Former defense contractor attempted to provide military secrets to Russia, DOJ says
A former defense contractor was arrested Wednesday night in South Dakota and charged with attempting to provide classified information to the Russian government, the US Department of Justice said.
John Murray Rowe Jr., a 63-year-old who spent nearly four decades as a test engineer for several defense contractors, was the target of a monthslong operation conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, according to DoJ documents made public on Thursday.
Over the course of his career, Rowe held various security clearances from “Secret” to “Top Secret//SCI,” or Sensitive Compartmented Information—a further restriction that involves information derived from sensitive intelligence sources and methods. Although the DoJ didn’t specify which companies Rowe worked for, an FBI affidavit described three as dealing with electronic systems and software, including “electronic warfare technology” and “space and intelligence systems.”
In April 2017, Rowe’s employer at the time reported to the US Defense Security Service that he was potentially an insider threat, based in part on his social media posts that revealed information about fighter jets to a woman he thought might have been a Russian spy. Rowe’s contract with that company ended several months later, and shortly after that he joined another contractor that worked on US Air Force aerospace technology.
In late 2017 and early 2018, Rowe made several security violations at the new company, including attempting to install software from a thumb drive onto a computer in a classified space, and inquiring to an information security officer about the possibility of holding both US and Russian security clearances. Rowe was fired from his position at the company in March 2018.
Based on that conduct, the FBI sent an undercover employee to meet with him in March 2020, posing as an agent of the Russian government. Over the next eight months, Rowe told the undercover agent that he was willing to work for the Russian government, and shared knowledge of classified US national security and military information—including specific details around electronic countermeasure systems used by fighter jets. “If I can’t get a job here then I’ll go work for the other team,” Rowe wrote in one of the several hundred emails that he exchanged with the agent.
Rowe will make an initial court appearance Friday in South Dakota and potentially faces life in prison if convicted.
Adam Janofsky is the founding editor-in-chief of The Record by Recorded Future. He previously was the cybersecurity and privacy reporter for Protocol, and prior to that covered cybersecurity, AI, and other emerging technology for The Wall Street Journal.