A rogue U.S. scientist has been jailed following the discovery that he promised to build 40 nuclear weapons for Venezuela in a 10-year time period. He was also specifically designing a bomb to target New York City. In exchange for his efforts, he was promised “money and power.”
NPR reports that Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni, a 79-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen who had previously worked for the Los Alamos National Laboratory, pleaded guilty to charges of promising to build nuclear bombs for Venezuela. Mascheroni was sentenced to five years in jail on Wednesday. According to the report, Mascheroni had worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory from 1979 to 1988, and held a “security clearance that allowed him access to certain classified information, including ‘restricted data.'”
The New York Post notes that Mascheroni promised to build a total of 40 nukes for Venezuela in exchange for “money and power.” In secret recordings taken by undercover FBI agents posing as Venezuelan officials, Mascheroni can be heard denouncing his U.S. citizenship and claiming he is “not an American anymore.”
“I’m going to be the boss with money and power. I’m not an American anymore. This is it.”
Though Mascheroni was claiming to be able to help Venezuela become a “nuclear powerhouse,” Mascheroni said in court he was simply trying to sell “junk science” and that no one would have been hurt. Mascheroni told the undercover FBI agents in the recordings that “his New York nuke wouldn’t kill anyone, but would disable the city’s electrical system and help Venezuela become a nuclear superpower.”
Reports indicate that Mascheroni went rogue following his termination of employment in 1988, after the United States rejected his theories that a hydrogen-fluoride laser could produce nuclear energy. In turn, Mascheroni left the country and attempted to sell the classified information to Venezuelan officials.
John Carlin, assistant attorney general for national security, told the Telegraph that “we simply cannot allow people to violate their pledge to protect the classified nuclear weapons data” and notes that counterespionage investigations remain “one of our most powerful tools” to protecting our nation.
“The public trusts that the government will do all it can to safeguard ‘Restricted Data’ from being unlawfully transmitted to foreign nations not entitled to receive it. We simply cannot allow people to violate their pledge to protect the classified nuclear weapons data with which they are entrusted. Today’s sentencing should leave no doubt that counterespionage investigations remain one of our most powerful tools to protect our national security.”