Prosecutors: Egyptian took Navy job to steal secrets

By Scott Daugherty
The Virginian-Pilot


A former Egyptian citizen told an undercover FBI agent earlier this year that he took a job with the Navy for the sole purpose of stealing military secrets and providing them to the Egyptian government, according to federal prosecutors.

Mostafa Ahmed Awwad – who worked as a civilian engineer at Norfolk Naval Shipyard until last week – told the undercover agent that it didn’t matter that he had surrendered his Egyptian passport. He said he still viewed himself as an Egyptian citizen and would do whatever he could to help his country: even hand over schematics to the aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford and hide homing beacons on U.S. submarines.

“I went to this place just for this reason,” Awwad told the agent, who posed as an Egyptian intelligence officer.

According to prosecutors, Awwad said he turned down a job with Lockheed Martin because the lower-paying Navy job allowed easier access to classified information.

“I don’t know what is wrong with this government. They hire the Chinese. They hire the Russians. They hire us,” Awwad said.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph DePadilla argued in federal court Wednesday that Awwad should remain in jail pending trial.

“The evidence shows this man is a patriot for Egypt,” DePadilla told the court.

Magistrate Judge Douglas Miller ordered Awwad held, noting the strength of the government’s case.

Awwad – who received his security clearance four months ago – was arrested Friday on two counts of attempted exportation of defense articles and technical data.

The charges stemmed from a “false flag” operation orchestrated by the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. According to an FBI affidavit that at times reads like a Tom Clancy novel, Awwad handed over 10 computer-aided-design drawings of the Ford.

During one of their conversations, Awwad told the agent where to strike the vessel with a missile to sink it.

“I want to give this technology to my country,” Awwad told the agent, the prosecutor said.

DePadilla told the court that Awwad had given instructions to his mother in Egypt to kidnap his two sons, ages 2 and 11 months, and raise them there if anything happened to him. Awwad described his wife as a “problem” because she did not know about his desire to help Egypt and would not support it.

During the hearing, his wife sat a few feet behind him. Awwad did not look at her before leaving the courtroom, a sharp contrast to his tearful pleas to her on Friday when he asked her to call his mother.

The wife declined to comment before leaving the courthouse with her mother and a friend.

DePadilla said Wednesday that the FBI contacted Awwad after he approached the Egyptian embassy and offered his assistance to their government. He described Awwad as an “accomplished hacker” and said he told the agent during their first encounter that he had been secretly collecting classified information from his work computer for months.

Prosecutors filed a notice Wednesday morning that said federal agents sought help from the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court for unspecified electronic surveillance and physical searches in the investigation.

DePadilla said investigators recorded all of Awwad’s conversations with the undercover agent, as well as some conversations with his mother in Egypt.

The FBI affidavit also describes some of Awwad’s background. He was born in 1979 in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. He married his wife, a U.S. citizen, in 2007 in Cairo. After that, he moved to the United States.

Assistant Federal Public Defender Keith Kimball, Awwad’s defense attorney, said his client became a citizen in June 2012.

Awwad attended Old Dominion University from August 2010 to December 2013, according to the school’s registrar. He graduated last year with a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering.

The affidavit said Awwad was hired in February to work as a civilian engineer at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in the nuclear engineering and planning department. His security clearance, received in August, gave him access to classified information up to the level of “secret.”

Awwad had access to information concerning the design, arrangement, development, maintenance and repair of the propulsion plants the Navy uses on nuclear-powered ships and prototypes, the affidavit said.

Kimball argued Wednesday for his client to be released to the custody of his wife, who has lived in Canada and the United States since she was 1. He added that while his client allegedly said a lot of things to the undercover agent, the veracity of many of the comments remains in question. Kimball pointed to Awwad’s false claim of “top secret” clearance.

“There seems to be a lot of exaggeration,” he said.

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