Attempted Espionage of USS Gerald Ford

Mostafa Ahmed Awwad, a Saudi-born Egyptian who moved to the United States in 2007, pled guilty to attempted espionage, but avoided more severe sentencing due to the classification of the stolen documents.

Awwad pled guilty to stealing and passing along to Egyptian operatives documents related to the USS Gerald Ford's propulsion system, weapon systems, technology, and "defense mechanisms" located under the carrier's waterline. The documents, which were dated 2008, were also marked "preliminary draft" and that the documents are not operative schematics of the carrier's current configuration. Although the changes that were made since 2008 have been "relatively minor", according to The location of sensitive and vulnerable areas of the ship remains the same.

The documents were labeled both "NNPI" (Naval Nuclear Propulsion Information) and "NOFORN" (No Foreign Nationals), however, they were not labeled "Classified", "Secret", or "Top Secret". The documents were located on a restricted computer system at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. This classification means that Awwad was offered a much lower sentence in his plea deal - 8 to 11 1/2 years - instead of the recommended 12 to 15 years that the federal guidelines recommends. The sentence is also much lower than another recent espionage case, Navy Petty Officer Robert Patrick Hoffman II, who got 30 years in a 5-day trial that found him guilty of attempting to provide "Top Secret" information about US submarines to the Russians.

Both Awwad and Hoffman, however, never got the chance to give their stolen information to their target countries, as both actually gave the stolen information to undercover operatives. Awwad's sentencing is scheduled for September 21.

The USS Gerald Ford is America's newest and most advanced aircraft carrier, built with advanced and cutting edge technology. Even before Awwad, this $13 billion supercarrier was already a source of controversy, as some of its newer systems have had their share of teething problems. For instance, the Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System, designed to replace the traditional steam catapult, currently has more limitations and a higher mean time between failures (1 in 240 - five times higher than expected) than the traditional steam catapult. The new aircraft arresting system, the Advanced Arresting Gear, is more troubling, with a 1 in 20 failure rate - almost 250 times what was expected. Worse, the AAG is already being installed below the Ford's massive flight deck - any changes that will need to be made will require a much more complex removal and re-installation.

The USS Gerald Ford is scheduled to be commissioned in March of 2016.