Defense contractor tried to provide classified information to Russia, US says



A former South Dakota defense contractor was arrested Wednesday night on espionage charges after an FBI undercover operation in which he attempted to provide classified national defense information to someone he said. he believed he was a Russian agent, federal prosecutors said.

According to a criminal complaint, the man, John Murray Rowe Jr., 63, of Lead, SD, told someone posing as a Russian agent that Moscow was “the place to be”.

Mr Rowe has been accused of attempting to release national defense information to aid a foreign government, the Justice Department said in a statement on Thursday. He is scheduled to appear for the first time on Friday in United States District Court in Rapid City, SD. If convicted, Rowe could face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Mr Rowe worked for several defense contractors as a test engineer for nearly 40 years, according to the criminal complaint. His job has earned him multiple national security clearances, ranging from “secret” to “top secret,” and his work has included issues relating to US Air Force aerospace technology, the Department of Justice said. .

After Mr Rowe committed several security breaches and revealed an interest in Russian affairs, he was identified in April 2017 as a possible insider threat, and his contract with a defense contractor ended in August. 2017, according to the complaint.

The following month, Mr Rowe began working for another defense contractor, which granted him a “secret” national security clearance, according to the complaint.

On February 20, 2018, one of Mr Rowe’s colleagues saw him carrying a USB drive in a classified area, according to the complaint, and when questioned by the colleague Mr Rowe said he was trying to install software from the stick on a computer in the classified area.

About a week later, Mr Rowe asked an information security official if it was possible to hold U.S. and Russian security clearances simultaneously, according to the complaint. Mr Rowe was told he was not allowed to hold both clearances and he was fired from his job the following month for breach of security, court documents show.

As of Thursday, it was not clear if Mr Rowe had a lawyer. Mr Rowe did not immediately respond to requests for comment by phone and email Thursday evening.

Based on his actions, the Federal Bureau of Investigation initiated an undercover operation to see if Mr. Rowe was prepared to share his knowledge of classified information with a foreign government.

In March 2020, Mr Rowe encountered an undercover FBI employee posing as a Russian government agent, according to the complaint. After that meeting, Mr Rowe exchanged more than 300 emails with another undercover FBI employee posing as a Russian agent, according to the complaint.

The coronavirus “is going to last a very long time and politically something else is going to happen,” Mr Rowe said in an email to the undercover FBI employee on April 30, 2020. “Everyone here is talking about a new world order and I believe in it so much that I even asked my granddaughters to learn the Russian language.

In the same email, Rowe said he was interested in a law signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin that would allow foreigners to become Russian citizens without renouncing their citizenship in their home country.

“It’s important to me because I can live off my social security that I received here while living in Moscow,” Mr Rowe said. “I saw how much it costs to live there and this is the place to be. Once this travel ban is lifted, I will go to Moscow.

In another email, according to the Department of Justice statement, Mr. Rowe “disclosed SECRET classified national defense information that involved specific operational details of electronic countermeasures systems used by military fighter jets. Americans “.

On July 31, 2020, Mr Rowe expressed in an email his concerns about being detected by the US government, saying he had to be careful who he spoke to.

“Put me on a stinky operation with the FBI, talking in a hotel room about trade secrets,” he wrote, apparently referring to an undercover operation. “These people are real bags of dirt.”

Finally, in an email to the undercover FBI employee on November 11, 2020, Mr Rowe said he found classified documents to share with the alleged Russian agent.



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