U.S. Army Veteran Arrested by FBI for Trying to Spy for China

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, where Ron Rockwell Hansen of Syracuse, Utah, was arrested on Saturday, just before he entered the airport to board a connecting flight to China.
Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

Tens of thousands of dollars in cash. Documents listing locations of United States Cyber Command outposts. A passcode-protected thumb drive, hidden behind a sock in the toe of a shoe.

According to the Justice Department, these are among the items that United States agents found over the years while searching the luggage of Ron Rockwell Hansen, a former Defense Intelligence Agency case officer, as he flew numerous times between the United States and China. Mr. Hansen, 58, a fluent Mandarin speaker who first visited China in 1981, has allegedly received at least $800,000 in “funds originating from China” since May 2013.

On Saturday, Mr. Hansen was arrested in Seattle and charged with attempted espionage, in what appears to be another high-profile mole hunt by F.B.I. investigators intent on uncovering Chinese spying against the United States.

“His alleged actions are a betrayal of our nation’s security and the American people and are an affront to his former intelligence community colleagues,” John C. Demers, the assistant attorney general for national security, said in a statement posted on the Justice Department’s website on Monday.

If convicted, Mr. Hansen faces a maximum penalty of life in prison. He is also accused of “acting as an unregistered foreign agent for China, bulk cash smuggling, structuring monetary transactions and smuggling goods from the United States,” the Justice Department said.

The charges come less than a month after a former Central Intelligence Agency officer suspected of helping China unravel the agency’s spy network in that country was indicted on a charge of conspiring to commit espionage.

That officer, Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 53, had been arrested at Kennedy International Airport in New York in January, capping an intense F.B.I. mole hunt that began around 2012, after the C.I.A. began losing its informants in China.

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, according to the Justice Department. 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.

Mr. Hansen, who once kept an apartment and office in Beijing, repeatedly offered to be a double agent for the United States against China, the Justice Department said in a 15-count complaint against him. But the F.B.I. began investigating his activities in 2014.

Mr. Hansen voluntarily met with F.B.I. agents nine times in 2015, the complaint said. In those meetings, he disclosed that he was initially offered $300,000 a year by two operatives of China’s powerful Ministry of State Security for “consulting services.”

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SOURCE: NY Times, Mike Ives