SALT LAKE CITY — A plea deal might soon be on the table for a retired Army intelligence officer from Utah accused of selling classified national defense information to China.
But federal prosecutors told a judge Monday that if Ron Rockwell Hansen, of Syracuse, doesn't take their offer, they will file a new indictment, which could mean more criminal charges.
Meantime, Hansen's family handed reporters a manilla envelope containing photocopies of some of his military awards, including a Bronze Star, and a brief note criticizing the justice system and media coverage of the case.
"The phrases used to describe his intelligence operations include words such as unprecedented and unparalleled," according to the note. "Ron Hansen's body of work and accomplishments during 27 years he served the United States of America as an intelligence officer are in fact unprecedented and unparalleled."
Federal agents arrested Hansen as he prepared to board a flight in Seattle to China in June, ending a four-year sting operation.
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.
He pleaded not guilty. He faces life in prison if convicted. He is being held in the Salt Lake County Jail.
Assistant U.S. attorney Robert Lund told U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Warner that he plans to extend Hansen a "firm offer" with a "firm deadline" for a plea agreement in January. He said if Hansen rejects the offer, the government will file a superseding indictment.
Lund didn't give details in court and said after the hearing that he couldn't comment on the case, though he called it "unique" due to the classified information involved.
Hansen's federal public defender, Jami Johnson, told the judge that lawyers are discussing whether the case could be resolved without going to trial.
Warner declined to set a trial date at the hearing.
Because of the classified documents the government will rely on to prosecute Hansen, authorities have set up a secure room — sensitive compartmented information facility, or SCIF — at the FBI office in Salt Lake City. Attorneys, paralegals and investigators have had to obtain government clearance to review the evidence.
Johnson said the biggest obstacle for the defense so far has been the lack of its own SCIF. Warner said he is running into bureaucracy on getting that done.
"I find that unsatisfactory to be candid," he said. "This has to get done. This has to get done very, very soon."
Lund said the government has provided the defense with 70,000 documents, accounting for about 90 percent of the evidence. Prosecutors continue to sift the remaining material for classified information.
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.
Prosecutors allege Hansen regularly traveled between the United States and China from 2013 to 2017 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.
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 about $200,000 in personal debt and his cloud computing information technology services company reported more than $1 million in losses.
The Hansen family statement says the U.S. justice system was once a "shining light" to the world, people were presumed innocent unless proven guilty and the media "were not yet slaves to ratings and market share percentages."
"Unfortunately, that justice system and those champions in the media seem to be found only in fairy tales and books about lost legends," according to the statement.
The note also references retired Gen. Michael Flynn, who served as Defense Intelligence Agency director in the Obama administration and National Security adviser in the Trump administration. Flynn pleaded guilty to a felony charge of lying to federal investigators about contacts he had with the Russian government last December.
"Gen. Flynn is being investigated and prosecuted by the same FBI and Department of Justice as Ron Hansen. To date, Gen. Flynn has not spent one minute in jail," the family statement says. "And yet, millions of U.S. schoolchildren still recite words that end with 'And liberty and justice for all.'"