Former defense contractor faces potential life in prison.
John Murray Rowe Jr., 63, of Lead, South Dakota thought he was sending confidential defense trade secrets to the Russian government and ended up emailing the information to an undercover Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) agent. According to the Department of Justice (DOJ) complaint, Rowe was employed for almost four decades as a test engineer for multiple defense contractors who were cleared to receive the classified information. He held numerous national security clearances and was contracted on projects related to the U.S. Air Force’s aerospace technology.
However, on in February 2018, one of Rowe’s colleagues witnessed him carrying a thumb drive into a classified area and, when questioned, Rowe said he “was trying to install software from the drive onto a computer in the classified area.” The following week, he asked a supervisor whether it would be possible to hold a security clearance with the United States and Russia at the same time. The government ultimately found Rowe had engaged in a variety of security violations, and taking a strong interest in Russian affairs, he was singled out as a potential threat and terminated from his position.
After this, in order to investigate the matter further, the FBI began an undercover operation to determine whether the former defense agent would continue to take an interest in Russian affairs and attempt to disseminate classified information to the Russian government. An agent, posing as an individual from Russia met with Rowe in March 2020. For the next eight months, Rowe offered more than 300 emails to the agent containing sensitive data.
The Department of Justice explained that in one email Rowe said, “If I can’t get a job here then I’ll go work for the other team.” In another he disclosed national defense information classified as SECRET that “concerned specific operating details of the electronic countermeasure systems used by U.S. military fighter jets.”
He also emailed the undercover agent in late-April 2020 that the coronavirus “is going be around for a very long time and politically something else is going to happen. Everyone here is talking about a new world order and I believe this so much that I even been asking my granddaughters to learn the Russian language.”
Rowe apparently indicated in the same email that he was interested in a law Russia’s President Vladimir Putin had signed allowing foreigners to become Russian citizens without having to give up their citizenship in their home countries. He said, “This is important to me because I can live on my Social Security that I received here while living in Moscow. I been seeing how much it cost to live there and that the place to be. Once this travel ban is over, I’m going to be heading to Moscow.”
Then, in late-July 2020, Rowe expressed that he may have been detected by the U.S. government, saying in a somewhat cryptic message, “Get me in stink operation with the FBI, talking in a hotel room about trade secrets. Those people are real dirt bags.”
Rowe has been formally charged with espionage, “attempting to communicate national defense information to aid a foreign government.” If convicted, of attempted to release trade secrets he faces a maximum statutory penalty of life in prison.