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  • Writer's pictureRobin Lyons

Top Secret

This true crime may sound like a Tom Clancy novel, but it’s not. A couple thought they could outsmart the FBI. They were wrong.

He sent a packaged, marked CONFIDENTIAL containing printouts, digital media files with technical details, operation manuals, and performance reports to someone in another country attempting to establish a covert relationship.

Unfortunately for the former Department of Defense nuclear engineer, an undercover FBI agent received the package. The sender of the package had written,

“I apologize for this poor translation into your language. Please forward this letter to your military intelligence agency. I believe this information will be of great value to your nation.”

The FBI agent responded to the former engineer using an encrypted email service, asking if they were still interested and how to proceed. The man wishing to sell secrets was cautious at first and did not agree to a face-to-face meeting, but a dead-drop location.

When they agreed to the first exchange as a drop-dead location, the undercover FBI agent observed the former engineer place the items in the agreed location while his wife, a private school, schoolteacher, stood nearby as a lookout. The FBI recovered the item from the drop-dead spot and found an SD Card tucked into a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

After they established the location of the second drop-dead location, the FBI agent again observed the former engineer and his wife in the same roles as before. This time the FBI recovered another SD Card hidden in a sealed Band-Aid wrapper inside a zip lock type baggie.

The undercover operation recovered a plethora of United States military and government restricted materials that were intended for a foreign country.

A Special Agent associated with the case said,

“The FBI and our federal partners have an unwavering commitment to protect U.S. secrets and will continue to aggressively investigate and expose espionage activities conducted on U.S. soil.”

Law enforcement arrested both husband and wife. They later pleaded guilty to conspiracy. A federal judge sentenced the 44-year-old husband to over 19 years in prison and the 46-year-old wife to over 21 years in prison. Combined, the judge ordered them to pay almost $100,000 in fines. The couple have two children, at the time of the sentencing, they were ages 12 and 16. #espionage #restricteddata

While awaiting sentencing and in custody, the wife tried to pass a letter to her husband. In the letter, she told him to stick with the plan. The judged shared at the sentencing that the wife wanted the husband to lie. The judge went on the say,

“It was most probably [the wife] that was driving the bus. She was part of the plan.”

The Atomic Energy Act prohibits individuals who have possession of, access to, control over, or are entrusted with any document, writing, sketch, photograph, plan, model, instrument, appliance, note, or information involving or incorporating Restricted Dada from communicating, transmitting, or disclosing it to any individual or person, or attempting or conspiring to do so, with the intent to injure the United States or to secure an advantage to any foreign nation.

Restricted Data consists of all data concerning (1) design, manufacture, or utilization of atomic weapons; (2) the production of special nuclear material; or (3) the use of special nuclear material in the production of energy.

Source: U.S. District Court, U.S. Department of Justice, CBS News, NPR

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