SALT LAKE CITY — A retired Army officer from Utah accused of spying for China and selling classified national defense information talked to FBI agents for seven minutes without any attorney after his arrest last June.
Federal prosecutors argued in court Tuesday that Ron Rockwell Hansen's statements during that time were voluntary and should be admissible as evidence at trial, and U.S. District Judge Dee Benson agreed.
"They appear to be the epitome of voluntariness," the judge said.
What exactly Hansen, of Syracuse, told agents in that brief exchange is unclear. Prosecutors did not reveal his comments in the hearing, though they included minimal details in court documents.
But Benson said he watched a video of the interview, and "from my view not much happened."
"I'm having a hard time seeing how they were confessions," he said.
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. He speaks fluent Mandarin-Chinese and Russian.
A four-year investigation culminating with a sting operation led to Hansen's arrest as he prepared to board a flight in Seattle to China on June 2.
Hansen is charged 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 U.S.
Hansen, who is being held in the Salt Lake County Jail, pleaded not guilty. He faces life in prison if convicted.
FBI special agent Jeff Carter testified Tuesday that he read Hansen his Miranda rights at the time of the arrest and again at the FBI office in Seattle, where Hansen invoked his right to an attorney.
As agents were leaving the room, Hansen asked if he could speak to them. After consulting with assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Lund, agents advised Hansen of his rights a third time before he signed a waiver relinquishing his right to counsel, Carter said.
Hansen, 58, then began to explain his actions related to the sting operation, according to court documents.
"Mr. Hansen began to contend that the concept of passing classified information originated with the confidential human source (CHS)," court documents say. "Being aware of the recorded conversations between Mr. Hansen and the CHS, the agents confronted Mr. Hansen regarding the veracity of his account, and Mr. Hansen ceased offering any further explanation and again invoked his right to counsel."
Agents say they ended the interview at that point.
At the court hearing, Hansen's attorney, Jamie Johnson, questioned Carter about displaying his gun, apparently to imply intimidation on his part as well as other agents on the scene.
Carter testified that he carried the gun openly on his hip but did not remove it from the holster. He said he didn't coerce, threaten or offer Hansen any incentives to talk without a lawyer.
Hansen 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.
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, according to the charges.
Between 2013 and 2017, investigators allege Hansen regularly traveled between the U.S. and China attending military and intelligence conferences, and then provided information he learned at the conferences to contacts in China who were associated with the People's Republic of China's intelligence service, prosecutors say.
Hansen was paid at least $800,000 over the years, including receiving a $300,000 "consulting" fee, according to the charges.
Court records show Hansen had also accumulated a lot of debt.
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 information technology services — reported more than $1 million in losses in 2014, then failed to file taxes in 2015 and 2016, the charges state.