SALT LAKE CITY — A Utah man faces federal charges accusing him of being a spy for China and selling classified national defense information for approximately $800,000.
Ron Rockwell Hansen, 58, of Syracuse, was arrested Saturday by federal agents just as he was preparing to board a flight in Seattle to China, U.S. Attorney for Utah John Huber said in a prepared statement Monday.
He was charged in federal court with attempting to gather or deliver defense information; being an unregistered agent of a foreign government; three counts of bulk cash smuggling; eight counts of structuring money transactions; and two counts of smuggling goods from the United States.
If convicted, he could be sentenced to up to life in prison.
“The allegations in this complaint are grave as it appears Mr. Hansen engaged in behavior that betrayed his oath and his country,” said Eric Barnhart, special agent in charge of the FBI's Salt Lake office.
“This case drives home the troubling reality of insider threats and that current and former clearance holders will be targeted by our adversaries."
Hansen is a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer. He retired from the U.S. Army, where he served for 20 years as a warrant officer with a background in signals intelligence and human intelligence. Hansen speaks fluent Mandarin-Chinese and Russian, according to court documents.
"During his military service, the U.S. government entrusted Hansen with access to sensitive government materials, including closely held national defense information and classified documents and materials," the charges state.
He also signed numerous nondisclosure contacts in which he acknowledged that giving away such information could be a violation of criminal espionage laws, according to charging documents.
He was hired by Defense Intelligence Agency as a civilian intelligence case officer in 2006. As part of his position, he held top secret clearance for many years, the charges state.
Between 2013 and 2017, investigators allege Hansen regularly traveled between the United States and China attending military and intelligence conferences, and then provided "the information he learned at the conferences to contacts in China" who were associated with the People's Republic of China's intelligence service, according to Huber.
Prosecutors say Hansen was paid at least $800,000 over the years, including receiving a $300,000 "consulting" fee.
But according to court records, Hansen had also accumulated a lot of debt.
These allegations are very troubling in their description of conduct that runs contrary to how we identify ourselves as Americans.
–John Huber, U.S. Attorney for Utah
He had built up about $200,000 in personal debt since 2012, the charges state. And his business, Nuvestack — a company that provided cloud computing IT services — reported more than $1 million in losses in 2014, failed to file taxes in 2015 and 2016, and "carried signficant debt," the charges state.
Even after he stopped working for the government, investigators believe Hansen attempted in 2012 to "regain access to classified information," Huber said. He was finally caught when he divulged what he was doing to a law enforcement source in an apparent effort to recruit that person, the charges state.
In 2012, he approached a U.S. Army Intelligence agent and "offered to work as a double agent against" China, according to court documents. He made the same offer to the FBI in 2015 as he continued to regain access to classified information, the charges state.
But by that time, the FBI says it had already begun its investigation into Hansen.
He even contacted a member of the U.S. House of Representatives requesting to be a staff member on intelligence issues, according to the charges.
"At no time did Hansen notify the attorney general of the United States that he was acting as an agent for any foreign government, including (China)," the charges state.
"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. 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," John C. Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, said in a statement.
“These allegations are very troubling in their description of conduct that runs contrary to how we identify ourselves as Americans,” Huber added.
Hansen was being held Monday in a federal facility in Seattle. He waved extradition proceedings during a court hearing in Seattle on Monday, clearing the way for him to be returned to Utah.