A Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employee offered to commit “treason and espionage” in exchange for $27.7 million and a promise of asylum in Germany, France, or China, according to a plea agreement filed Feb. 10 in Washington, D.C. federal court.
In a statement of offense attached to the plea, Brian J. Booth, who was assigned to the FAA’s Enforcement Division, admitted to disclosing U.S. secrets last year when he sent letters to the German, French, and Chinese embassies containing the names of pilots and mechanics who had been stripped of their operating certificates after being deemed security threats by the agency. Booth, 38, has worked as a legal assistant at the FAA since 2011, per FederalPay.org, and was responsible for sending out the revocation letters, the filing says. It is not clear if Booth is still on the federal payroll, but under the law, a conviction requires he be removed from his position. His court-appointed lawyer, Ubong Akpan, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The government’s affidavit in support of the criminal complaint against Booth remains sealed, and a charging document filed in late January states only that Booth “did disclose in a manner not authorized by law, the identity of individuals who had their aircraft maintenance or piloting privileges revoked.” However, Booth’s recent plea reveals fresh details about his decidedly peculiar offense.
Last July, Booth overnighted an envelope via FedEx to Emily Haber, Germany’s ambassador to the U.S., at the German embassy in Washington, the filing explains. The envelope contained a typewritten letter addressed to the “Director of Federal Intelligence Service,” which read:
“I am an employee of the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington DC…The FAA and the Department of Homeland Security has been tracking a few suspicious people in the last three years … These people are consider [sic] terrorists…The problem right now is that the United States government is not doing a thing about this. If the United States won’t do a thing about it, then I will! I have compiled a list of twenty five individuals and companies that are committing terrorist activities against your country! They work for the aviation industry. They are pilots and mechanics who do not go through security checks at airports…I have enclosed the list and the last page of information to pay me! I am selling this information. I am committing Treason and Espionage! I expect to be paid and to seek asylum to your country, no questions asked! The last page gives instructions on how to contact me and payment information.”
The letter was signed with the initials “B.B.”
It was accompanied by a handwritten list of the names and addresses of 25 people whose pilot or maintenance privileges had been revoked by the FAA, along with a demand for $27.7 million dollars as well as payment instructions.
“Booth had access to the identity of these individuals because of the nature of his employment with the FAA,” the plea filing says. “The identity of the individuals was not publicly available, and Booth was not authorized to release their names. Similar letters were sent to the French Embassy and the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China.”
According to the Department of Transportation, which oversees the FAA, the letter Booth sent to the Chinese embassy was returned to him. His girlfriend then opened it and contacted law enforcement after realizing what she was reading.
Booth was arrested at his office at FAA headquarters on Dec. 7, and released on bail the same day. Initially charged with mail fraud, a felony that carries up to 20 years behind bars, Booth ultimately pleaded guilty to a disclosure of classified information, a lesser charge which only carries up to one year in prison. He is scheduled to be sentenced in late April.