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Convicted Spy Pedro Mascheroni Released From Prison

on March 19, 2018 - 9:01am

Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni during an interview on the deck of his Barranca Mesa home in October 2010 just prior to his arrest by the FBI. Photo by Carol A. Clark


Los Alamos Daily Post

A scientist formerly employed at Los Alamos National Laboratory was released from federal prison March 16 after serving a sentence for communicating classified nuclear weapons data to a person he believed was an official of the Venezuelan government.

Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni, 82, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Argentina, was sentenced in 2013 in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque to 60 months of incarceration followed by three years of supervised release. His wife, Marjorie Roxby Mascheroni, 74, served a sentence of one year and a day in prison for conspiracy and false statements. She was released in October 2015 and is finishing out her three years of supervised release.

Mascheroni worked as a scientist at LANL from 1979 to 1988 and held a Q security clearance that allowed him access to certain classified information, including “restricted data.”  Roxby Mascheroni, who also held a Q clearance, worked at LANL in the Technical Transfer section between 1981 and 2010 doing technical writing and editing, which also allowed her access to certain classified information including Restricted Data.

The Atomic Energy Act defines restricted data as classified information concerning the design, manufacture or use of atomic weapons; the production of special nuclear material; or the use of special nuclear material in the production of energy. The investigation was conducted by the FBI’s Albuquerque Division with assistance from the Department of Energy and LANL. 

The indictment filed in September 2010 charged Mascheroni and Roxby Mascheroni with 22 counts including conspiracy to communicate and communicating restricted data to an individual with the intent to secure an advantage to a foreign nation, as well as conspiracy to convey and conveying classified information. It also charged Mascheroni with concealing and retaining U.S. records with the intent to convert them to his own use and gain, and both defendants with making false, fictitious or fraudulent statements.

Mascheroni holds a PhD in physics from the University of California-Berkeley and from August 1979 to April 1987 was assigned to the Lab’s X Division and its predecessor as a scientist in Group X1 where he was exposed to information about the research, development and design of U.S. nuclear weapons. In April 1987, he moved to the Lab’s Nuclear Technology and Engineering or N Division where his employment ended in March 1988.

In March 2008, the indictment says Mascheroni had a conversation with an undercover FBI agent who was portraying a representative of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela and called himself “Luis Jimenez”. The two arranged to meet at a hotel in Santa Fe where Mascheroni told “Jimenez” he planned to visit Venezuela in October 2008 and wanted to give a presentation to people very close to Venezuela’s ministers of energy and defense.

At the meeting, the indictment states that he discussed among other things his program for developing nuclear weapons for Venezuela, which included a laser he described as being capable of blinding satellites. He told “Jimenez” their meeting had to be in absolute confidence and explained how he would need to be careful about security.

Mascheroni told “Jimenez” nuclear weapons were a useful means by which smaller countries could deter large countries from engaging in conflict and that he could deliver a nuclear bomb in 10 years. He also discussed a scenario where he could possess 40 missiles with warheads by 2020. He explained how Venezuela could be Latin America’s “umbrella” such that Venezuela would inform other countries that if any country outside Latin America attacked a Latin America country, Venezuela would “retaliate with (a) nuclear bomb”.

According to the indictment, Mascheroni also told “Jimenez” that after Venezuela conducted a test of its nuclear weapons, Venezuela could cause an explosion over New York that would result in an electromagnetic pulse that he contended would not kill anybody but would destroy all the electric power in New York. He said he would be able to put Venezuela on the right track from the beginning in regard to building nuclear weapons and that Venezuela would be ahead of LANL and the U.S. He went as far as suggesting Venezuela might seek to obtain a “high explosive package” from Iran.

Mascheroni told “Jimenez” his program would build and test nuclear bombs in secret and would have two nuclear reactors – one open, above-ground used for producing nuclear energy and the other, a secret underground nuclear reactor used for producing and enriching plutonium. He said Venezuela would build an above-ground micro-fusion facility for developing energy, and an underground micro-fission facility where Venezuela would conduct undetectable tests of "micro bombs”.

The next day, Mascheroni met again with “Jimenez” at the same hotel where he asked “Jimenez” if he was “like a CIA guy for Venezuela, and “Jimenez told him they should “leave it at intelligence”. Mascheroni reiterated to “Jimenez” that Venezuela should have 40 warheads and 40 missiles, told him a map of targets would be needed in case there was a war, and that he expected to have two salaries, one from the Venezuelan weapons development program and the other from a Venezuelan university’s unclassified energy research program.

Following the meeting the two communicate several times by phone, email and in another face-to-face meeting. They left material for each other to retrieve in “dead drops) at a specified location and in August 2008, Mascheroni told his wife she had a lot of editing to do and that “real money” was involved.

In November 2008, Mascheroni delivered answers to questions he had received from “Jimenez” in July by providing a 132-page encoded document which the Department of Energy confirmed contained restrictive data. Roxby Mascheroni had edited the document using a laptop computer assigned to her by LANL and she drove him to that dead drop. Mascheroni emailed a key to “Jimenez” to decipher the document which laid out a plan for the development of a modern nuclear warhead without detectable nuclear testing and how that mission was to be achieved with a 10-year “accelerated” program and a longer, 20-year option.

Mascheroni told “Jimenez” the document was worth millions of dollars and charged $793,000 for producing it. He wrote that his fee was based on his having worked on the document for 396.5 hours between July 27 and Nov. 11, 2008, at a rate of $2,000 per hour.   

Other dead drops took place over the next few months and Mascheroni acknowledged that he received $20,000 in $100 bills in one of them. He also received a bank statement from “Jimenez” alleging that a bank account in the U.S. Virgin Islands contained $435,255 representing another installment.

By October 2009, FBI officials have said they obtained enough evidence to search the Mascheroni’s home where they found several boxes of classified documents, sketches, plans, and notes—along with classified information on his computer—all from LANL.

Despite the fact that Mascheroni left LANL in 1988, FBI officials have said the information, particularly the restricted data on nuclear weapons, was “still relevant, still classified, and still harmful to U.S. national security if it fell into the wrong hands”. In 2010, the couple was arrested.

Mascheroni pleaded guilty in June 2013, to Counts 7 and 8 of the indictment, charging him with conversion of government property and retention of U.S. records, and Counts 10 through 15, charging him with making false statements. Mascheroni also pleaded guilty to a felony information charging him with two counts of communication of restricted data and one count of retention of national defense information.

In entering his guilty plea, Mascheroni admitted that in November 2008 and July 2009, he unlawfully communicated restricted data to another individual with reason to believe that the data would be utilized to secure an advantage to Venezuela. He also admitted unlawfully converting Department of Energy information to his own use and selling the information in November 2008 and July 2009 and failing to deliver classified information relating to the United States’ national defense to appropriate authorities and instead unlawfully retaining the information in his home. Finally, Mascheroni admitted making materially false statements to the FBI when he was interviewed in October 2009.

Roxby Mascheroni pleaded guilty in June 2014, to Count 6 of the indictment, charging her with conspiracy, and Counts 16 through 22, charging her with making false statements. She also pleaded guilty to a felony information charging her with conspiracy to communicate restricted data. Roxby Mascheroni admitted that between October 2007 and October 2009, she conspired with Mascheroni to convey restricted data belonging to the U.S. to another person with reason to believe that the information would be used to secure an advantage to Venezuela. She also admitted making materially false statements to the FBI when she was interviewed in October 2009.

The indictment in this case did not allege that the government of Venezuela or anyone acting on its behalf sought or was passed any classified information. No Venezuelan government officials or anyone acting on their behalf were charged with wrongdoing. The indictment also did not allege any wrongdoing by other individuals working at LANL.

An FBI website story from 2015 states the reasons why Mascheroni did it varied.

“He carried a grudge against his employer, he was frustrated with the U.S. government, he needed money, and he desired power and respect,” the story says. “But motivations aside, Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni, a scientist formerly employed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, broke the law when he sold some of our nation’s nuclear secrets to an individual he thought was a foreign government official.”

Editor’s note: Los Alamos Daily Post Public Safety Reporter Maire O’Neill learned about the impending release of Mascheroni during a March 15 FBI Albuquerque Division Citizen Academy presentation by SSRA Mark Buie about the agency’s foreign counterintelligence program.