Former Civilian Naval Engineer Sentenced for Espionage

The questions on an SF-86 form asked of an individual who applies for security clearance can seem invasive and excessive.

But the recent conviction of Mostafa Ahmed Awwad for attempted espionage proves that those who would put our nation’s security at risk occasionally slip through the cracks, in spite of the in-depth investigation performed prior to security clearance approval.

On Oct. 15, U.S. District Judge Raymond A. Jackson sentenced him to 11 years in federal prison, followed by five years of supervision after his release, according to The Virginian-Pilot.

Awwad is a 36-year-old who was born in Saudi Arabia, but later became a citizen of Egypt. He married a U.S. citizen in Cairo in 2007, according to a previous article in The Virginian-Pilot. The couple moved to the United States, and Awwad became a U.S. citizen in 2012. He is an Old Dominion University graduate who was hired in February 2014 to work as a civilian engineer in the nuclear engineering and planning department at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. He held a secret security clearance.

Awwad pleaded guilty in June to one count of attempted espionage. In December 2014, he plotted to steal the plans for the $12.9 billion Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier and give them to Egypt.

An undercover FBI agent called Awwad last year after Awwad visited the Egyptian Embassy in Washington and renounced his citizenship, the Virginian-Pilot article stated. An agent posed as an Egyptian intelligence official and met with Awwad twice in person. Awwad offered to provide schematics of the aircraft carrier, which Egypt could use to identify weak points.

The documents Awwad provided weren’t classified, but they were marked that they weren’t to be shared with foreign nationals. As it turns out, the bulk of what Awwad told the undercover agent was exaggerated or false. Still, Awwad told an FBI agent he sought employment at the shipyard so he could steal military secrets.

How does someone like this slip through the security clearance cracks?

“That is the $64,000 question,” says security clearance attorney Catie Young, who does not represent Awwad. “The background check is thorough and is designed to enable the government to investigate an individual prior to issuing a security clearance.”

The SF-86 Questionnaire for National Security Positions digs deep into an applicant’s background. It requires extensive, detailed information on place of birth, schools attended, residences lived, relatives, employment history, military history, marital status, foreign contacts, and foreign business, professional and government activities, to name several examples.

“All of this information is researched in an effort to determine whether a security clearance applicant poses a risk to national security,” Young says. “But at the end of the day, there is no way to predict a person’s future actions.”

Our law firm specializes in security clearance law. If you need a security clearance for your job, or you have applied for a security clearance and hit a snag, please call our office for a consultation. We can help you navigate the process.