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Former Contractors Indicted For Leaking U.S. Nuclear Secrets

Man and wife who worked at Los Alamos National Labs allegedly tried to sell secrets to FBI agent posing as Venezuelan official

The Justice Department today announced that a scientist and his wife, who both previously worked as contractors at the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL), have been indicted on charges of communicating classified nuclear weapons data to a person they believed to be a Venezuelan government official. The 22-count indictment was filed against Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni, 75, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Argentina, and Marjorie Roxby Mascheroni, 67, a U.S. citizen. Both were arrested by FBI agents this morning and made their initial appearance in federal court in Albuquerque today. If convicted of all the charges in the indictment, the defendants face a potential sentence of life in prison. The indictment does not allege any wrongdoing by the government of Venezuela or anyone currently working at Los Alamos National Lab. Mascheroni, a Ph.D. 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 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 defendants with communicating Restricted Data to an individual 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 conveying Restricted Data.

The indictment further charges 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. Roxby Mascheroni is also charged with seven counts of making false statements. "Employees at the Los Alamos National Laboratory who have access to Restricted Data are charged with safeguarding that sensitive information, even after they leave the lab," said Kenneth Gonzales, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico. According to the indictment, Mascheroni had a series of conversations in March 2008 with an undercover FBI agent posing as a Venezuelan government official. During these conversations, Mascheroni discussed his program for developing nuclear weapons for Venezuela. During these talks, Mascheroni allegedly asked about obtaining Venezuelan citizenship and described how he expected to be paid for his classified nuclear work for Venezuela. He also set up an email account solely to communicate with the undercover agent. 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 2009, Mascheroni allegedly delivered to the dead drop location a disk that contained a 39-page document in which he stated that the information he had provided in an earlier drop was classified and was based on his knowledge of U.S. nuclear tests that he had learned while working at LANL. In August 2009, the indictment alleges, Mascheroni and his wife met with the undercover agent at a hotel, where Mascheroni further discussed his nuclear weapons development program for Venezuela.

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Tim Wilson is Editor in Chief and co-founder of Dark Reading.com, UBM Tech's online community for information security professionals. He is responsible for managing the site, assigning and editing content, and writing breaking news stories. Wilson has been recognized as one ... View Full Bio

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