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Former US defense contractor arrested for attempting to spy for Russia

F-15E Strike Eagle silhouette
Illustration: US Air Force file photo

A former US defense contractor was arrested on December 15 in Lead, South Dakota, on criminal charges related to his attempts to spy for Russia.

According to court documents, John Murray Rowe Jr., 63, of Lead, attempted to provide classified national defense information to the Russian government.

According to the justice department, Rowe was employed for nearly 40 years as a test engineer for multiple cleared defense contractors.

In connection with his employment, Rowe held various national security clearances from “secret” to “top secret//SCI (sensitive compartmented information)” and worked on matters relating to the US Air Force’s aerospace technology, among other things.

After committing a number of security violations and revealing a fervent interest in Russian affairs, including whether he could obtain a security clearance from the Russian government, Rowe was identified as a potential insider threat and terminated from employment.

Based on his conduct, FBI began an undercover operation to determine Rowe’s willingness to communicate classified information to a foreign government.

In March 2020, Rowe met with an undercover FBI employee who posed as an agent of the Russian government. Over the course of the next eight months, Rowe exchanged over 300 emails with the purported Russian agent, confirming his willingness to work for the Russian government and discussing his knowledge of classified information relating to US national security and military interests.

In one email, Rowe explained, “If I can’t get a job here then I’ll go work for the other team.” In another email, Rowe disclosed national defense information classified as secret that concerned specific operating details of the electronic countermeasure systems used by US military fighter jets.

Rowe is charged with attempting to communicate national defense information to aid a foreign government and will make his initial court appearance in the District of South Dakota on Friday. If convicted, he faces a maximum statutory penalty of life in prison.