POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Aug 11, 2010
The Cold War ended nearly two decades ago, but some nations persist in trying to obtain classified military and scientific information from the United States, even though the rules against it remain the same. A federal jury has sent a forceful warning in convicting a former B-2 bomber engineer living on Maui of selling stealth information to China.
The recent arrest and swapping of members of a Russian gang that couldn't spy straight in return for several alleged U.S. agents who had been jailed by the Kremlin brought chuckles around the world. The case of Noshir Gowadia, 66, an India-born U.S. citizen living on Maui, is a much more serious example of today's foreign attempts to acquire protected knowledge.
Gowadia came to the United States to complete postgraduate work in the 1960s and worked for 18 years at Northrop Corp., now called Northrop Grumman Corp., helping develop a special propulsion system. He resigned from Northrop because of health reasons in 1986, two years before the unveiling of the B-2 Spirit -- or "Stealth" -- bomber.
Gowadia was accused of helping China with its cruise missile system by developing a stealth exhaust nozzle, making a PowerPoint demonstration and evaluating the nozzle's effectiveness.
His attorneys maintained that the information he passed on to the Chinese was unclassified and available. That will be the thrust of the appeal of his conviction.
He was paid at least $110,000 for his help, which he may have needed to pay $15,000 a month for a mortgage on a million-dollar ocean-view home he built on Maui's north shore.
Charlene Thornton, head of the FBI's Honolulu office, said the agency "will continue to pursue anyone who treats America's national security as a commodity to be sold for personal enrichment."
The conviction is the latest in what has been a series of prosecutions in cases of classified U.S. technology ending up in the hands of the People's Republic of China.
Chinese-born engineers Dongfan "Greg" Chung and Chi Mak who had been working in America are the most recent culprits. Chung was sentenced in March to more than 15 years in prison for economic espionage. Mak is serving 24 years in prison for his conviction in 2007 of conspiring to export U.S. defense technology to China.
The convictions are a government recovery from an aggressive misstep against Wen Ho Lee, a nuclear scientist who was fired in 1999 from his job at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico after being accused of passing on nuclear secrets to China. He finally pleaded guilty to a single count of illegally gathering and retaining national security data. The judge apologized to Lee, who later received more than $1.6 million from the federal government and media organizations.
Gowadia has spent the last five years behind bars awaiting trial and could remain there for the rest of his life for placing classified U.S. defense information into Chinese hands. Fortunately, if this tenacious case against Gowadia is an example, federal agencies appear poised to detect and respond accordingly to future secretive threats from abroad.