Details emerge in trial for Maui man accused of selling military technology
By Jim Dooley
Advertiser Staff Writer
Noshir Gowadia provided "meaningless" information to the Chinese government, not the precious American military secrets he is accused of selling, Gowadia's defense attorney argued in federal court this afternoon.
Gowadia, 66, who was born in India but is a naturalized American citizen, is charged with 17 counts of espionage, conspiracy, money laundering and tax offenses.
His trial began this morning and is expected to last until mid-July.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kenneth Sorenson said Gowadia was "desperate" for money when he approached the People's Republic China government in 2003, offering to sell them top-secret American stealth technology used to block detection of missiles and warplanes.
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, said Sorenson.
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 traveling 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.
Two years after the espionage indictment was returned, federal authorities finally obtained financial records from Lichtenstein that showed the Chinese government had paid Gowadia $83,890 — far less than the $400,000 Gowadia later said he expected to receive for his services, Sorenson said.
And well after Gowadia was charged, U.S. experts discovered hidden data "embedded" in electronic records that Gowadia shared with the Chinese during multiple trips to that country in 2004 and 2005, the prosecutor said.
In 2003, Gowadia was "desperate" for money to pay the $14,000-per-month mortgage on his Maui house when he offered to help the Chinese design and build a cruise missile exhaust nozzle with a reduced infrared heat "signature," said Sorenson.
Gowadia was angry that he had been denied access to "low observability" stealth technology that he had helped design for the U.S. government, the prosecutor said.
Working with two men suspected to be espionage agents for the Chinese government, Henri Nyoo and Tommy Wong, Gowadia made a series of trips to China and helped scientists there design a test and infrared-suppressing missile exhaust nozzle, Sorenson alleged.
E-mails that referenced three different women showed that the Chinese nationals plied Gowadia with "sex and money," Sorenson said.
The prosecutor spoke for 2/12 hours, apologizing to the eight-man, four-woman jury for the length of his opening remarks, but stressing that the case deals with complex, confidential military technology and the laws that protect them.
Defense attorney David Klein spoke for a half hour, belittling 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 U.S. Air Force, according to the defense 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.
An expert in infrared suppression technology, who taught with Gowadia at the Georgia Tech Institute of Research, will testify that Gowadia's nozzle design was "common, obvious and contained well-known information," said Klein.
A difficulty for the defense will be lengthy hand-written statements that Gowadia gave to investigators before he was charged in the case.
In one of those statements, Gowadia wrote, ""On reflection what I did was wrong to help PRC (People's Republic of China) make a cruise missile. What I did was espionage and treason."
Klein said those statements were "coerced" from Gowadia, although previous defense arguments to block use of them in the trial were rejected.