The Defence Department has indicted a civilian Navy engineer for attempting to send schematics for the US’s newest nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to an undercover FBI agent who he believed was working for Egyptian intelligence.
Mostafa Ahmed Awwad was a civilian engineer in the Nuclear Engineering and Planning Department at the Navy’s shipyard in Norfolk, Virginia. The 34-year-old Awwad worked at the department since February in 2014. One night in September, an Arabic-speaker called Awwad and set up a meeting the next day, where the caller explained that he was an Egyptian intelligence agent.
According to a Justice Department press release, at that meeting, Awwad seemed eager to cooperate and claimed “it was his intention to utilise his position of trust with the US Navy to obtain military technology for use by the Egyptian government, including but not limited to, the designs of the USS Gerald R. Ford nuclear aircraft carrier,”
Awwad allegedly set up dead-drops and a system of communication with the person he thought was an Egyptian spy. The DOJ press release said this enabled Awwad to provide his handler with “four computer-aided drawings of a US nuclear aircraft carrier downloaded from the Navy Nuclear Propulsion Information system.” He allegedly provided photos of blueprints for the vessel, and even explained the best places to strike the carrier in order to sink it. Awwad allegedly brought a handgun to one of his meetings with his contact as well.
Since his contact was actually with the FBI, the sting could land Awwad as much as a 20-year prison sentence.
Awwad was born in Saudi Arabia, but had married his wife in Cairo, according to an affidavit in support of search warrants released by the Justice Department. He held a US security clearance that granted access to “classified national defence information” up to the “secret” level of classification.
The arrest comes at an unusually tense time for US-Egyptian relations, after the regime of president Abdel Fattal al-Sisi dismissed charges against Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian leader overthrown in February of 2011 after 30 years in power. The US has frozen some of its military assistance to Cairo after Sisi seized power in what many consider to be a military coup in July of 2013, when the former general removed and then imprisoned elected Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammad Morsi.
The running of what even the affidavit describes as an FBI “false-flag operation” under an Egyptian guise suggests the US is concerned with attempted spying on Cairo’s behalf — and isn’t worried about the possible consequences of American government officers impersonating Egyptian intelligence. The arrest could further complicate the still-close intelligence and security relationship between the US and Egypt.
Colin Campbell contributed to this report.
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