Six Arrested on Charges of Spying at Space Center
PARIS (AP) _ Four men and two women arrested on espionage charges were seeking information on the propulsion system of Europe’s Ariane rocket, probably for the Soviet Union or an East bloc country, officials said today.
The six were charged Wednesday with espionage for a foreign power, government sources said Thursday. The French government did not officially announce the arrests.
A statement issued by Jean Sollier, head of the European Propulsion Society, which builds Ariane engines, said one of the six once worked for a subsidiary of his company and most recently was a temporary employee at the National Center for Space Sciences at Vernon.
The six arrested were seeking ″information on the cyrogenic propulsion″ of the rockets, Sollier’s statement said.
Cyrogenic propulsion is a technology involving liquid hydrogen and oxygen first mastered by the United States, then the European space consortium that builds Ariane. Japan and China have been using the system in their rockets for two years.
Frederic d’Allest, director-general of the National Center for Space Studies, said the four men and two women probably were working for the Soviet Union or an East bloc country.
He said other countries, including Brazil and India, could be interested in the advanced technology of the Ariane rocket engines.
″But I don’t want to suggest a false trail,″ d’Allest said in an interview on French radio. ″It certainly seems that it is the trail to the East that is concerned.″
Several Paris newspapers reported today that one of the women arrested was an immigrant from the Soviet Union and the other from Romania.
″One might think that these nationalities would give the explanation for the origin for the channel involved″ in the case, d’Allest said in the interview.
One of the six was charged and then released under judicial supervision, said government sources who spoke on condition of anonymity. They provided no explanation.
They said the five others were interrogated Thursday night by officials from the French counter-espionage agency, the DST.
There has been a series of espionage-related arrests and expulsions in France involving Soviet bloc countries in the past decade.
In the most recent, a former non-commissioned naval officer, Bernard Sourisseau, was arrested in January and charged with spying for the Soviet Union on French nuclear submarine activities. The arrest led to the expulsion of four Soviet diplomats, and four French diplomats were expelled in turn from the Soviet Union.
French engineer Robert Juge was arrested in March 1983 nd charged with selling documents and commercial samples to the Soviets. He later was convicted and given a suspended five-year sentence.
In April 1983, President Francois Mitterrand expelled 47 Soviet diplomats, saying they were involved in systematic military and industrial spying.
Rolf Dobbertin, a physicist of German origin, was arrested in January 1979 on charges of furnishing information about France’s nuclear program to East Germany. He was released in May 1983, and although he has not been brought to trial the charges have not been dismissed.