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Hawaii man accused of helping China design stealth cruise missile

Sunday, August 3, 2008

HAIKU, Hawaii -- Cheryl Gowadia couldn't figure out why FBI agents in riot gear, guns drawn, were storming her home on Maui's tranquil North Shore.

At first, she thought they might be after the man building a pond in her backyard. Instead, she was stunned to learn they wanted to question her husband, a former B-2 stealth bomber engineer.

"This came out of nowhere," Gowadia said.

A week later, on Oct. 13, 2005, agents arrested Noshir Gowadia, a native of India who received a Ph.D. at 15, on suspicion that he sold military secrets to China.

Maui, a mostly rural island of 140,000 known more for big-wave surfing and five-star resorts, is an unlikely place for a spy saga.

But prosecutors say Noshir Gowadia used Maui as a base to design a stealth cruise missile for China. He was indicted on 21 counts of conspiracy, money-laundering and falsifying tax returns.

Despite the seriousness of the charges, the case has received scant public attention.

The defendant has been out of sight since a judge determined he was a flight risk and denied him bail.

And, adding to his obscurity, Gowadia's trial date has been repeatedly postponed as both prosecution and defense lawyers have sought more time to review thousands of pages of classified evidence.

The trial is now due to begin Jan. 21. Gowadia has pleaded not guilty.

The case comes amid growing U.S. concern about Chinese spying and enhanced prosecution efforts across the country.

Last year, a jury convicted Chi Mak, an engineer for a California-based defense contractor, of conspiring to export U.S. submarine propulsion technology to China. He was sentenced to 24 1/2 years in prison. In June, a Chinese national with Canadian citizenship was sentenced to 24 months for selling fighter pilot training software to the Chinese navy.

Dan Blumenthal, a former China country director at the Pentagon and a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, said Beijing is after technologies that would help it counter the U.S.

"It's not necessarily James Bond-like spying where you have some superspy penetrating the deepest U.S. secrets," Blumenthal said. "It's trying relentlessly to get defense-related technology from U.S. companies, U.S. engineers and the U.S. military."

Cheryl Gowadia says that FBI raid nearly three years ago was her first indication her husband was suspected of anything illegal.

Agents scoured every corner of the couple's two-story home, and left with boxes of papers and family photos, including wedding pictures. Officers interrogated her husband in the vacant maid's apartment in the back of the house for six hours.

"They're claiming that we built this house with money he earned illegally," Cheryl Gowadia said, sitting in her living room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Uaoa Bay. "There's isn't a shred of truth in it, not one dime."

Although the house is valued at $4 million, Cheryl Gowadia must live frugally because the couple spent most of their savings hiring a Washington law firm to defend Gowadia. The money ran out a year after his arrest and they're now relying on a court-appointed attorney.

They can't sell the house to raise money because prosecutors have a lien on it, saying Gowadia will have to forfeit the property if he's convicted. The couple's son has been paying the mortgage, but there isn't enough left over for hot water or to maintain the yard.

Gowadia's new attorney, David Klein, declined to make the engineer available for comment.

Gowadia moved to the U.S. from India in the 1960s for postgraduate work. In 1968 he joined defense contractor Northrop Corp., now Northrop Grumman Corp., where he designed elements of the B-2.

He became a U.S. citizen in the 1970s and retired from Northrop in 1986, two years before the B-2 made its public debut.

Cheryl Gowadia said he's honest and, in a way, naive. He didn't bother calling a lawyer when agents showed up at his home and started questioning him.

"He is totally unable to lie. It is not his nature. He's as honest and truthful and trusting as they come," Cheryl Gowadia said.

The indictment alleges he made six trips to China from 2003 to 2005, conspiring to conceal some of his visits by getting border agents to leave immigration stamps off his passport.

In Chengdu in 2003, Gowadia allegedly gave Chinese engineers and officials classified information about missile exhaust systems that emit little heat and thus are hard to detect. The city is home to the Chengdu Aircraft Design Institute, which created the J-10, a state-of-the-art fighter plane China unveiled last year.

Prosecutors allege Gowadia pocketed $110,000 over two years for his exhaust nozzle design.

He's also accused of attempting to sell classified stealth technology to the Swiss government and to businesses in Israel and Germany.

The defendant's son, Ashton Gowadia, said it doesn't make sense that someone with a distinguished career like his father's would sell military secrets. He also questioned why anyone living a comfortable life would sell classified material for so little money.

"We want this thing in court," Ashton Gowadia said. "He wants to show the world that he's innocent and he wants to clear his name."


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