An Indian-American B-2 stealth bomber engineer Noshir Gowadia is under trial in a US court on charges of selling defence secrets to China, but his lawyer says such "meaningless" information was no secret.
Gowadia, 66, who was born in India but is a naturalized US citizen, is charged with 17 counts of espionage, conspiracy, money laundering and tax offences. His trial began on Tuesday in a Federal court in Honolulu, Hawaii, and is expected to last until mid-July.
Prosecutors allege Gowadia sold classified US defence secrets about the sophisticated B-2 stealth bomber to China for less than $85,000, but defence attorney argued US Air Force had already released the information.
Assistant US Attorney Kenneth Sorenson said Gowadia was "desperate" for money when he approached the Chinese government in 2003, offering to sell them top-secret American stealth technology used to block detection of missiles and warplanes, according to Honolulu Advertiser.
Gowadia made multiple visits to China in 2004 and 2005 and was paid almost $84,000 for information and design work he provided, laundering the money through nonprofit foundations in Lichtenstein and bank accounts in Switzerland, according to Sorenson.
Gowadia was an aerospace engineer with Northrop Corp. (now Northrop Grumman Corp.) from 1967 to 1986, working on projects that included the B-2 Spirit bomber. Sorenson said the B-2s use extensive stealth technology that makes the aircraft difficult to detect by radar and infrared devices.
The B-2 is the United States' premier warplane and will be for at least the next 20 years, the prosecutor said. There are 20 now in service and each is worth as much as $2 billion, Sorenson said.
Sorenson said Gowadia first came under an FBI intelligence investigation in 1999 based on suspicions that he might be trafficking in technology. The probe turned criminal in nature after customs agents secretly searched Gowadia's luggage and laptop computer when he was travelling to China in 2004, according to the prosecutor.
FBI and Air Force agents searched Gowadia's palatial Maui home in October 2005 and he was indicted on multiple federal criminal charges in November 2005.
Defense attorney David Klein belittled the value of the information and work Gowadia provided the Chinese. "Sometimes things are not what they may appear," Klein told the jury.
Gowadia left Northrop "before the B-2 ever flew" and became a teacher and independent businessman, Klein said.
Allegedly classified information that Gowadia offered to European governments and businesses was "meaningless" and some of it had already been publicly released by the US Air Force, according to the defence lawyer.
And the exhaust nozzle that Gowadia offered to design and test for the Chinese government "doesn't do anything that Mr. Gowadia said it would (do) in his e-mails," Klein said.
"Mr. Gowadia knew how far he could go and wasn't going to go any farther," the lawyer said. "The nozzle doesn't do anything and if the Chinese thought that they were getting more than they were, Noshir Gowadia was fine with that," Klein said.