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Engineer who attempted to sell schematics of USS Gerald R. Ford to Egypt sentenced to 11 years in prison

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Posted at 4:16 PM, Oct 15, 2015
and last updated 2015-10-15 16:26:14-04

Norfolk, Va. – Mostafa Ahmed Awwad was sentenced to 11 years in prison on Thursday for attempted espionage for trying to provide schematics of the Navy’s newest nuclear aircraft carrier to Egypt.

“Mr. Awwad attempted to steal the valuable plans for the USS Ford and to provide them to a foreign government,” said Dana J. Boente, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “This office is committed to safeguarding our nation’s sensitive defense information, and we will bring to justice those who seek to steal it. I want to commend our partners at the FBI Norfolk and NCIS Norfolk for their excellent work on this case.”

“Awwad took advantage of his position of trust within the Navy to share the schematics of the USS Gerald R. Ford nuclear aircraft carrier with individuals whom he believed were representing a foreign government,” said John Carlin, Assistant Attorney General for National Security. “The National Security Division will continue to seek justice for those who abuse their access to sensitive defense information.”

“This case is a chilling reminder that the insider threat is more pervasive and dangerous than ever. The defendant’s actions and intent to provide national defense information to a foreign government posed a significant threat to national security and directly endangered the lives of American service members. The incident highlights the critical importance for the FBI to continue to prioritize counterintelligence matters and to vigorously investigate and disrupt any espionage activity directed against the United States.”

Awwad pleaded guilty on June 15th. According to court documents, Awwad began working for the Department of the Navy in February 2014 as a civilian general engineer in the Nuclear Engineering and Planning Department at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. Based on a joint investigation, an undercover FBI agent contacted Awwad by telephone on Sept. 18, 2014, and asked to meet him the following day.

Without seeking additional information from the caller, Awwad agreed. The next day, Awwad met with the undercover FBI agent, who was posing as an Egyptian intelligence officer, in a park in Hampton. During the meeting, Awwad claimed it was his intention to utilize his position with the Navy to obtain military technology for use by the Egyptian government, including but not limited to the designs of the USS Gerald R. Ford nuclear aircraft carrier.

Awwad agreed to conduct clandestine communications with the undercover FBI agent, and to conduct ‘dead drops’ in a concealed location in the park.

On Oct. 9, 2014, Awwad and the undercover FBI agent met at a hotel where Awwad described a detailed plan to circumvent Navy computer security by installing software on his restricted computer system that would enable him to copy documents without causing a security alert. At this time, Awwad also provided the undercover FBI agent with four Computer Aided Drawings of a U.S. nuclear aircraft carrier downloaded from the Navy Nuclear Propulsion Information system.

During the discussion, Awwad indicated his understanding that the drawings would be sent to and used in Egypt. Awwad also asked the undercover FBI agent for $1,500 to purchase a pinhole camera that he would wear around the shipyard to photograph restricted material. At the conclusion of the meeting, Awwad agreed to provide the undercover FBI agent with passport photos which would be used to produce a fraudulent Egyptian passport so that Awwad could travel to Egypt without alerting U.S. government officials.

On Oct. 23, 2014, Awwad traveled to the pre-arranged dead drop site situated on a secluded hiking trail and utilized a concealed container disguised in a hole in the ground. He retrieved $3,000 before placing an external hard drive and two passport photos inside.

On Dec. 5, 2014, Awwad and the undercover agent met in the Hampton Roadsarea. During this meeting, Awwad stated that he planned to travel to Egypt. Awwad subsequently said he wanted to meet with “high ranking” Egyptian intelligence and military officials in Cairo. Awwad also stated during the meeting that he had copied all of the schematics. During the meeting, Awwad provided the undercover FBI agent a thumb drive that contained more schematics of the USS Gerald R. Ford. The undercover FBI agent handed Awwad the “escape plan” – in actuality a manila envelope with no real plan inside – along with $1,000 in currency, shortly before Awwad was arrested.

The schematics contain Naval Nuclear Propulsion Information and they are marked with the handling restriction “NOFORN,” which means they are not releasable to foreign persons.