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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

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Defense Department Official Charged with Espionage Conspiracy

A Defense Department official has been charged with conspiracy to communicate classified information to an agent of a foreign government.

A criminal complaint unsealed today in the Eastern District of Virginia alleges that, from approximately Nov. 2004 to Feb. 11, 2008, James Wilbur Fondren, Jr., while serving as an employee of the Defense Department, unlawfully and knowingly conspired with others to communicate classified information to another person who he had reason to believe was an agent or representative of a foreign government.

Fondren, 62, worked at the Pentagon and is the Deputy Director, Washington Liaison Office, U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM).  He has been on administrative leave with pay since mid-February 2008 and has not performed any duties in or for PACOM since that time. This morning, he turned himself in to federal agents. Fondren is expected to have his initial appearance later today in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va. If convicted, he faces a maximum five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

"Today’s case is the result of an outstanding long-term counterespionage effort by many agents, analysts and prosecutors that has thus far yielded three convictions," said David Kris, Assistant Attorney General for National Security. "The conduct alleged in this complaint should serve as a warning to others in government who would compromise classified information and betray the trust placed in them by the American people."

"The allegations in this case are troubling – providing classified information to a foreign agent of the People’s Republic of China is a real and serious threat to our national security," said Dana J. Boente, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. "The U.S. government places considerable trust in those given access to classified information, and we are committed to prosecuting those who abuse that trust."

"The complaint unsealed today alleges that Mr. Fondren conspired to steal our nation’s secrets for a foreign government, placing his own interests over those of the citizens he served as a U.S. Government employee," said Executive Assistant Director Arthur M. Cummings, II, FBI National Security Branch. "These charges are the result of the investigative efforts of the FBI’s Washington Field Office, with the invaluable assistance of the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. Espionage is a profoundly serious crime, and the FBI will continue to work with our law enforcement and intelligence community partners to ensure the protection of our nation’s most sensitive information."

According to an affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, Fondren retired from active duty as a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force in May 1996. In approximately Feb. 1998, he began providing consulting services from his Virginia home. Fondren’s sole client for his business was a friend by the name of Tai Shen Kuo. Kuo was a naturalized U.S. citizen from Taiwan who lived primarily in Louisiana and maintained business interests in the United States and the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Kuo also maintained an office in the PRC.

In August 2001, Fondren became a civilian employee at PACOM at the Pentagon, where he was again granted a security clearance by the government. He held a Top Secret security clearance, worked in a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, and had a classified and unclassified computer at his cubicle. Even after he began working at PACOM in 2001, Fondren continued to provide consulting services for Kuo.

Unbeknownst to Fondren, Kuo worked under the direction of a PRC government official. This PRC official provided Kuo with detailed instructions to collect certain documents and information from Fondren and other U.S. government officials, including Gregg William Bergersen, a former Weapons Policy Analyst at the Arlington, Va.-based Defense Security Cooperation Agency in the Defense Department. The PRC official paid Kuo approximately $50,000 for completing those tasks.

Kuo introduced the PRC official to Fondren in approximately March 1999, describing him to Fondren as a political researcher and consultant to the PRC government. Fondren maintained periodic email correspondence with the PRC official until at least March 2001. While Fondren was aware of Kuo’s relationship with the PRC official, he was not aware of the PRC official’s precise status with the PRC government nor of his coded requests to Kuo to obtain information from Fondren.

According to the affidavit, the PRC official instructed Kuo to mislead Fondren into believing that he was providing information to Kuo for Taiwan military officials. Nevertheless, Fondren was aware that Kuo was providing Fondren’s information to an agent of a foreign government, the affidavit alleges.

According to the affidavit, between Nov. 2004 and Feb. 11, 2008, Fondren provided Kuo with certain Defense Department documents and other information, some of which Fondren obtained from classified online systems available to him by virtue of his employment at the Pentagon. Fondren incorporated Defense Department information, including classified information, into "opinion papers" that he sold to Kuo for between $350 and $800 apiece through Fondren’s home-based consulting business. Eight of the "papers" Fondren sold to Kuo contained classified information. Fondren also provided Kuo with sensitive, but unclassified Defense Department publications.

According to the affidavit, Fondren allegedly provided Kuo with a variety of sensitive data, including classified information from a State Department cable, classified information about a PRC military official’s U.S. visit, classified information about a joint U.S.-PRC naval exercise, and classified information regarding U.S.-PRC military meetings. In one instance, Fondren provided Kuo with a draft Defense Department report on the PRC military and stated to Kuo: "This is the report I didn’t want you to talk about over the phone….Let people find out I did that, it will cost me my job."

On Feb. 11, 2008, Kuo and former Defense Department employee, Gregg William Bergersen, were arrested on espionage charges. On the day of his arrest, Kuo was staying as a guest in Fondren’s Virginia home and had among his possessions a draft, unclassified copy of a Defense Department document entitled "The National Military Strategy of the United States of America 2008." Fondren was interviewed by the FBI and later admitted that he gave the draft National Military Strategy report to Kuo.

On March 31, 2008, Bergersen pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of Virginia to conspiracy to disclose U.S. national defense information to persons not entitled to receive it. Bergersen admitted that, between March 2007 and February 2008, he provided national defense information to Kuo, much of it pertaining to U.S. military sales to Taiwan and classified as Secret. Bergersen was later sentenced to 57 months in prison.

On May 13, 2008, Kuo pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of Virginia to conspiracy to deliver national defense information to a foreign government, namely the PRC. Kuo admitted that he had cultivated a friendship with Bergersen, bestowing on him gifts, cash payments, dinners, and money for gambling trips to Las Vegas. Kuo admitted that he had obtained national defense information from Bergersen and that he had sent it on to the PRC government official. Kuo was later sentenced to 188 months in prison.

On May 28, 2008, Yu Xin Kang, an accomplice of Kuo from New Orleans who was arrested on the same day as Kuo and Bergersen, pleaded guilty in the Eastern District of Virginia to aiding and abetting an unregistered agent of the PRC. Kang admitted that she assisted Kuo by periodically serving as a conduit for the delivery of information from Kuo to the PRC government official. Kang was later sentenced to 18 months in prison.

This investigation was conducted by the FBI's Washington Field Office. The Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) provided substantial assistance and cooperation throughout the course of the investigation. The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Neil Hammerstrom, from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Trial Attorney Ryan Fayhee from the Counterespionage Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

The public is reminded that criminal complaints are only charges and not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.



Source: Department of Justice