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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Robert Hoffman, Secret-Spilling Ex-Navy Sailor Gets 30 Years

Robert Patrick Hoffman

A retired sailor received 30 years in prison Monday for trying to pass classified information to Russian spies, but not before giving the court a piece of his mind.

Robert Patrick Hoffman II struck a defiant tone, claiming to be the victim of a large-scale government conspiracy and announcing plans to appeal his conviction for attempted espionage. He complained that the FBI and other government agents violated his constitutional rights, going so far as to delete emails that would have proven his innocence.

He said the government will have to kill him to prevent the truth about his actions from coming out.

"I will not beg for mercy from this court and certainly not the FBI," said Hoffman, wearing the black-and-gray-striped uniform of a Norfolk City Jail inmate. "I will not apologize for being good at my job."

Acting United States Attorney Dana Boente praised the sentence handed down by U.S. District Judge Robert G. Doumar.

"Hoffman attempted to spy on behalf of the Russian Federation and betrayed the trust this country placed in him. He was willing to place American lives at risk for personal gain," Boente said in a prepared statement. He added that the sentence "should serve as a clear warning to others who would willingly compromise our nation's most sensitive classified information."

It took a jury about 90 minutes in August to convict the 40-year-old Virginia Beach resident.

According to testimony, Hoffman, a former petty officer first class and submariner, gave "Top Secret" information to undercover FBI agents posing as Russian intelligence officers.

The FBI opened its investigation into Hoffman in spring 2012 after learning he'd spent three weeks in Belarus the year before. Agents sent Hoffman a letter purporting to be from Moscow. It contained a Soviet medal - the Order of the Red Banner - and sought Hoffman's "technical expertise."

Hoffman, who had spent most of his 20-year career working as a cryptologic technician, quickly agreed. He traded numerous emails with an FBI agent he thought was a Russian spy named Vladimir and made three trips to First Landing State Park in Virginia Beach to drop off information.

Hoffman left his handler an encrypted flash drive during his last visit. It offered advice on how the Russians could track American submarines and avoid detection by U.S. warships, according to testimony.

Defense attorneys argued at trial that Hoffman engaged the Russians because he wanted to help the United States catch them. They noted that he approached the FBI after the third drop and provided agents with copies of all of his correspondence with Vladimir as well as a piece of tape and a trash bag his handler had touched.

Hoffman described himself in court as a U.S. "spy and a spy hunter."

"It was a kindness of mine to offer to help the FBI," he said.

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