, handed up Friday in U.S. District in Albuquerque, N.M., named as defendants Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni, 75, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Argentina, and Marjorie Roxby Mascheroni, 67, a U.S. citizen, both of whom were arrested Friday morning by FBI agents. The indictment was announced by Assistant Attorney General David Kris, U.S. Attorney Kenneth J. Gonzales in New Mexico and Carol K.O. Lee, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Albuquerque division.
The indictment does not allege that the government of Venezuela or anyone acting on its behalf sought or was passed any classified information, nor does it charge any Venezuelan government officials or anyone acting on their behalf with wrongdoing. The indictment also does not charge anyone currently working at the Los Alamos National Laboratory with wrongdoing.
Federal prosecutors said Mr. Mascheroni, a physicist, worked as a scientist at LANL from 1979 to 1988 and held a security clearance that allowed him access to certain classified information, including “restricted data.” His wife worked at LANL between 1981 and 2010, where her duties included technical writing and editing. She also held a security clearance at LANL that allowed her access to certain classified information, including “restricted data.”
As defined under the Atomic Energy Act, “restricted data” is classified information concerning the design, manufacture or use of atomic weapons; the production of special nuclear material; or the use of special nuclear material in the production of energy.
The indictment charges the Mascheronis with conspiring to communicate and communicating “restricted data” with the intent to injure the United States and secure an advantage to a foreign nation. They are also charged with conspiring to and attempting to participate in the development of an atomic weapon, as well as conspiring to convey and conveying classified “restricted data.”
The indictment also charges Mr. Mascheroni with concealing and retaining U.S. records with the intent to convert them to his own use and gain, as well as six counts of making false statements. Mrs. Mascheroni is also charged with seven counts of making false statements.
“The conduct alleged in this indictment is serious and should serve as a warning to anyone who would consider compromising our nation’s nuclear secrets for profit,” said Mr. Kris. “I applaud the many agents, analysts and prosecutors who worked tirelessly to bring about this prosecution.”
According to the indictment, Mr. Mascheroni had a series of conversations in March 2008 with an undercover FBI agent posing as a Venezuelan government official. During these conversations, the indictment said Mr. Mascheroni discussed his program for developing nuclear weapons for Venezuela. It said that among other things, Mr. Mascheroni allegedly said he could help Venezuela develop a nuclear bomb within 10 years and that, under his program, Venezuela would use a secret, underground nuclear reactor to produce and enrich plutonium, and an open, above-ground reactor to produce nuclear energy. During these talks, according to the indictment, Mr. Mascheroni allegedly asked about obtaining Venezuelan citizenship and described how he expected to be paid for his classified nuclear work for Venezuela. It said he also told the undercover agent he should be addressed as “Luke,” and that he would set up an e-mail account solely to communicate with the undercover agent.
The indictment said Mr. Mascheroni later used this account to communicate with the agent and to arrange for deliveries of materials at a “dead drop” location, which was a post office box.
In July 2008, according to the indictment, the undercover agent provided Mr. Mascheroni with a list of 12 questions purportedly from Venezuelan military and scientific personnel. In response, it said, Mr. Mascheroni delivered to the dead drop location in November 2008 a disk with a coded 132-page document on it that allegedly contained “restricted data” related to nuclear weapons.
Written by Mr. Mascheroni and edited by his wife, the indictment said the document was entitled “A Deterrence Program for Venezuela” and laid out Mr. Mascheroni’s nuclear weapons development program for Venezuela. The indictment said Mr. Mascheroni stated that the information he was providing was worth millions of dollars, and his fee for producing the document was $793,000.
The indictment said that in June 2009, Mr. Mascheroni received from the dead drop location another list of questions, purportedly from Venezuelan officials, and $20,000 in cash from the undercover agent as a first payment. On his way to pick up these materials, it said he allegedly told his wife he was doing this work for the money and was not an American anymore.
In July 2009, according to the indictment, Mr. Mascheroni delivered to the dead drop location a disk that contained a 39-page document with answers to the questions. The indictment said the document was written by Mr. Mascheroni, edited by his wife and again contained “restricted data” related to nuclear weapons. In the document, the indictment said, Mr. Mascheroni allegedly reiterated that the information he had provided was classified and was based on his knowledge of U.S. nuclear tests that he had learned while working at LANL, but that he would state the document was based on open information found on the Internet if “our relationship/alliance does not work…”
In August 2009, the indictment said, Mr. Mascheroni and his wife met with the undercover agent at a hotel, where Mr. Mascheroni further discussed his nuclear weapons development program for Venezuela. Several months later, the indictment said, FBI agents questioned Mr. Mascheroni and his wife about the classified information Mr. Mascheroni had provided to the undercover agent, among other things. Both made a series of false statements in response, the indictment said.
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