A Yorktown, VA, man pleaded guilty Monday to attempted espionage after he tried to smuggle schematic plans for a Navy aircraft carrier to Egypt.
Mostafa Ahmed Awwad, 36, was going to go on trial for attempting to smuggle schematic plans for a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier to Egypt. He had pleaded not guilty December 17, 2014 and had a jury trial scheduled for June 16 in Norfolk’s U.S. District Court.
A federal grand jury on Dec. 3 indicted Mostafa Ahmed Awwad and charged him with two counts of attempting to export defense articles and technical data, according to documents from the Justice Department.
Awwad tried to bring plans for the USS Ford aircraft carrier to Egypt twice, first on October 9, 2014 and again on October 23, 2014, according to the indictment.
At the time of his indictment, Awwad, of Yorktown, VA, was working as a civilian engineer in the nuclear engineering and planning department of the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, where he ended up hired in February. He had been given a clearance of Secret.
The office provides engineering support for the Gerald R. Ford, under construction at Newport News Shipbuilding.
The indictment and affidavit provide details of how, on Sept. 18, an FBI undercover agent speaking in Arabic contacted Awwad by phone and asked to meet the following day. Awwad subsequently agreed to copy and turn over diagrams and schematics of the carrier, many marked “NOFORN,” meaning no distribution to foreign citizens.
During the Sept. 19 meeting “Awwad met with the undercover FBI agent, who was posing as an Egyptian intelligence officer, in a park in Hampton, Virginia. During the meeting Awwad claimed it was his intention to utilize his position of trust with the US Navy to obtain military technology for use by the Egyptian government, including but not limited to, the designs of the USS Gerald Ford nuclear aircraft carrier. Awwad agreed to conduct clandestine communications with the undercover FBI agent by email and unattributable telephones and to conduct ‘dead drops’ in a concealed location in the park,” the Justice Department said.
On Oct. 9 Awwad “and the undercover FBI agent met at a hotel where Awwad described a detailed plan to circumvent US 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 four computer aided drawings of a US nuclear aircraft carrier downloaded from the Navy Nuclear Propulsion Information system. These drawings were marked with warnings that foreign distribution could result in criminal prosecution.
“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 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 Awwad could travel to Egypt without alerting US government officials,” the Justice Department said.
On Oct. 23, the documents said, Awwad traveled to a pre-arranged dead drop site — a concealed container disguised as a hole in the ground situated on a secluded hiking trail in a park. There, “he retrieved $3,000 in cash before placing a one-terabyte external hard drive and two passport photos inside. The FBI later collected the contents of the dead drop container.”
More than a month later, on Nov. 28, “Awwad was observed entering his office at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard holding a cardboard tube about three feet long. Once in his office, Awwad opened the cardboard tube and took out several white sheets which appeared to be design schematics of an aircraft carrier. Awwad then placed the schematics on the floor of his office and photographed them. After approximately 45 minutes of viewing the schematics and taking photographs, Awwad placed all the schematics back in the cardboard tube and left his office,” the Justice department said.
According to a redacted affidavit from federal agent James Blitzer, Awwad was born in 1979 in Saudi Arabia. He married a U.S. citizen in May 2007 in Cairo, Egypt, and later became a U.S. citizen.
The case was a joint investigation between the FBI and Naval Criminal Investigative Service.