Federal prosecutors on Tuesday accused a former B-2 stealth bomber engineer of betraying the US by selling military secrets to China for greed and money, but his defense countered that the information he passed on was “obvious” and “well-known.”
Noshir Gowadia, 66, disclosed “vulnerabilities of our nation’s most important strategic assets” and helped design a stealth cruise missile for China that would evade infrared sensors and defeat US heat-seeking missiles, assistant US attorney Ken Sorenson told jurors during opening statements.
Sorenson said the India-born naturalized US citizen did so — and also marketed his services to Switzerland, Israel and Germany — in part because he desperately needed more money to pay the mortgage on his mansion-like home overlooking Maui’s North Shore.
Gowadia has pleaded not guilty to 17 counts, including conspiracy, violating the arms export control act and money laundering. He has been held in federal detention since his October 2005 arrest because a judge decided he was a flight risk.
Gowadia’s trial date has been repeatedly delayed over the past four years in part because lawyers on both sides needed time to review large volumes of classified evidence.
Defense attorney David Klein told jurors that the information his client passed to others wasn’t classified, while the cruise-missile exhaust nozzle design that the engineer sold to China used obvious, well-known information.
However, the prosecution quoted from a statement Gowadia gave to investigators in 2005, shortly before he was arrested, in which he allegedly acknowledged wrongdoing.
Klein told jurors Gowadia made that and other statements to federal investigators under severe pressure, noting agents ransacked Gowadia’s home in Haiku and interrogated him for nine days before his arrest.
“Gowadia decided he would tell investigators what they wanted to hear,” Klein said. “He was scared for himself, his wife, his children.”
Klein acknowledged his client exchanged e-mails with Chinese officials that included claims about the powerful capabilities of the exhaust nozzle. However, Klein said a close examination of Gowadia’s design showed it wouldn’t perform as claimed.
“If the Chinese thought they were getting more than they were, he was OK with that,” he said. “Because he knew the Chinese were getting nothing.”
Both sides told jurors that from 1968 to 1986, Gowadia worked at Northrop Corp, now Northrop Grumman Corp, and that he helped design the propulsion system for the B-2 stealth bomber.
Sorenson said Gowadia first relayed classified information to China about the B-2 bomber to establish his bona fides. Gowadia later relayed more classified information by designing a low-observable exhaust nozzle for a Chinese cruise missile, he said.
The prosecutor outlined six trips Gowadia made to China between 2003 and 2005. The first trip was to establish contacts there and be vetted by the Chinese government, and then later to explain and test his cruise missile designs, he said.
Gowadia approached China because he wanted to sell military secrets — not the other way around, Sorenson said.
“He was a walk-in. He walked in to the Chinese. He wanted to sell himself, and the Chinese were more than happy to deal with him,” Sorenson said.
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