By Pete Williams, NBC News Justice Correspondent
Espionage charges revealed today against a former U.S. Army civilian engineer shed new light on one of the most notorious spy cases in modern U.S. history, one which remains a sore point between the United States and Israel.
Federal prosecutors charged a New Jersey man, Ben-Ami Kadish, with providing dozens of classified documents to the Israeli government while he worked at the U.S. Army's Picatinny Arsenal from 1979 through 1985. Investigators say he provided closely guarded secrets involving nuclear weapons design, details of the U.S. F-15 fighter jet, and information about the U.S. Patriot missile defense system. The materials were sought by a secretive Israeli nuclear spy organization called the LAKAM, since disbanded.
"Kadish believed that providing classified documents would help Israel," court documents say. Kadish is a U.S. citizen, born in Connecticut, prosecutors say. According to local newspaper accounts in New Jersey, Kadish served in both the U.S. and British militaries during World War II, then joined the Haganah, an underground military organization, during Israel's struggle for freedom.
Investigators say Kadish provided the materials to his handler, who worked for the Israeli government at its consulate in New York City. That same handler, prosecutors say, directed another spy -- Jonathan Pollard, convicted in 1986 of providing a trove of U.S. defense secrets to Israel during the 1980's. Pollard, who worked as a U.S. Navy intelligence analyst, is the only American ever sentenced to life in prison for spying for a U.S. ally. Israel has repeatedly sought his release from prison, but several U.S. presidents have refused to do so, acting on the recommendations of their CIA Directors.
Court documents say Kadish received a wish list from his handler and would bring classified documents home with him at night so they could be photographed. The contact for both Kadish and Pollard, Yosef Yagur, fled the U.S. shortly after Pollard was arrested.
But court documents say Yagur continued to maintain contact with Kadish, by phone and e-mail, and that Kadish visited Yagur in Israel in 2004. Law enforcement officials say Kadish has been under investigation for the past three years, and phone calls between the two men have been carefully monitored.
After FBI agents interviewed Kadish at his home last month, investigators say, the two men talked by phone again. Court documents quote Yagur advising Kadish not to admit anything: "Let them say whatever they want. You didn't ... do anything. What happened 25 years ago? You don't remember anything."
The man who prosecuted Pollard, Washington, D.C. lawyer Joseph Di Genova, told NBC News that the new information about Yagur's conduct shows was "brazen, further proof that the Israelis were running several spies in the US, as we thought at the time."
Investigators say Kadish was never paid for his spying. Instead, Yagur gave him small gifts and occasionally bought him and his family dinner at a Bronx restaurant.