OSI PJ key in Noshir Gowadia espionage case

  • Published
  • By Dr. Deborah Kidwell
  • OSI Command Historian

In 2010, Noshir Sheriarji Gowadia was convicted of 14 out of 17 federal charges that included espionage, violation of the Arms Export Control Act and several associated crimes. The lengthy prosecution began with his arrest in 2005. Gowadia worked on the B-2 Stealth Bomber and various other propulsion projects as a design engineer for the Northrop Grumman Corporation. He was sentenced to 32 years confinement for selling classified design information to the Chinese government and to individuals in Germany, Israel and Switzerland.  Thus concluded the lengthy, but successful prosecution of one of OSI’s “20 Cases Every Agent Should Know.”  

Gowadia’s suspicious activities surfaced after he aggressively marketed his services through his private consulting firm. His professional advice included classified information on sensors and stealth propulsion systems. An Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s National Security Division noted that, “The defendant in this case attempted to profit from his know-how and his knowledge of sensitive military technology.” While at Northrop from 1968 to 1986, Gowadia maintained Top Secret access, and later worked at Los Alamos National Laboratory before starting his own consulting firm in 1999. 

Between 2003 and 2005, Gowadia took six trips to China to assist government engineers develop a Low Observable exhaust nozzle for their cruise missile. In October 2005, investigators from multiple U.S. agencies searched Gowadia’s Hawaiian residence and discovered 500 pounds of evidence, including visibly marked U.S. and foreign classified documents (40 boxes in all), six computers, numerous thumb drives and other electronic media containing classified and restricted information. Agents interviewed Gowadia as a subject for more than ten non-consecutive days. Evidence they obtained eventually led to convictions including illegal export of military technical data, money laundering, filing false tax returns and other offenses.

The investigation into Gowadia discovered he was paid about $2 million for his work on the cruise missile and for other secret information he disclosed on the B-2 propulsion systems. Five of the criminal convictions were related to his design (for the People’s Republic of China) of a low-signature cruise missile exhaust system capable of rendering a missile resistant to detection. 

In addition, he was convicted of three counts of illegally communicating classified information regarding lock-on range for infrared missiles against the B-2. During his trips to China, Gowadia  visited an aeronautical testing facility to identify design flaws and technical deficiencies, in addition to providing briefings and presentations about the missile exhaust system and its heat signature. Evidence also showed he had provided top secret information about the TH-98 Eurocopter to a foreign government official in Switzerland, and sent other classified information to businesses in Germany and Israel.

His trial was originally scheduled for mid-2007, but the court postponed the trial while the U.S. Department of Justice investigated his new attorney for a security background clearance. That postponement led to additional time being allotted while the court decided if the defendant was mentally competent to stand trial. The defense asserted that Gowadia’s narcissistic personality disorder was a defense against the charges. This evidence was later discredited and the trial commenced in 2010. After the five-year delay from the date of the indictment, the trial lasted nearly four months and included more than 39 days of technical testimony. 

This conviction was only one example of the crucial work performed by OSI’s Special Projects Office (PJ).

U.S. Attorney Nakakuni noted that, “Justice is finally done in this lengthy and complex case where highly classified information and sensitive technology was unlawfully disclosed and transferred to the People’s Republic of China, and other persons and entities as well.” 

“Mr. Gowadia went beyond disclosing information to China, he performed defense work in that nation with the purpose of assisting them in their stealth weapons design programs,” Nakakuni said. “While the full damage of his activities may never be known…it must be remembered that Mr. Gowadia’s sentence also addressed his creation of an international identity to hide his income and launder his ill-gotten gains. I deeply appreciate the hard work of the FBI, the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, and the IRS Criminal Investigation Division…”