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Press Release

Former Defense Contractor Pleads Guilty to Attempted Espionage

For Immediate Release
Office of Public Affairs

John Murray Rowe Jr., 65, of Lead, South Dakota, pleaded guilty today to one count of attempted delivery of national defense information to a foreign government and three counts of willful communication of national defense information.

According to court documents, Rowe, who is originally from Massachusetts, 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 U.S. Air Force electronic warfare technology, among other things. After committing a number of security violations and revealing a devout interest in Russian affairs, Rowe was identified as a potential insider threat and terminated from employment.

In March 2020, he met with an undercover FBI agent who was posing as an agent of the Russian government. During this meeting, Rowe disclosed national defense information classified as SECRET that concerned specific operating details of the electronic countermeasure systems used by U.S. military fighter jets, among other things. 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 U.S. national security. 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 classified national defense information concerning the U.S. Air Force. In September 2020, Rowe had a second in-person meeting with the undercover FBI agent. During this meeting, Rowe again disclosed classified national defense information.

Rowe was arrested on Dec. 15, 2021, and was ordered detained pending trial. During his pretrial detention at the Philadelphia Federal Detention Center, Rowe made at least three unauthorized disclosures of the same classified national defense information concerning the U.S. Air Force to individuals not authorized to receive it – namely, his brother, son and realtor, which were captured on recorded prison calls.

Sentencing is set for Aug. 22, and Rowe faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. A federal district court judge will determine any sentence after considering the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The FBI's Philadelphia Field Office is investigating the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sarah Wolfe for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and Trial Attorney Scott Claffee of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Section are prosecuting the case.

Additional assistance was provided by the Lead (SD) Police Department, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Dakota, the U.S. Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency, and the FBI’s Minneapolis Field Office and Rapid City (SD) Resident Agency.

Updated May 10, 2024

National Security
Press Release Number: 24-541