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Feds: Navy engineer tried to steal schematics for new carrier class

The USS Gerald R. Ford is christened during a ceremony Nov. 9, 2013, at Huntington-Ingalls Industries' Newport News shipyard in Virginia. The Gerald Ford is the 1st of a new class of aircraft carrier intended to replace Nimitz-class carriers. U.S. Navy

By Hugh Lessig and Peter Dujardin | Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) (TNS) | Published: December 5, 2014

A Navy engineer was arrested and charged Friday with attempting to steal plans for the Navy's most advanced aircraft carrier, now under construction at Newport News Shipbuilding.

Mostafa Ahmed Awwad, 35, a York County, Va., resident who worked at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Virginia, was indicted on two counts of attempted exportation of defense articles and technical data, according to a news release from U.S. Attorney Dana J. Boente. If convicted, he faces a maximum of 20 years in prison on each count.

Awwad intended to send the schematics to Egypt, authorities said.

Court documents describe a saga that included an FBI undercover agent posing as an Egyptian intelligence officer, a clandestine meeting in Sandy Bottom Nature Park in Hampton, a prearranged "dead drop" along a secluded hiking trail and Awwad's alleged intention to wear a pinhole camera to photograph classified material.

During one meeting with the undercover agent, he "discussed where to strike the vessel with a missile in order to sink it," an affidavit states.

Awwad worked in the nuclear engineering and planning department at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, having begun working at the yard early this year, the affidavit says. His security clearance gave him access to information on Naval nuclear propulsion systems.

He made an initial appearance in U.S. District Court in Norfolk, Va., on Friday and is scheduled to appear at the federal courthouse for a detention hearing Dec. 10.

Though it was unclear from the documents how investigators first began to track Awwad, a search warrant affidavit made public Friday says that an FBI undercover agent first called him on the afternoon of Sept. 18.

The FBI agent, "posing as an Egyptian intelligence officer," identified himself as "Yousef," from Washington, D.C., according to the affidavit by FBI Special Agent James Blitzer. The undercover agent then "asked Awwad to meet him at a public park in Hampton" the next day.

Awwad agreed, and they met at 7:30 a.m. the next morning at Sandy Bottom Nature Park, off Big Bethel Road and Hampton Roads Center Parkway. During the 90-minute meeting, the affidavit says, Awwad told "Yousef" he intended "to utilize his position of trust with the U.S. Navy to obtain military technology for use by the Egyptian government."

"Awwad discussed various aspects of U.S. radar technology, U.S. nuclear aircraft carriers, ballistic nuclear submarines, and nuclear attack submarines in an attempt to describe his ability to obtain information for the Egyptian government," the FBI affidavit says.

Awwad told "Yousef" he would copy the Ford's designs onto CDs and would conduct "clandestine communications with Yousef by email and unattributable telephones." Awwad said he would use "dead drops" — of the CDs and return payments — at concealed locations at Sandy Bottom, Blitzer's affidavit says.

On Oct 9, the pair met at a local hotel at 5:30 p.m., the affidavit says. In advance of that meeting, Awwad asked the undercover agent to bring a laptop computer, thumb drives, an external hard drive and a prepaid phone.

"Awwad suggested an elaborate safety system which included several one-time use electronic mail boxes with phantom names," the affidavit says. The plan included "bugs" on restricted computer systems "that will enable him to copy documents without causing a security alert," the affidavit said.

"Awwad provided Yousef with four computer aided design (CAD) drawings of a U.S. aircraft carrier which he claimed are Top Secret," the affidavit says. "Awwad discussed where to strike the vessel with a missile in order to sink it."

Also according to the affidavit, Awwad said he was building a milling machine to replicate some of the American technology and asked the agent for $1,500 for a camera to "to photograph restricted material" at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.

Later, the affidavit says, the FBI determined the drawings were indeed of the Navy's Gerald R. Ford carrier.

According to the affidavit, many of the drawings contained the following text: "WARNING: THIS DOCUMENT CONTAINS TECHNICAL DATA WHOSE EXPORT IS RESTRICTED BY THE ARMS CONTROL ACT ... OR THE EXPORT ADMINISTRATIVE ACT … VIOLATIONS OF THESE LAWS ARE SUBJECT TO SEVERE CRIMAINAL PENALTIES."

At about 10:30 a.m. on Oct. 23, the affidavit says, Awwad dropped a hard drive and two passport pictures at a "dead drop" container at the nature park. The container was in a hole in a ground along a secluded hiking trail, and covered by "camouflage netting and vegetation." Awwad took $3,000 in cash that "Yousef" had left for him.

At 10:37 a.m., the affidavit says, Awwad texted Yousef: "All done. You can get it now."

On Nov. 28, the affidavit says, Awwad was seen entering his office at Norfolk Naval Shipyard, holding a white tube, then took out design schematics — each about 10-feet long. He put them on the floor and photographed them with "what appeared to be a pocket camera."

"The schematics appeared to be various profiles of an aircraft carrier," the affidavit says, adding that Awwad was looking at the drawings and taking pictures for about 45 minutes. After being out of view for about two minutes, he "packed up his items" and "departed the office," the affidavit says.

It was unclear from the affidavit what the schematics represented or what part of the carrier they depicted.

The affidavit was for a search warrant for Awwad's home in York County, two of his vehicles — a 2001 BMW and a 2002 Mercury Mountaineer — and a storage unit on J.Clyde Morris Blvd. in Newport News. It was not immediately clear what was seized in those searches.

The Ford is the first of a new class of aircraft carrier that packs almost a dozen major new technologies onboard and represents a taxpayer investment of at least $13 billion.

Among the new technologies are dual band radar, new systems for launching and recovering aircraft, and a nuclear propulsion system that produces a nearly three-fold increase in power generation compared to the current Nimitz-class carriers.

The Navy is scheduled to take delivery of the ship in early 2016. When it does, it will be considered the most advanced ship of its kind.

A second Ford-class carrier, to be named for John F. Kennedy, is currently under construction. The Navy plans to build a third ship of the class, to be named for Enterprise.

Court documents say Awwad was born in Saudi Arabia and married his current spouse in May 2007 in Cairo, where he began the U.S. immigration process to become a citizen.

It was not immediately clear when he came to the U.S.

But early this year, the affidavit states, he was offered a job as a civilian general engineer in the Nuclear Engineering and Planning Department at Norfolk Naval Shipyard. It was not immediately clear Friday what work the naval shipyard was performing on the Ford carrier, given that the bulk of construction is being done at Newport News Shipbuilding.

In August, Awwad was issued a security clearance that gave him access to classified information, which includes naval nuclear propulsion information.

The nuclear power systems onboard aircraft carriers are considered among the most closely guarded sections of the ship. Awwad had access to information concerning the design, development, maintenance and repair of propulsion plants onboard nuclear-powered ships, the affidavit says.

The case was investigated by FBI's Norfolk field office and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service in cooperation with the Department of the Navy.

©2014 the (Newport News, Va.) Daily Press. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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