A former South Dakota defense contractor was arrested this week for allegedly attempting to provide a Russian agent with classified national defense information.
According to the Department of Justice on Thursday, John Murray Rowe Jr., 63, from Lead, S.D., told a person he believed to be a Russian agent that Moscow is “the place to be,” an undercover FBI operation revealed.
“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 U.S. national security and military interests,” the DOJ said.
In one of the emails, Rowe allegedly said, “If I can’t get a job here then I’ll go work for the other team.” In a second email, he provided the undercover agent with secret national defense information “that concerned specific operating details of the electronic countermeasure systems used by U.S. military fighter jets.”
The New York Times reported that Rowe had expressed interest in a law signed by Russian President Vladimir Putin, which allows foreigners to become Russian citizens without sacrificing the citizenship of their home countries.
“This is important to me because I can live on my Social Security that I received here while living in Moscow,” Mr. Rowe said. “I been seeing how much it cost to live there and that the place to be. Once this travel ban is over, I’m going to be heading to Moscow.”
At one point, Rowe showed concern that his espionage had been detected by the United States government.
“Get me in stink operation with the FBI, talking in a hotel room about trade secrets,” he wrote in an email, apparently referring to a sting operation. “Those people are real dirt bags.”
Rowe was charged with attempting to communicate national defense information to aid a foreign government. His first court appearance in the District of South Dakota is scheduled for Friday.
If convicted, the alleged spy could be sentenced to life in prison.
Last month, another spy working for the Chinese Ministry of State Security was convicted by a U.S. federal jury for “conspiring to and attempting to commit economic espionage and theft of trade secrets.”
Yanjun Xu, the first Chinese intelligence officer to be extradited to the United States to stand trial, is now facing up to 60 years in prison and fines totaling over $5 million.
According to the DOJ, Xu had used multiple aliases since December 2013 to “target specific companies in the United States and abroad” to obtain information in the field of aviation.