Utah man, a former federal intelligence officer, pleads guilty to trying to give classified military information to China

(Photo courtesy of Salt Lake County SheriffÕs Office) Ron Rockwell Hansen, a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer, pleaded guilty to attempted espionage Friday, March 15, 2019. He attempted to share national defense secrets with China.

A Utah man who once served as a case officer for the Defense Intelligence Agency has pleaded guilty to trying to spy on the United States on behalf of China.

As part of the plea agreement, Syracuse resident Ron Rockwell Hansen, 59, will likely spend 15 years in federal prison, according to a news release from Utah’s U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Hansen worked with the Defense Intelligence Agency from 2000 to 2006 when he was a warrant officer in the Army. After leaving the Army in 2006, he was hired by the Defense Intelligence Agency, where he learned to speak both Mandarin-Chinese and Russian fluently as part of his training. He quit the job less than a year after he was hired to work for Salt Lake City-based H-11 Digital Forensics, a cybersecurity firm run by his brother Jon.

Chinese intelligence officials, Hansen said, targeted him in 2014. He then began meeting regularly with Chinese agents, according to the release. After his arrest, Hansen told prosecutors that Chinese agents had paid him thousands of dollars for information over the years.

As part of his espionage directive Hansen tried to solicit information from a Defense Intelligence Agency case officer between May 2016 and June 2018. He taught the case officer how to clandestinely record and transmit classified information to him, and he planned to sell it to China.

That officer reported Hansen’s request to the Defense Intelligence Agency, and the FBI started investigating. According to court documents, the FBI was already suspicious of Hansen because the agency knew he had previously tried to get access to classified information.

In March 2018, Hansen forwarded information requests from Chinese agents to the Defense Intelligence Agency case officers. The Chinese agents wanted the “China ops plan" — the U.S. military’s operation plan regarding potential military intervention with China — and would pay up to $200,000 for it, Hansen said, according to court documents.

On June 2, 2018, Hansen met with the officer, now a secret source for the FBI investigation, and got the classified documents just before he was scheduled to fly to China. He was arrested that same day on his way to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport.

Although Hansen was initially charged with 15 counts related to the espionage, he only pleaded guilty to the first charge — attempt to gather or deliver defense information. Federal prosecutors plan to ask the court to dismiss the remaining counts, which include a single charge of structuring monetary transactions and acting as an agent of a foreign government, three counts of bulk cash smuggling, eight counts of structuring monetary transactions and two counts of smuggling goods from the U.S.

Hansen’s plea agreement included a stipulated sentence of 15 years, although the court must approve the prison time. He is scheduled to be formally sentenced Sept. 24.