Former Defense Contractor Arrested for Attempted Espionage
South Dakota Man Emailed Classified Information to FBI Undercover Posing as Russian Agent
PHILADELPHIA – United States Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams and Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division announced that John Murray Rowe, Jr., 63, of Lead, South Dakota, a former employee of multiple cleared defense contractors, was arrested in South Dakota for attempting to communicate classified national defense information to aid a foreign government.
The defendant was charged by a criminal complaint that was unsealed and made public today upon Rowe’s arrest in the District of South Dakota. According to the complaint, Rowe, who is originally from Massachusetts, was employed for nearly 40 years as a test engineer for multiple security cleared defense contractors. In connection with his employment, the defendant held various national security clearances from SECRET to TOP SECRET//SCI (Sensitive Compartmented Information) and worked on matters relating to the U.S. Air Force’s aerospace technology, among other things. After committing a number of security violations and revealing a fervent interest in Russian affairs, including asking 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, the FBI began an undercover operation to determine the defendant’s willingness to communicate classified information to a foreign government. In March 2020, Rowe met with an FBI employee operating in a covert capacity and posing 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 U.S. 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 U.S. military fighter jets.
Rowe will make his initial appearance in federal court on these charges in South Dakota tomorrow. If convicted, the defendant faces a maximum possible sentence of life in prison.
The case was investigated by the FBI Philadelphia Field Office, and is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Sarah Wolfe and Justice Department Trial Attorney Scott Claffee of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section. Valuable assistance was provided by the Lead Police Department in South Dakota, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Dakota, the U.S. Air Fore Office of Special Investigations, and the FBI’s Minneapolis Field Office and Rapid City Resident Agency.
An indictment, information, or criminal complaint is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.