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South Dakota man arrested for espionage after offering Air Force secrets to FBI agent posing as Russian

John Murray Rowe, Jr., told an undercover FBI agent he wanted to "work for the other team" after meeting her in a Deadwood hotel in March of 2020.

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Downtown Deadwood, South Dakota on October 2, 2021.
Christopher Vondracek / Forum News Service
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LEAD, S.D. —A former military contractor living in Lead made his first appearance in a federal court last week on pending charges related to suspicion that he tried selling fighter jet secrets to an undercover FBI agent posing as a representative of the Russian government.

John Murray Rowe, 63, appeared on Friday, Dec. 17 before federal Magistrate Judge Daneta Wollmann in a Rapid City courtroom for arraignment on a complaint pending in the U.S. District Court of South Dakota. Rowe will remain in a corrections facility until a preliminary hearing on Dec. 30.

Federal authorities arrested Rowe, a former defense contractor, on Dec. 15 on espionage allegations, more than a year after he met with on two occasions -- March 9, 2020 and Sept. 10, 2020 -- with an undercover FBI agent purporting to be a Russian Federation officer in a Deadwood hotel.

According to an affidavit and warrant filed on Thursday, Dec. 16, Rowe, a 40-year veteran of defense contract work and holding multiple security clearances, was first approached by the agent in March of 2020 in Lead. After meeting with the agent in a Deadwood hotel, Rowe began a correspondence with the agent comprising over 300 emails for eight months, in which he expressed hope that she would find him employment "with the other team."

"I think your [sic] my only hope of getting to Russian before the bottom drop out here in the United States," Rowe emailed to the FBI agent on Aug. 5, 2020, according to court records.

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Rowe met again with the agent in a hotel in the Black Hills resort and gambling town in September. According to the affidavit, in November of 2020, Rowe traveled from the Hills to Philadelphia and tried to transmit classified technologies to the FBI agent, who worked out of the Philadelphia Field Office.

The U.S. Department of Justice has charged Rowe with attempting to communicate national defense information to aid a foreign government in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. If convicted, Rowe would spend life in prison.

I think your [sic] my only hope of getting to Russian before the bottom drop out here in the United States.
John Murray Rowe, in an email via court records

Rowe appeared in the Rapid City courtroom for fewer than 20 minutes on Friday, Dec. 17, and the exact nature of the charges against him are not yet public. Earlier in emails, Rowe maintained he had access to classified fighter jet technology related to the U.S. Air Force's "electronic warfare technology."

In another email, Rowe told the agent he could provide the Russians with classified information about electronic countermeasure systems, or radar jammers, used in U.S. fighter jets.

"Everyone here is talking about a new world order, and I believe this so much that I even been [sic] asking my granddaughters to learn the Russian language," Rowe emailed the agent, according to Thursday's court filing, albeit noting the language is "hard" to learn.

Federal authorities took notice of Rowe in 2018 after he'd been fired by an unnamed defense contractor for violating security protocols in. Rowe had also made social media posts as early as 2017 suggesting he'd already provided classified, aerospace intelligence to a foreign agent.

On Monday, Dec. 20, public defender Alecia Fuller filed paperwork to represent Rowe.

Rowe is the second high-profile defendant to appear before magistrate Wollmann this month.

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On Dec. 1, James Haffner, of Sturgis, made a court appearance at the Rapid City federal courthouse on allegations of attacking a Capitol Police officer during the Jan. 6 attack in Washington D.C. Last week, Haffner waived his right to a preliminary hearing. Haffner is charged with four federal crimes, including obstruction of law enforcement during a civil disorder.

Christopher Vondracek covers South Dakota news for Forum News Service. Email him at cvondracek@forumcomm.com or follow him on Twitter at @ChrisVondracek.
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