SAN DIEGO (AP) — A U.S. sailor has pleaded guilty to two counts of espionage and was sentenced to three years after admitting he took classified information about the Navy's nuclear-powered warships and planned to give it to a journalist and then defect to Russia, officials said Friday.
U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Stephen Kellogg III wished to publish an expose on waste within the military and admitted he wanted to share the information with Russians, said Jeff Houston of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service in an email to The Associated Press.
According to Navy court documents, Kellogg, 26, was in contact with Sevmash, Russia's largest shipbuilding enterprise and only nuclear submarine producer. He admitted he knew releasing the information could degrade the ability of nuclear-powered warships, and therefore cause injury to the United States.
Neither Kellogg nor his lawyers could be immediately reached for comment.
Authorities learned of his plans after arresting Kellogg, on Aug. 27 for drunken disorderly conduct at the San Diego airport where he was stopped by a Delta Air Lines employee from boarding a flight to New York City because he was being belligerent, according to court documents.
He had bought a one-way ticket and planned to meet a friend from high school who is a journalist who lives in New York City and told the person he had a big story, according to investigators and court documents.
Kellogg knew if the information became public, potential adversaries would likely know the capabilities and limitations of the United States' nuclear-powered warships, according to his pre-trial agreement.
Kellogg, who joined the Navy in 2014, was a nuclear electrician's mate with access to classified information relating to the capabilities, operations and maintenance of the Navy's nuclear propulsion systems. He served aboard the USS Carl Vinson from 2016 to 2018 and said he could draw and explain the majority of the ship's critical nuclear propulsion plant systems from memory, according to court documents.
"This sailor's attempts to disclose classified Navy nuclear propulsion information posed a significant threat to national security and endangered the lives of American service members," FBI Special Agent in Charge Garrett Waugh said in a statement.
Kellogg admitted to telling his roommate that he planned to defect to Russia and had searched the Internet for information relating to flights to Moscow, contact information for the Russian Consulate in San Diego, and wrote to an email address associated with Sevmash and called the company six times. It is unclear if the shipbuilder wrote back.
Around the same time, he told a childhood friend that he wanted to get out of the Navy and that I "might go Ed Snowden," referring to the former National Security Agency contractor who exposed U.S. government surveillance programs by disclosing classified material.
Though Kellogg pleaded guilty to two counts of violating the Espionage Act, his military defense attorneys told the judge at Naval Base San Diego before his sentencing that he was not a spy but rather had a drinking problem and may have been suffering from depression.
People who know Kellogg, they said, described him as harmless and someone just trying to get attention. The defense also pointed out that Kellogg had left his passport at his San Diego apartment, undermining claims he was headed to Russia.
Authorities said Kellogg also admitted to photographing areas containing sensitive information about the Navy's nuclear propulsion program on the ship, and then sending the photos to his father and ex-girlfriend.
He told authorities he stored classified information in his berth, violating protocol, according to the FBI.
He will receive a dishonorable discharge and a reduction in rank.
"This type of behavior has no place in our military," said Cmdr. Nate Christensen, deputy spokesman of the U.S. Pacific Fleet.