World News

U.S. Army Veteran Tried to Spy for China, Officials Say

Posted June 5, 2018 11:28 a.m. EDT

HONG KONG — Tens of thousands of dollars in cash. Documents listing locations of U.S. 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 U.S. 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. 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, Hansen was arrested in Seattle and charged with attempted espionage in what appears to be another high-profile mole hunt by FBI 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 Monday.

If convicted, 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 CIA 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 FBI mole hunt that began around 2012, after the CIA began losing its informants in China.

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.

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 FBI began investigating his activities in 2014.

Hansen voluntarily met with FBI 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.”

He described meeting the operatives in private rooms in Beijing hotels and teahouses, and said they paid him to attend events on forensics, information security and military communications. They paid him, he said, by buying computer forensic products from him at inflated rates.

When he allegedly started working for the Chinese, Hansen had no known financial means beyond a military pension of $1,900 a month, the Justice Department said. A business partner in Beijing, Wenhua Zhao, said he last spoke to Hansen at the end of 2017. They first met in 2009, Zhao said.

He was not aware that Hansen had been arrested, Zhao said. “I am very surprised,” he said in a telephone interview.

Zhao and his wife are referred to as “Robert” and “Amy” in the complaint and are said to have introduced Hansen to the two Ministry of State Security operatives, known as “David” and “Martin.”

Zhao was vague about whether he introduced the two operatives to Hansen as the complaint alleges. Zhao first said it had been seven years since he had spoken to the two operatives. Then he backtracked and said that he didn’t know them.

His business relationship with Hansen revolved around buying U.S. computer products, Zhao said.

Zhao’s company, Beijing Huaheng Technology Co., sells a number of products from digital forensic companies, according to its website, including Digital Intelligence, AccessData and ElcomSoft.

Hansen has owned or had senior management positions in several Salt Lake City-based entities, according to the Justice Department’s complaint. One is NuveStack, a company whose website offers information technology services. Another is the American & Chinese Friendship Promotion Society, whose website says its sole mission is to do just that.

A third entity is H-11 Digital Forensics, which once maintained a Beijing office and whose website advertises “digital forensic services.”

Hansen’s LinkedIn profile lists work experience at all three entities, and says he is the director of public-private partnerships at a Salt Lake City company called Broadway Capital, whose website says it provides “superior financial services.” The LinkedIn profile also says Hansen has made more than 175 trips to China and that he has an “extensive network” of government, business and military contacts there.

Multiple attempts to reach all four entities by phone and email were unsuccessful.

Reached by telephone late Monday, a duty officer in the press office at the Defense Intelligence Agency’s headquarters in Washington said that he was not familiar with the case against Hansen.

In the complaint, the Justice Department said that Hansen told an American undercover agent in April that China would pay $200,000 for the operations plan of the U.S. military regarding “potential military intervention with China.” Earlier, he had told an undercover agent that China was interested in material about North Korea, investigators said.

On Saturday, 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 assisting the FBI in what turned out to be a sting operation. In a car near the airport, Hansen took notes on classified documents that the associate provided and said that they would be valuable in discussions with Chinese intelligence, the complaint said.

After being dropped off by his associate, Hansen walked about a block before he was arrested by FBI agents, the complaint said. He was carrying handwritten notes that included numbers from the classified documents, the complaint added.

As for how to handle future classified documents, investigators said, Hansen had a suggestion for the informant: Cut a hole in a nearby tree and hide them inside.