LONDON – A Royal Navy petty officer who worked on nuclear submarines was sentenced to eight years in prison Wednesday for passing secrets to British agents impersonating Russian spies.
Edward Devenney, 30, was arrested in March after a sting operation headed by Britain's domestic security agency, MI5. He pleaded guilty last month to breaching the Official Secrets Act.
"I have brought great shame to my family, loved ones and the submarine service," said Devenney, from Northern Ireland.
Lawyers said a series of personal blows preceded Devenney's betrayal. Hehad been accused but cleared of rape, was depressed and had been drinking heavily.
Prosecutor Mark Dennis also said Devenney had lost out on a promotion due to budget cuts and had been warned about excessive work absences.
Three days before Devenney met the supposed Russian agents in January -- a meeting that came after he contacted the Russian Embassy -- he was warned he would be discharged if his behavior didn't improve by April.
It wasn't immediately clear why the meeting was set up with the MI5 agents after Devenney called the Russian Embassy. Part of the court hearing was closed to protect national security.
"The potential damage could have been considerable and could have harmed the safety and security of the United Kingdom," Dennis said.
Devenney, who had been in the navy for more than a decade, had been a communications engineer on nuclear sub HMS Vigilant when he contacted the Russian Embassy.
He had security clearance to go into a room where secret encrypted material was kept in a safe though he wasn't authorized to open the safe or have a code for it, Dennis said.
Still, Devenney managed to take three pictures on his mobile phone that showed pieces of encrypted material which, if compromised, could have hampered the submarine's covert deployment. He had also offered to give the agents details of the movements of Vigilant, the prosecutor said.
"This was a classic story of betrayal," said Mari Reid, with the Crown Prosecution Service's counterterrorism unit. "Luckily for us, the men he met ... were not Russian agents, but members of the British Security Service."