US intelligence official charged with selling secrets to China for US$800,000

WASHINGTON (AFP) - An official from the US Defence Intelligence Agency was charged Monday (June 4) with selling US secrets to China in exchange for at least US$800,000.

The Justice Department said Ron Rockwell Hansen, 58, of Syracuse, Utah, was taken into custody on Saturday while on his way to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport in Washington state to board a flight to China, carrying classified information.

It was just the latest in a series of arrests of American officials on charges of spying for Beijing.

Hansen, the charges said, was retired from the US army where he worked in signals intelligence.

Fluent in Mandarin and Russian, he was recruited in 2006 to work for the DIA as a case officer, someone who recruits and manages foreign intelligence assets.

Based out of a commercial office in Beijing, Hansen made contacts with Chinese intelligence, and over several years tried to pitch himself to the DIA and FBI as a double agent who would act ultimately for the Untied States, the indictment said.

Investigators found that he had regular meetings with Chinese intelligence agents that he never reported, used mobile phones provided him by Chinese sources and retained classified information to which he was not supposed to have access.

They also discovered that Hansen was in deep financial trouble from 2013 to 2016, with debts of several hundred thousand dollars.

During and after that time, he received more than US$800,000 in payments from China, often cash that he hand-carried to the United States, that he could not explain.

By early this year, the FBI learned that Hansen was seeking from American colleagues information on the US position on North and South Korea, as well as its military operations plan against China, to be sold to his Chinese contacts.

"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," said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers.

In January, former CIA agent Jerry Chun Shing Lee was arrested on charges that he sold information to China. He is reportedly suspected of having provided information on the CIA's network of informants that was brought down by Chinese between 2010 and 2012.

Former State Department official Kevin Mallory was arrested last year for spying for China.

And another US diplomat, Candace Marie Claiborne, was also arrested for taking money from Chinese intelligence officials, though she was not directly accused of supplying information in exchange.