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Former U.S. Navy cryptology tech imprisoned for espionage

by: jim kouri | published: 02 17, 2014

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A former U.S. Navy cryptology technician was sentenced to 30-years in federal prison for his attempt to steal military secrets and give them to men he believed were spies for the Russian Federation, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

The 40-year-old submarine systems operator, Robert Patrick Hoffman of Virginia Beach, Va., was sentenced by Senior United States District Court Judge Robert Doumar in an Eastern District of Virginia courtroom.

“By attempting to hand over some of America’s most closely held military secrets, Robert Hoffman put U.S. service members and this country at risk,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Carlin.

“ Today, Mr. Hoffman is being held accountable for his actions. This prosecution should serve as a warning to others who would compromise our nation’s secrets. I commend the prosecutors, agents and analysts who worked diligently on this case,” said Carlin, who works in the DOJ's National Security Division.

“Hoffman attempted to spy on behalf of the Russian Federation and betrayed the trust this country placed in him,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Dana Boente. “He was willing to place American lives at risk for personal gain.”

Following a five-day jury trial that ended on Aug. 21, 2013, a Norfolk jury found Hoffman guilty of attempted espionage, as charged in the one-count superseding indictment filed on May 8, 2013. According to court records and the Examiner, Hoffman is a U.S. citizen born in Buffalo, N.Y., who served for 20 years in the U.S. Navy until retiring with the rank of Petty Officer First Class on Nov. 1, 2011.

Hoffman’s MOS (Military Occupation Specialty) in the Navy was Cryptologic Technician - Technical (CTT). As such, he served onboard -- or in conjunction with -- U.S. nuclear submarines for most of his career. Hoffman operated electronic sensors and systems designed to collect data and information about potential enemies, scanned the environment for threats to the submarine, and provided technical and tactical guidance to the submarines' commanding officers.

Because of his MOS, of necessity Hoffman held security clearances and regularly received access to classified national defense information about U.S. submarines and their capabilities and equipment, about specific missions, and about U.S. military and naval intelligence.

As a condition of receiving access to this sensitive information, Hoffman repeatedly signed nondisclosure agreements and regularly received training about his obligations to protect intelligence and to report without delay any suspicious contacts, according to trial testimony. In 2012, the FBI agents initiated an investigation to determine if Hoffman was willing to act as an agent for a foreign government and commit espionage against the United States by divulging classified information, according to the Examiner.

As part of this investigation, undercover FBI agents posing as operatives of the Russian Federation contacted Hoffman seeking defense information. On three occasions in September and October 2012, Hoffman did just that and filled the drop site with encrypted thumb drives containing answers to the questions posed to him by persons he believed to be Russian agents.

In his answers, Hoffman supplied, among other things, national defense information classified at the levels of secret and top secret/sensitive compartmented information. Following these disclosures, FBI and NCIS agents arrested Hoffman on Dec. 6, 2012, and the court ordered him detained.

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