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Former Navy Tech Gets 30-Years for Selling U.S. Secrets Via Tree

<p>Former U.S. Navy code technician dropped thumb drives containing military secrets into the hollow base of a Virginia tree.</p>

A former U.S. Navy code technician — nabbed in a sting operation in which he dropped thumb drives containing military secrets into the hollowed-out trunk of a Virginia tree — was sentenced to 30 years in prison on Monday.

Robert P. Hoffman II, 40, was convicted last August of trying to hand over U.S. military secrets to FBI undercover agents posing as operatives of the Russian Federation.

Hoffman served in the Navy for 20 years, spending much of his career operating electronic systems designed to gather information for submarine commanders about potential enemies.

Undercover agents approached him in 2012 to see if he would divulge classified information.

Court documents say Hoffman was "willing to develop a mutual trust" but wanted to be paid or given job assistance. He was concerned about the need to remain undetected, the government said, and suggested that communication take place by physical means.

Undercover handlers gave him a series of questions and suggested that he leave the answers "on a pre-arranged date in the hollow at the base of a tree at a dead drop site located in Virginia Beach," according to the Justice Department.

Prosecutors said he made the drops three times in late 2012, leaving behind thumb drives that included top secret information. He was arrested on Dec. 6, 2012.

The Justice Department did not disclose why the agents initially thought to approach Hoffman.