A former US intelligence officer, who once held top clearance in America has been arrested in Seattle on charges of spying for China. 58-year-old, Ron Rockwell Hansen, was detained in the US as he was about to board a flight to China.
China and the United States are considered both allies and adversaries in both trade and geopolitics. According to some experts, China is alleged to be spearheading an effort to spy and acquire U.S. military technology and classified information and the trade secrets of U.S. companies. America has accused China of stealing trade secrets and technology. The nation also has allegedly orchestrated espionage, exploited commercial entities and a network of scientific, academic and business contacts. Some of the most prominent espionage cases include Larry Wu-Tai Chin, Katrina Leung, Gwo-Bao Min, Chi Mak and Peter Lee.
Most recently, on January 2018, Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a former CIA officer was arrested at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on charges of unlawful retention of national defence information. He had flown down from Hong Kong. Lee made an initial court appearance on January 16th in the Eastern District of New York.
During a hearing of the Senate Intelligence Committee on February 2018, senior representatives of US intelligence agencies spoke about the security threats posed by China. The committee expressed concerns regarding the “naiveté” of universities regarding the possibility of informants amongst students and faculty. “The reality is that the Chinese have turned more and more to creative avenues using non-traditional collectors" said FBI Director Christopher Wray. "They're exploiting the very open research and development environment that we have, which we all revere, but they're taking advantage of it.” At the time he suggested that these “non-traditional collectors” were being used to glean useful information from academic institutions and research laboratories. China’s Confucius Institutes- foreign language institutes present in many state universities- have also come under scrutiny of late.
Ron Rockwell Hansen spent more than 20 years in the US Army. He had also worked for the US Defence Intelligence Agency. He was detained in Seattle when he was taking a flight bound for China. According to 41-page felony complained filed against him, he received US$800,000 in funds which has been deemed to be suspicious.
Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers said Hansen “allegedly attempted to transmit national defence information to the People’s Republic of China’s intelligence services (PRCIS) and also allegedly received hundreds of thousands of dollars while illegally acting as an agent of China.” Demers called the conduct described in a criminal complaint against Hansen “a betrayal of our nation’s security and the American people.”
Hansen had left military in 2006. After that, for a period of time, he worked with the DIA as a civilian case officer. He is also said to have attended a number of trade conferences in China. It is during this time, he had allegedly shared sensitive information regarding the US with Chinese intelligence. He then attended trade conferences on behalf of China and is accused of sharing information with officials linked to Chinese intelligence. He also tried to work as a double agent, according to the felony complaint.
The FBI investigation against him is believed to have begun in 2014. Hansen himself has not commented on the charges so far. According to details that have been divulged so far, he had even offered to become a double agent for FBI. “Hansen claimed that he initiated the meetings with the FBI in an attempt to offer his cooperation as a source,” the complaint states. The FBI had warned him at the time not to seek work with Chinese officials.
In addition, in 2016, he met with two former DIA colleagues. During this informal meeting, he reportedly told one of them that he was “stringing along” Chinese officials and was waiting for the FBI to use him as a double agent. This statement is said to have alarmed those who were present at the time.
Our assessment is that US security agencies are increasingly concerned with China’s soft power strategies. We have previously covered China’s advancements in using pioneering technology to make significant advances in their military. In this context, the United States’ concerns regarding intellectual property and cyber security seem valid. If Ron Rockwell Hansen is indeed a spy, then this indicates that China has truly infiltrated some of the highest echelons of US intelligence, which should be a cause for concern in Washington - as security has most likely been compromised. Will this further create friction in ties between US and China, which are already fraught?
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