Norfolk, Va. – As a Navy cryptologist who handled classified information, Robert Hoffman III was trained to go straight to the federal authorities in case he was ever contacted by an enemy government.
He even signed several non-disclosure agreements during his 20-year Navy career.
Still, he violated every one of those protocols, prosecutors say, when he was contacted by undercover FBI agents posing as members of the Russian Intelligence Service.
According to details released in federal court Tuesday, Hoffman was wary of the initial contact from Moscow.
Prosecutors say two days after his first email conversation with undercover agents, Hoffman told them he was “suspicious,” but wanted to continue to establish trust between the two parties, also asking they “move to a more secure way of communicating.”
His concerns, though, didn’t stop him from acting quickly to provide classified information, according to prosecutors, on three different occasions.
Since the unemployed divorcee was short on cash, prosecutors also say he asked his Russian contacts to get him a job with a defense contractor, or even a position inside the U.S. government, and that if money wasn’t an issue, he could move out of the country.
Prosecutors even used direct quotes from the FBI’s online conversations with Hoffman in court…that he was “happy to aid the Russian Navy, there were numerous things they could do better,” and if they wanted him to take a life, “it would require significant compensation.”
Questions remain though about how FBI agents got wind of Hoffman’s spying ambitions in the first place.
Prosecutors say Hoffman visited Belarus back in 2011, and left a “gift” at the presidential palace during his trip.
Belarus and Russia are close allies, and the small country depends on Moscow for much of its trade and economy—but what made the FBI suspicious that Hoffman could be passing along secret information to the Russian Federation? The mystery will have to wait, until his trial.