A federal magistrate judge on Wednesday denied bond for a York County man accused of attempting to steal and send to Egypt designs for the nation's newest and most advanced aircraft carrier.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Douglas Miller said there are no "conditions the court can fashion" to allow Mostafa Ahmed Awwad to be free pending trial without putting the United States itself at risk.
"Mr. Awwad presents a grave danger to the country," Miller said after a prosecutor urged him to deny bond for the man who until Friday was an engineer at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth.
Miller's ruling came after Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph E. DePadilla detailed several chilling conversations — recorded by both audio and video — that Awwad had with an undercover FBI agent Awwad incorrectly thought was an Egyptian intelligence officer.
In the recordings, for example, Awwad spoke of the critical parts of an aircraft carrier that could cause the ship to sink if they were struck.
"Even if we are not able to make the carrier, you will be able to see how it can be hit and drowned," Awwad told the FBI agent, according to DePadilla. "The bomb bay. The bomb storage area. That's it. Bye-bye."
He also spoke of a part of the carrier he called "the floater." "You break the floater like this, it's over," Awwad told the agent on the recording, DePadilla said.
DePadilla pointed out that the Gerald R. Ford — the nation's newest aircraft carrier that's now being built at Newport News Shipbuilding — will carry more than 4,000 service members while underway. He added that the Ford's commanding officer told the FBI the design schematics that Awwad gave to the undercover agent "contain vulnerable areas" of the warship.
Also on the recordings, DePadilla said, Awwad boasted of how he could install "bugs" on nuclear submarines when they come through Norfolk Naval Shipyard for routine maintenance. Since the subs come through so regularly, he told the agent, after a few years "you can have a bug in every submarine."
Awwad, 35, was born in Saudi Arabia and came to the United States in 2007, becoming a U.S. citizen in 2012. He's a December 2013 graduate of Old Dominion University and landed the job at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in February.
He now faces up to 40 years in prison on charges of violating the export control act, accused of turning over several controlled design drawings of the Ford.
Those transfers took place, prosecutors said, during clandestine meetings in September and October at a local hotel and at Hampton's Sandy Bottom Nature Park, after the undercover FBI agent initially called Awwad on Sept. 18. At one point, Awwad got $3,000 in return.
The audio and video recordings were not played in court Wednesday, but DePadilla outlined them in detail.
During the conversations, Awwad called it his life's "mission" to provide Egypt with U.S. Navy technology, saying at one point that "Allah" has "made this possible."
Awwad told the undercover agent that he turned down a $95,000 per year job at defense contractor Lockheed Martin so he instead could sabotage American technology from inside the Navy.
"My mission in life is to get stuff, move it home and make it work," Awwad told the undercover agent, according to DePadilla. Later, DePadilla said, Awwad told the agent: "I came to this place just for this reason."
Awwad talked of "giving you the drawings and materials" to allow Egypt to build its own Navy fleet, including "copying all the tools in the shipyard" — and having tools and shipboard parts reproduced in places such as Korea or Taiwan.
DePadilla said Awwad went into his office the Friday after Thanksgiving — when very few of his colleagues were around — to secretly photograph some of the carrier designs with his cell phone.
Awwad's wife — the mother of his two sons, a 2-year-old and an 11-month-old — knew nothing of his schemes, Awwad told the FBI agent on the tape, DePadilla said. Awwad talked of having a secret bank account and a rented storage unit to keep things from her.
"She knows nothing — even until the day I die," he said, according to DePadilla.
Awwad also mocked his wife and her father for not being Egyptians, at one point referring to non-Egyptians as "trashy people," DePadilla said. Though she is of Arabian descent and wears a hijab, she was raised mostly in North America, with Awwad telling the agent she has become "too American."
Awwad told the undercover agent the only person in the world he fully trusts is his mother, who lives in Egypt.
In fact, DePadilla said, Awwad told his mother that if he were ever to be killed, she should have his body sent to Egypt, come to the United States to "take the kids," and raise them in Egypt. "Never return them," Awwad told her on the recording, DePadilla said.
Awwad also mocked the United States for allowing citizens of countries that aren't on good terms with the U.S. to do sensitive work here. "They hire the Chinese, they have the Russians, they hire us," he told the agent, according to DePadilla. "That's good for us."
Awwad boasted about contacts at the Egyptian embassy in Washington — whose names checked out as real people, DePadilla said. Awwad also told the undercover agent that embassy officials agreed he could renounce his Egyptian citizenship in return for providing sensitive Navy technology.
DePadilla said Awwad also took extensive steps to cover his tracks.
He told the undercover agent he would send emails in encryption four levels deep that it would take the U.S. "10 years" to decode. He asked the agent to create 24 email accounts, but to only send one email from each account before deleting it.
DePadilla said Awwad also told the agent to attach two documents for each email, but include the real information separately in the email.
If he's found out, he told the undercover agent, "I'm going to be killed. Because I'm Top Secret clearance."
In asking the judge to order Awwad to be held in custody pending trial, DePadilla said Awwad is clearly a flight risk. "He is going to flee," DePadilla said flatly.
Awwad's lawyer, Supervising Assistant Federal Public Defender Keith L. Kimball, said many of Awwad's boastful statements about his access to Navy technology are simply "embellishments on his part."
"There seems to be a lot of exaggeration," Kimball said. For example, while he had access to sensitive information, Kimball said, he didn't have Top Secret clearance as he claimed.
"We're not talking about the Secretary of Defense here," Kimball said.
Kimball said Awwad has ties to the community, including through his two sons, and asked that an electronic home monitoring system be put in place. He urged Judge Miller to give Awwad a bond that would provide "reasonable assurance" that he would not flee.
As for the fact that Awwad knew real names of Egyptian embassy employees, Kimball said those were simply the names of those who processed his decision in June 2012 to give up his Egyptian citizenship and become an American.
Miller quickly sided with DePadilla — denying Awwad bond pending trial. "A week ago or two weeks ago, he was taking photographs of the (plans for) the most advanced carrier the United States has ever built," Miller said.
Daily Press reporter Hugh Lessig contributed to this report. Dujardin can be reached by phone at 757-247-4749.