Intelligence Officer Who Shared Secrets With China is Sentenced

Intelligence Officer Who Shared Secrets With China is Sentenced September 30, 2019

On September 24, 2019, former Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) officer Ron Rockwell Hansen was sentenced to 10-years in federal prison after pleading guilty in March 2019 to one count of attempting to gather or deliver national security information belonging to the United States to the People’s Republic of China.

“Your honor there simply are no words to accurately and fully express the depth of regret I have for my decisions and actions…I am so sorry,” he told Judge Dee Benson of the United States District Court for the District of Utah. “I would give anything to go back and change this. Anything.”[1]

Insider Threats To The U.S.

Hansen was arrested on June 2, 2018, on his way to the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Seattle, Washington, as he was preparing to board a flight to China while in possession of secret military information. 

“One of three ex-US intelligence officers recently convicted of acting on behalf of the People’s Republic of China, Ron Rockwell Hansen received hundreds of thousands of dollars for betraying his country and former colleagues,”[2] said Assistant Attorney General of National Security John C. Demers. “These cases show the breadth of the Chinese government’s espionage efforts and the threat they pose to our national security. Our intelligence professionals swear an oath to protect our country’s most closely held secrets and the National Security Division will continue to relentlessly pursue justice against those who violate this oath.”[3]

 “Ron Hansen was willing to betray his oath and his country for financial gain,”[4] said Special Agent in Charge Paul Haertel of the FBI’s Salt Lake City Field Office.

Profiting Off of National Secrets

After 20-years of military service, Hansen retired from the U.S. Army as a Warrant Officer with a background in signals intelligence and human intelligence. Upon retiring from active duty, DIA hired Hansen as a civilian intelligence case officer in 2006. Hansen held a “top secret” clearance for many years and signed several non-disclosure agreements during both his civilian and active duty careers.

In the plea agreement, Hansen admitted that in 2014, agents of a Chinese intelligence service targeted him for recruitment, and he began meeting with them regularly in China. Hansen stipulated he received hundreds of thousands of dollars in compensation for information he provided the Chinese agents regarding the United States military.

Hansen admitted that between May 24, 2016, and June 2, 2018, he solicited national security information from a fellow DIA intelligence case officer with the goal of selling the obtained information to the Chinese agents. He advised the DIA case officer how to record and transmit classified information without detection, and how to hide and launder any funds received as payment for classified information. This DIA case officer reported Hansen’s conduct to the DIA and subsequently acted as an informant for the FBI.

Hansen admitted meeting with the DIA case officer on June 2, 2018, and receiving individual documents containing classified national defense information that he had previously solicited. The documents included national security information related to U.S. military operations plans. Hansen did not possess the requisite security clearance needed to view or possess the materials. 

As part of his plea agreement, Hansen admitted he reviewed the documents, questioned the case officer about their contents, and took written notes which contained information determined to be classified. He advised the DIA case officer that he would remember most of the details about the documents he received that day and would conceal notes about the material in the text of an electronic document he would prepare at the airport before leaving for China. He further admitted he intended to provide the information he received to the Chinese intelligence service agents. Most importantly, Hansen admitted knowing that selling the classified information would benefit a foreign nation at the great expense of the United States.

Espionage Recruitment

Hansen’s trial and subsequent sentencing follows an alarming trend of U.S. intelligence officers being recruited by foreign nations to sell national security secrets. China has especially garnered attention as a top recruiter of U.S. intelligence officers.

“The Chinese government continues to attempt to identify and recruit current and former members of the United States intelligence community. This is a very troubling trend. These individuals must remain vigilant and immediately report any suspicious activity. The Hansen case is an example of what will happen to those who violate the public’s trust and risk our national security by disclosing classified information,”[5] said U.S. Attorney John W. Huber for the District of Utah.

In June 2018, former CIA case officer Kevin Mallory was found guilty of espionage and lying to the FBI after being recruited by a Chinese intelligence service agent via LinkedIn in 2017. He was sentenced to 20-years in prison.

In May 2019, former CIA case officer Jerry Chun Shing Lee pled guilty to conspiring with Chinese intelligence service agents. He is scheduled to be sentenced October 2019.

As Special Agent Haertel said: “[N]ot all spies are foreign adversaries. Insider threats pose a significant national security risk…”[6]

[1] Morgan Smith, Ex-Intelligence Officer gets 10 Years in Espionage Case, ASSOCIATED PRESS (2019).

[2] https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/former-intelligence-officer-convicted-attempted-espionage-sentenced-10-years-federal-prison

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

Tags: International Law