U.S. Intelligence Officer Who Tried to Share Secrets With China Is Sentenced to 10 Years

The New York Times 1 month ago

A former United States intelligence officer who tried to pass secret military information to the Chinese government was sentenced Tuesday to 10 years in prison — a term that was five years less than expected because he provided information that could help prevent foreign agents from targeting other Americans, the authorities said.

The former officer, Ron Rockwell Hansen, 60, pleaded guilty in March to one count of attempting to gather or deliver defense information.

Mr. Hansen said he received hundreds of thousands of dollars in exchange for information he shared with the Chinese government. He was part of what prosecutors called a “troubling trend” of American intelligence officers being recruited by China for espionage.

As part of his plea agreement, Mr. Hansen was to receive a 15-year sentence. But Judge Dee Benson of the United States District Court in Salt Lake City gave him a sentence of 10 years on Tuesday after he said Mr. Hansen cooperated with federal investigators.

“He has tried to do what he can to make things right,” Judge Benson said in court, according to The Associated Press. “It’s a very serious crime that speaks for itself, and we’re all sorry it happened.”

Melodie Rydalch, a spokeswoman for the United States Attorney’s Office in Utah, declined to comment on what specific information Mr. Hansen had provided to the investigators, saying that a cooperation agreement between Mr. Hansen and federal authorities was sealed.

She said the United States government typically weighs “what is best for national security” in reaching such agreements.

Mr. Hansen said in court Tuesday that “there simply are no words to accurately and fully express the depth of regret I have for my decisions and actions,” according to The A.P.

“I would give anything to go back and change this,” he said. “Anything.”

Mr. Hansen’s lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Tuesday night.

Ron Rockwell Hansen said in court Tuesday that “there simply are no words to accurately and fully express the depth of regret I have for my decisions and actions.”

John W. Huber, the United States attorney in Utah, said in a statement Tuesday that Mr. Hansen’s case was an example of how the “Chinese government continues to attempt to identify and recruit current and former members of the United States intelligence community.”

In June 2018, Kevin Mallory of Leesburg, Va., a former C.I.A. case officer, was found guilty of espionage and lying to the F.B.I. after a Chinese intelligence agent reached out to him on LinkedIn in 2017. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

In May, Jerry Chun Shing Lee, another former C.I.A. officer, pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiring with Chinese intelligence agents. He is scheduled to be sentenced in October in Alexandria, Va.

“These cases show the breadth of the Chinese government’s espionage efforts and the threat they pose to our national security,” John C. Demers, the assistant attorney general for national security, said.

Foreign operatives often use social media platforms for espionage recruitment. LinkedIn, a site mainly used for professional networking, is a prime hunting ground for Chinese spies, Western counterintelligence officials said.

Mr. Hansen was arrested in Seattle in June 2018 before he boarded a flight to China with secret military information, the authorities said. He was indicted later that month on 15 counts by a federal grand jury. Fourteen counts were dropped as part of his plea agreement in March.

Ms. Rydalch declined to comment on why prosecutors reached a plea agreement instead of taking the case to trial.

Mr. Hansen began working as a civilian intelligence case officer for the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Pentagon’s main intelligence arm, in 2006, after serving in the Army for more than 20 years, prosecutors said. He was a case officer for the agency for several years while on active duty and possessed top-secret security clearances for both his civilian and active-duty work.

In 2014, Chinese agents targeted Mr. Hansen for recruitment and met with him several times in China, the authorities said. Chinese agents would tell him what kind of information they were interested in and Mr. Hansen would gather information for them, sometimes from industry conferences, according to Mr. Hansen’s plea agreement.

From May 2016 to June 2018, he solicited secret national defense information from another officer within the Defense Intelligence Agency. The information was about “military readiness” in a certain part of the world, Mr. Hansen said in his plea agreement.

Prosecutors said in a complaint in June 2018 that Mr. Hansen had told an American undercover agent that China would pay $200,000 for the operations plan of the American military regarding “potential military intervention with China.”

Mr. Hansen flew from Utah to Seattle, where he had a connecting flight to China from the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, the complaint said. During his layover, he met with a former associate who was helping the F.B.I. in what turned out to be a sting operation.

That associate gave Mr. Hansen classified documents, according to the complaint. Mr. Hansen said in his plea agreement that he took handwritten notes on those documents and had planned to give the information to agents with the Chinese Intelligence Service.

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