Navy veteran sentenced for espionage

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — A former Sailor will spend decades behind bars for trying to provide confidential U.S. military information to undercover agents posing as Russian spies. 

Monday, Senior United States District Judge Robert Doumar sentenced 40-year-old Robert Patrick Hoffman II of Virginia Beach to 30 years in prison for attempting to commit espionage against the United States, according to Deanna Warren with the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

A Norfolk jury found Hoffman guilty as charged after a five-day trial in August.

“Hoffman attempted to spy on behalf of the Russian Federation and betrayed the trust this country placed in him. He was willing to place American lives at risk for personal gain,” Boente said in a press release. “Today’s sentence should serve as a clear warning to others who would willingly compromise our nation’s most sensitive classified information.”

Hoffman retired from the Navy in November 2011, after 20 years of service as a Cryptologic Technician – Technical. In that position, he “held security clearances and regularly received access to classified national defense information about U.S. submarines and their capabilities and equipment, about adversaries, about specific missions, and about U.S. military and naval intelligence,” Warren said.

Because of his access to that information, Hoffman signed agreements to keep it confidential and went through training about his obligations in that respect.

The FBI began an operation in 2012 to test Hoffman and see if he would act as a spy for a foreign government by divulging classified information. Undercover FBI agents posed as operatives of the Russian Federation and contacted Hoffman seeking defense information.

“In a series of responsive emails and other communications, Hoffman advised that he looked forward to ‘renewing [a] friendship’ with his purported Russian contact, was ‘willing to develop a mutual trust,’ and wanted compensation for his activities in the form of job assistance or payments based upon the risk and effort involved. Hoffman also emphasized, however, that the need for ‘security [was] paramount’ and suggested they communicate by physical, rather than unsecure electronic means,” Warren said.

So, the undercover agents posed a series of questions to Hoffman and told him, if he chose to reply, that he should signal his willingness to do so by means of a coded reply and then leave his answers on a pre-arranged date in the hollow at the base of a tree at a drop site in Virginia Beach, Warren said.

“Three times 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,” Warren said. “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.”

“[Monday’s] sentencing confirms insider threat exists in our society and pose an enduring risk to our national security,” said Special Agent in Charge Royce Curtin of the Norfolk Field Office of the FBI. “The FBI is dedicated to working with our law enforcement partners to vigorously investigate and disrupt any espionage activity directed against the United States. Counterintelligence continues to be a very high priority with severe consequences.”

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