Egyptian Engineer Pleads Guilty to Spy Charges

     WASHINGTON (CN) – A former Navy civilian engineer pleaded guilty today to a charge of espionage in federal court.
     Mostafa Ahmed Awwad, 36, of Yorktown, Va., admitted to attempting to provide schematics of the USS Gerald R. Ford, a nuclear aircraft carrier, while serving as a Navy engineer, the U.S. Department of Justice announced. The USS Gerald R. Ford is currently under construction and will the most advanced aircraft carrier in the world, with about 4,000 sailors on board. The schematics contain Naval Nuclear Propulsion Information and are marked “NOFORN,” which means they are not releasable to foreign persons.
     On Sept. 19, 2014, Awwad met with an undercover FBI agent posing as an Egyptian Intelligence Officer, according to court documents. During the meeting, Awwad told the agent that he planned to use his position to obtain military technology for the Egyptian government, including the designs of the USS Gerald R. Ford.
     Investigators say Awwad also agreed to conduct clandestine communications with the agent and conduct “dead drops” in a concealed location.
     On Oct. 9, Awwad and the agent met again and Awwad disclosed plans to install software on his restricted computer system that would allow him to copy documents without causing a security alert. Awwad also provided four computer aided drawings of the aircraft carrier and indicated that he knew the drawings would be sent to and used in Egypt.
     During that same meeting, Awwad asked the agent for $1,500 to buy a pinhole camera to take pictures of restricted material and he agreed to provide passport photos so he could get a fraudulent Egyptian passport so he could travel to Egypt without alerting U.S. officials.
     On Oct. 23, Awwad went to a pre-arranged dead drop site. According to court documents, he retrieved $3,000 before placing an external hard drive and two passport photos inside a container disguised as a hole in the ground.
     On Dec. 5, Awwad met with the agent again. Awwad told the agent he wanted to meet with “high ranking” Egyptian military officials in Cairo, had copied all of the schematics and gave the agent a thumb drive with more schematics of the USS Gerald R. Ford.
     During that same meeting, according to court records, the agent handed Awwad an envelope containing the “escape plan” along with $1,000. In reality, there was no plan inside the envelope and Awwad was arrested shortly thereafter.
     “This case underscores the persistent national security threat posed by insiders stealing critical national defense information in order to benefit foreign governments,” said Assistant Director Randall C. Coleman of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division in a statement.
     “Fortunately, the aggressive counterintelligence posture of the FBI and our interagency partners enabled the identification and neutralization of Awwad’s efforts before he transferred any information to a foreign power. Working together, we prevented the loss of billions of dollars in research costs and the exposure of potential vulnerabilities to our newest generation of nuclear aircraft carrier.”
     Awwad pleaded guilty to attempted espionage and will be sentenced on Sept. 21. The maximum penalty is life in prison, but the plea agreement recommends that Awwad receive between eight and 11 years in prison.

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