A former Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) official was caught providing secret military documents to the Chinese government, including what appears to be sensitive information about the locations of U.S. Cyber Command outposts and personnel, according to a newly unsealed Justice Department indictment.
The case reveals an increasingly obvious counterintelligence battle between the U.S. and China as the two countries are spending billions on developing advanced cyberwarfare units.
The arrest of Ron Rockwell Hansen, a 20-year Army veteran, marks the third publicly visible case in the last year of an American passing secretive documents to Chinese government-linked agents. Former Central Intelligence Agency case officer Jerry Chun Shing Lee was arrested in January for allegedly tipping off Chinese spies to the CIA’s human network inside the authoritarian regime.
No longer employed by the government but still familiar with the U.S. intelligence community, Hansen possessed top-secret security clearances for both his civilian and active-duty work. He was allegedly paid at least $800,000 in “funds originating from China” since May 2013.
During that time frame, Hansen sold overpriced computer forensic equipment to a group of Chinese business partners who would eventually introduce him to China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS), a domestic intelligence agency. The relationship developed as Hansen struggled with personal financial debt. It not entirely clear what information the MSS sought from Hansen, but prosecutors say he had attempted to smuggle documents about Cyber Command and other U.S. government agencies.
Last weekend, on June 2, Hansen was waiting for a flight to China from Seattle when FBI agents set up a sting. Law enforcement officials worked closely with an associate of Hansen that offered to provide classified information to him during the layover at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Hansen remarked to the associate that the information would be invaluable to Chinese intelligence, according to court documents. When Hansen left the meeting with the fake source, he was arrested.
A warrant-approved search of Hansen’s computer and luggage showed that he had previously transported sensitive material to China and that the data was accessed overseas. If convicted of the crimes outlined by the Department of Justice, Hansen faces life in prison.
Before being arrested, Hansen had been interviewed by FBI agents multiple times over the last three years. During those interviews, he offered to be a double agent for the U.S. against China, but DIA officials turned down his requests after it became apparent that he had already been communicating with the MSS for years.
“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 Demers, the assistant attorney general for national security, said in a statement.
Hansen began working as a civilian intelligence case officer for the DIA in 2006. The DIA is the Pentagon’s primary in-house intelligence arm.