About a year ago, we wrote on these pages that China’s HUMINT (Human Intelligence) effort was alive and well, and that it appeared that China had doubled-down on their efforts to penetrate the United States intelligence and military sectors. Since that piece of June 2017, we have seen multiple efforts by China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS) to recruit, direct and manage their U.S. targets into regaining access or eliciting information from individuals with access.

The latest instance gives us the case of Ron Rockwell Hansen, who was arrested on June 2 at Seattle’s SEATAC airport where he was in transit waiting to board a connecting flight to China.

The criminal complaint describes Hansen as a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) officer who allegedly received hundreds of thousands of dollars while acting as an agent of China, and attempted to transfer defense information to the PRC.

Who is Ron Rockwell Hansen?

Hansen is a retired U.S. Army signals intelligence and human intelligence warrant officer who is fluent in Mandarin-Chinese and Russian.

From 2013-2017 Hansen attended various industrial conferences frequented by defense contractors with the explicit purpose of obtaining information on the presenters (notes and photos), and additional assessment information on persons whom he believed to potentially be in a position with access to classified information of interest to Chinese MSS intelligence officers.

In addition, Hansen violated U.S. export control laws by selling and covertly transferring export controlled technologies to China. The FBI estimates that between 2013-2017 he received no less than $800,000 from the MSS.

MSS modus operendi is showing

The MSS modus operendi, or MO, is showing. Hansen, like Kevin Mallory and Jerry Lee, were all spies tasked with regaining employment within the intelligence community.

The criminal complaint on Hansen shows multiple efforts to endear himself to various entities of the U.S. intelligence community, including to suggest to the FBI that he would make a fine, double agent which they could run against the MSS. Indeed, Hansen went so far as to attempt the recruitment of an individual to work on his behalf, against the United States. Hansen’s intent was to get this person to engage in espionage for China. Hansen did not know that the individual was a “confidential human source” of the FBI.

Kevin Mallory, another recently arrested spy for China, claimed to have been contacted by the MSS via LinkedIn and recruited. Recruited at his behest so that he could be a U.S. government asset working against the MSS.  Mallory made repeated attempts to be hired by the CIA, the whole time being remunerated by the MSS.

Then we have Jerry Lee, aka Chung Shin Lee, who left the CIA and went into the private sector, only to resurface a few years later, attempting to re-established his professional contacts with the CIA.

What type of individual is the MSS targeting?

To this jaded eye, the MSS is harvesting financially hungry individuals who are or were within the U.S. defense contractor or Intelligence communities, or who can potentially re-establish themselves within the community. With the understanding when they do so, they will be MSS HUMINT sources.

Additionally, it would appear that the counterintelligence briefing from the MSS to their HUMINT sources is, “If confronted by U.S. counterintelligence professionals, tell them you are a patriot and engaged with these individuals in China who may have been MSS for the good of the nation.”

What should every FSO be doing today?

Every Facility Security Officer (FSO) should be dusting off their counterintelligence briefing book, reaching out to their contracting officers and getting talking points to protect the defense and intelligence secrets which their cleared personnel have access. Note, those doing the bidding for the MSS are former colleagues of any ethnicity.

Adherence to the strict need-to-know guidelines is the best defense to elicitation.

Stay alert. Forewarned is forearmed.

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Christopher Burgess (@burgessct) is an author and speaker on the topic of security strategy. Christopher, served 30+ years within the Central Intelligence Agency. He lived and worked in South Asia, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, Central Europe, and Latin America. Upon his retirement, the CIA awarded him the Career Distinguished Intelligence Medal, the highest level of career recognition. Christopher co-authored the book, “Secrets Stolen, Fortunes Lost, Preventing Intellectual Property Theft and Economic Espionage in the 21st Century” (Syngress, March 2008). He is the founder of securelytravel.com