A former communications specialist for the British Royal Navy whose career had stalled has been jailed for attempting to expose a nuclear submarine’s messaging encryption system.
Irish-born Petty Officer Edward Devenney was sentenced to eight years prison on Wednesday, pleading guilty to one count of public misconduct and one count of breaching Britain’s Official Secrets Act.
In late 2011 Devenny had attempted to give away “crypto material” on board HMS Vigilant -- one of four nuclear submarines the UK maintains -- to two people he believed were Russian agents but were in fact MI5 agents.
Two days after contacting the Russian Embassy in London in late November 2011, Devenney took snapshots of “crypto material” on board the submarine with his mobile phone and later downloaded the images to his laptop.
Crypto material is used to configure computer equipment used for end to end encryption. The encryption system the officer could have compromised is used to protect communications between UK Armed Forced and NATO partners.
The pictures he had taken were an “essential piece of the jigsaw” that could break secret navy codes and ultimately undermine the location of Britain’s submarines.
Belfast Telegraph reported: “The photographs could, with other information, have led to the breaking of the code,” the judge overseeing the hearing said.
An MI5 agent contacted Devenney on December 5, posing as Russian agent ‘Dima’, and although the petty officer was suspicious of the “remarkably fake” Russian accent, he proceeded to negotiate with Dima via a series of text messages.
A week later, a second MI5 agent, posing as Dima’s associate, Vladimir, established a relationship with Devenney. Although Devenney was uncomfortable communicating by voice he continued messaging via text.
"Can't speak, at home. I'm disillusioned with my employers and feel let down by them. Think we can help each other," he texted the agent posing as Vladimir.
Devenney agreed to meet the two agents at the British Museum on January 28, 2012 and during a one hour meeting gave away information about the Vigilant’s sailing dates and a secret operation involving another submarine, HMS Trafalgar.
The officer was arrested in March 2012 by London Met’s Counter Terrorism Command, and throughout interviews with police, he remained unaware that the ‘Russian agents‘ were MI5.
"That was unbelievably stupid and I've no excuse for that," he said, according to the Met.
Devenney became disillusioned with his service to the Royal Navy after being withdrawn from training that could have led to a promotion to Chief Petty Officer.