Espionage and fusion
September 18, 2010 1:00 PM   Subscribe

Yesterday, Pedro Leonardo Mascheroni and his wife, Roxby, were arrested for espionage. They stand accused of offering to help Venezuela build a nuclear bomb. The indictment has some incredible details -- including Mascheroni's planning a list of targets for nuclear strikes in case the US invaded. But for me, what makes the case particularly chilling...

... is his motivation. In part, because I know him.

I'm a journalist who has written extensively on laser fusion -- Leo's expertise -- and he was one of my sources. He had a great deal of knowledge about elements of laser fusion that are still under a cloud of secrecy, and he was able to talk about them obliquely, without crossing the line into spilling classified information. (Or so I thought!)

On the other hand, he was a source I had to use with great caution. I took him to dinner a few times, and he struck me as a terribly sad man -- a man who, in my opinion, was crippled by his belief that he had been robbed of his scientific birthright.

In the late 1980s, Leo (along with some other physicists) became convinced that a secret set of nuclear experiments called Halite/Centurion proved that the Department of Energy's planned laser-fusion facility (which recently came on line) was doomed to fail.

He proposed an alternate scheme, using a 100 megajoule hydrogen-fluoride laser (instead of the DoE's preferred lower-powered krypton-fluorine and neodymium-glass lasers) to create controlled bursts of fusion energy in the laboratory... and eventually ending the world's dependence on petroleum.

DoE rebuffed him. This was the event that, in my opinion, broke him. The rest of his life, it seems to me, was one long attempt to get his project back on track. He filed a lawsuit, he lobbied Congress, he spoke to journalists in an attempt to denigrate DOE's laser-fusion plans and promote his own. And, according to the accusations, his monomania drove him to the point of espionage.

I feel deeply sorry for the man, even though I suspect that he's guilty. Leo's single-minded determination--to the point of irrationality--is exactly why I find the quest for fusion energy so fascinating.
posted by cgs06 (6 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Honestly, it's neat that you have a personal angle on this and I'd love to see it as a blog post or something but this sort of personal narrative really isn't a good fit for the front page of Metafilter. -- cortex

While this is an interesting story, there's an awful lot of personal framing here that makes it an odd post for metafilter.
posted by dersins at 1:06 PM on September 18, 2010 [3 favorites]

Seconded. (Probably should have left out your personal connection and posted those details as a comment)
posted by JauntyFedora at 1:07 PM on September 18, 2010

JauntyFedora: "Seconded. (Probably should have left out your personal connection and posted those details as a comment)"

I disagree.
posted by ShawnStruck at 1:08 PM on September 18, 2010

I think this is a rare occaision where the personal details are warrented. I hope this post is allowed to stand as is, unless I missed some selflinking in there somewhere.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 1:09 PM on September 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

Should stand as is due to details adding specific insight to content, as opposed to being third party hearsay.
posted by Addiction at 1:13 PM on September 18, 2010

One the one hand, this seems a very personal story (which you might want to even think about whether or not you should be publishing on the internet in the first place). But if you are going to talk about it, you would kind of have to disclose your own personal connection or it would be kind of dodgy. But aren't you opening yourself up to being possibly subpoenad and drug into the case?
posted by 1000monkeys at 1:14 PM on September 18, 2010

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