Ex-defense contractor charged with attempted espionage; sought to provide secrets to Russia
A former defense contractor was charged with attempted espionage after the South Dakota man allegedly sought to provide secret fighter jet technology to the Russian government.
John Murray Rowe Jr., 63, is expected to make his first court appearance Friday following an eight-month investigation in which Rowe repeatedly expressed interest in sharing classified information before disclosing defense systems used by U.S. fighter jets to an FBI undercover agent posing as a Russian government operative, federal prosecutors said.
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According to court documents, Rowe worked for more than four decades as a test engineer for several defense contractors and held various security clearances related to assignments involving aerospace technology.
He was fired in 2018 from an un-disclosed contractor as a possible "insider threat," prosecutors said, after "committing a number of security violations and revealing a fervent interest in Russian affairs, including whether he could obtain a security clearance from the Russian government."
Seizing on that troubled work history, the FBI launched an investigation in March 2020, arranging for Rowe to meet with the undercover agent. The meeting was followed by an exchange of more than 300 emails with a second undercover in which the engineer expressed his "willingness to work for the Russian government."
In one of the emails, according to prosecutors, Rowe allegedly told his undercover handler: "If I can’t get a job here then I’ll go work for the other team.”
According to court documents, Rowe expressed an interest in aiding Russia and moving to the country after his very first meeting at a local hotel in Deadwood, South Dakota.
"I’ve been saying this to people. I said, 'I’m gonna go work for the Russians.' I’ve been saying that for the last two years," Rowe allegedly told the agent.
"And we... heard you." the undercover agent replied.
"Then you show up," Rowe said, laughing.
"We heard you," the agent said. "That's why I'm here."
Rowe allegedly reaffirmed his interest in working for Russia in a series of emails, including a July 31, 2020 contact in which he also related a fear of exposure.
"If you have any real work that needs to get done, I’m willing to do it," he told one of the undercovers. "I have to be real careful on who I talk to."
Days later, on Aug. 5, Rowe appeared more anxious.
"I think your my only hope of getting to Russia before the bottom drop out here in the United States…," he said, according court documents. "I wanted to open bank account in Russia but I need your help doing so."
A month later, during a second in-person meeting with the first FBI undercover at a South Dakota hotel, Rowe "made multiple disclosures" of secret information related to Air Force defense systems.
Rowe is formally charged with attempting to communicate national defense information to aid a foreign government. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ex-defense contractor charged with attempted espionage