An aerospace engineer retired from Lockheed Corp.’s top-secret “Skunk Works” was charged Thursday with trying to sell classified information to an undercover FBI agent for $100,000.
John Douglas Charlton, 62, of Lancaster was charged in a 10-count indictment with attempted espionage.
Noting that Charlton was pushed into early retirement in 1989, Assistant U.S. Attorney George Newhouse Jr. said the case is meant to send a tough message.
“There are a countless number of aerospace engineers languishing in Southern California whose heads are filled with classified information,” Newhouse said. “These are men or women who might be angry, disgruntled, or just outright desperate.”
Charlton’s lawyer called his client a scapegoat for the government’s antiquated classification system.
“The defense believes that the socalled classified information referred to in the indictment can literally be found in back issues of Popular Mechanics,” Donald Randolph said.
The Skunk Works, where Charlton worked for about 10 years, has produced some of the United States’ most secret crafts, including the U-2 spy plane, the Mach 3-plus SR-71 Blackbird and the F-117 stealth fighter.
Charlton tried to pass classified information on two top-secret Navy projects: the Sea Shadow warship and the Captor Project, Newhouse said.
Newhouse described the Sea Shadow as a “stealthy ship” that is the Navy’s equivalent of the Air Force’s B-2 bomber, designed to be undetectable by radar or sonar. The Captor Project involves mines that release anti-submarine torpedoes.
The indictment alleges that Charlton and the FBI agent, who was posing as an official of a foreign government, met five times between July and September 1993. Officials said Charlton expected to receive $100,000.
Authorities said the agent pretended to be from a “friendly, western European country.”
If convicted on all charges, Charlton faces up to 105 years in prison.