US couple accused of trying to sell N-secrets to Venezuela

US couple accused of trying to sell N-secrets to Venezuela

FBI sting operation exposes atom bomb plot by physicist and wife

US couple accused of trying to sell N-secrets to Venezuela

The arrests of P Leonardo Mascheroni and Marjorie Roxby Mascheroni and a 22-count indictment came after a sting operation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation from 2008 to 2009. A raid on the couple’s home in Los Alamos last October hauled away cameras, computers and hundreds of files.

“If I were a real spy,” Dr Mascheroni told a reporter at the time, declaring his innocence, “I would have left the country a long time ago.” After their arrests on Friday, the couple appeared in federal court in Albuquerque. They were charged with handing over secret weapons information to an FBI agent posing as a Venezuelan spy. The government did not accuse the Venezuelan government, or anyone working for it, of seeking weapons secrets.

Uranium hunt

Venezuela has begun exploring for uranium, but its president, Hugo Chavez, has denied interest in developing nuclear arms.

The defendants, if convicted of all the charges, face potential life sentences in prison. Dr Mascheroni worked for Los Alamos, the nuclear laboratory, from 1979 to 1988, and his wife from 1981 until the raid on their home last year.

Dr Mascheroni has long criticised the government’s nuclear policies as misguided and has repeatedly accused federal agents of harassing him for his views.

“Leo is a gullible nut,” said Hugh E DeWitt, a California physicist, in a telephone interview on Friday. He knows Dr Mascheroni and had testified before a grand jury. “He is a nut, but he has dug his own grave,” Dr DeWitt said.

The indictment says that Dr Mascheroni, 75, a naturalised citizen from Argentina, and Mascheroni, 67, an American citizen, handed over weapons secrets in exchange for $20,000 in cash and the promise of nearly $8,00,000 in all.

“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,” David Kris, the assistant attorney general for national security, said.

Dr Mascheroni told an undercover agent in March 2008, that he could help Venezuela develop a nuclear bomb within 10 years.