Ex-Sailor arrested by FBI in espionage sting

Robert Patrick Hoffman II, retired Navy Petty Officer 1st Class, attempted to disclose classified information to Russia

Thursday, December 6, 2012 - 9:00pm

A former U.S. Navy submarine warfare specialist has been arrested and charged with trying to give classified information about how to track U.S. submarines to people he thought were representatives of the Russian Federation -- but who were actually FBI undercover agents, according to federal authorities.

Robert Patrick Hoffman II of Virginia Beach, Virginia, was arrested Thursday morning on an attempted espionage charge.

He appeared in federal court in Norfolk Thursday afternoon for an initial appearance, and the judge granted Hoffman's request for a court-appointed attorney, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Hoffman will remain in jail pending a detention hearing next Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

According to the indictment, on October 21 Hoffman tried to hand over national defense information to people he thought were representatives of the Russian government, including classified information "that revealed and pertained to methods to track U.S. submarines, including the technology and procedures required."

The government alleges Hoffman intended to harm the United States and give an advantage to the Russian Federation. The court documents do not state whether Hoffman sought any money for the materials.

A law enforcement official told CNN that Hoffman also was seeking money, but the official would not say how much.

The information was given to FBI agents who were conducting an undercover operation. The indictment does not charge the Russian government with wrongdoing.

Hoffman, 39, is described as a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Navy who was trained in cryptology and reached the rank of petty officer first class. He retired from active duty in November 2011. According to his biography released by the military, he served as a submarine warfare specialist.

Hoffman held security clearances, and prosecutors say he signed several documents during his tenure in the Navy promising not to divulge sensitive information.

A U.S. official said Hoffman's home in Virginia Beach was searched, as was a local storage facility he was renting. The official said there was nothing to indicate that Hoffman passed classified information to "actual Russians" any time in the past, but authorities still have to examine items taken from his home and storage locker.

If convicted, Hoffman could be sentenced to life in prison.

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