Archive for October 24th, 2009

The Strange story of the FBI, a Los Alamos physicist and the Venezuelan Government

October 24, 2009


This is a rather strange story. It has the elements of truth and the elements of deception. It sounds too far fetched to be true, but has the components of veracity. It is the story of Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni, a physicist who worked at Los Alamos for many years and may be accused of treason for passing classified information to the Venezuelan Government or someone claiming to represent it. The story has too many inconsistencies to be the truth, but at the same time, has many consistencies that suggest there is some truth to the whole thing. We may never know.

Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni is a US citizen and Physicist of Argentinean origin. He has been a somewhat controversial figure, critical of the US fusion program, but also critical of the US weapon program. He was dismissed from Los Alamos many years ago and sued the Regents of the University of California, which runs the Los Alamos Lab. He lost the suit and was not reinstated. He has been repeatedly described in the New York Times as a “rebel scientist” dismissed from the labs as a security risk, but defended by the Head of Security of the same labs. And here the contradictions begin, as the same Head of Security suggested that the firing of Mascheroni created a national security risk if he went back to Argentina, while others claim all of his work and even the report on his firing were public.

And Mascheroni himself seems to have said contradictory things, as he stated in 1991 that he would never let weapons data fall into unfriendly hands, but then he says that he was the one to  first approach the various Governments (reportedly including the Venezuelan one) trying to sell his ideas on fusion. He then says that the Venezuelan Government wanted him to produce a study on how to build a nuclear weapons program and he decided to do it to show to the Chavez Government that this was too expensive. Instead he wanted to have Venezuela show some interest in his fusion ideas (the same ones that in 1991 he was fighting to be able to publish, but was unable to do so, so they can’t be too public) as a way of getting the US to be interested in them.

He then proceeds to tell a story of communicating via post office boxes in secret and collecting $20,000 in cash from his supposedly Venezuelan contact and then bickering over how to pay him the $800,000 for his report and never getting it. Then, the FBI detains his contact with his report on fusion (not on whether Venezuela should or not build a nuclear weapons program) which triggered the raid on Mascheroni’s home and the suspension of his wife at Los Alamos where she works and has a high security clearance. He was told that he would be charged with treason, but has yet to be charged and held a press conference to tell his story on Thursday.

And thus the inconsistencies. Mascheroni paints himself as an altruistic and idealistic scientist trying to get his ideas across, but his work  seems to be more on smaller fusion systems using lasers, which is far removed today from being or getting to be a useful weapon. At the same time, he claims to be dealing with openly available information, but meets in secret and charges or tries to charge large amounts of money for his work, but then claims he did not touch the money and was keeping it for the authorities.

The official story also has holes or gray areas in it. If the “Venezuelan” contact was detained, why is it that he is not named or mentioned or has not been charged? Was the FBI visit just a fishing expedition or do they know more than they are letting on? Was Mascheroni set up by the US Government? So  far, the evidence seems to point this way to me, given the fact that all of the news minimizes the Venezuelan connection and the inconsistencies mentioned above.

Finally, there is the inconsistency in my mind that given that there are nuclear experts in so many countries that could provide the same advice for a fee (Including Mascheroni’s own Argentina), why would the Venezuelan Government approach someone living in the US with all of the potential complications it could entail, including the fact that it could be a set up? I think they have learned something from Maletagate and Antonini, they are not dumb.

Thus, I don’t buy it yet. I don’t think Mascheroni is the idealist he is trying to project, nor do I think the Chavez Government is involved. Too many inconsistencies for my taste.

But there may be lots we don’t know yet.