A federal judge handed down a ten-year sentence this week to Ron Rockwell Hansen for espionage on behalf of China.
As readers will recall, Hansen was arrested in Seattle in June 2018 on his way to China . In March 2019 Hansen pleaded guilty to the charges of attempting to “communicate, deliver or transmit information involving nation defense.”
What made Hansen’s case so interesting – beyond the obvious neutralization of an insider who had broken trust and was committing espionage – was how Hansen was run/handled by Chinese intelligence, and the tasking given to him for targeting DIA through LinkedIn and ‘friend-of-a-friend’ connections.
Chinese recruitment activity
Hansen is a fluent Mandarin-Chinese speaker and from 2007-2011 maintained an office and apartment in China and a home and office in the United States.
Hansen was recruited the old-fashion HUMINT (human intelligence) way. He was spotted, accessed and recruited while in China. His business wasn’t the most profitable, and his need for funds to continue his lifestyle identified him as a man with a vulnerability. His classified contract work for the U.S. government during this same time period made him all the more interesting to the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS). When the MSS came calling they had an individual who had imagined himself in this role and no doubt thought it was his ticket to financial solvency.
While Hansen stipulated that he began working for the Chinese in 2014, his actions predate that period and point to an earlier recruitment. According to the criminal complaint filed in June 2018, at the time of Hansen’s arrest, he had been seeking to ingratiate himself into the U.S. intelligence community since early 2012. Here is a timeline of Hansen’s actions:
- February 2012 – Approached U.S. Army intelligence and offered to work as a double agent against the MSS
- May 2012 – Applied to work for the DIA
- Mid-2013 – Suggested to DIA that he be used as a source against the PRC
- November 2013 – Approached U.S. Army intelligence via a different avenue
- February 2015 – Approached the Federal Bureau of Investigation and offered to work as a double agent against the MSS
- September 2015 – Contacted the U.S. House of Representatives member of the HPSCI (House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence) and proposed he become a member of the staff
- May 2016 – Reconnected with a DIA case officer and encouraged the case officer to use him as a source against the MSS
Between 2014-2017 Hansen’s travel to China was monitored by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the FBI. The CBP would search Hansen’s luggage and every time he would be carrying currency and digital devices. In a June 2019 trip Hansen failed to declare that he was carrying in excess of $10,000 into the U.S. When he was pulled aside for a secondary inspection, he quickly declared he had forgotten to file the required FINCEN Form 105 declaring the $19,222 in his possession.
Over the course of his travels to China, and through electronic transfers of funds, Hansen received in excess of $800,000 from China.
In 2016, when Hansen traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend the AFCEA conference, the FBI conducted a search of his hotel room and forensically imaged his laptop. On that laptop they found data organized in a manner consistent with targeting and assessing various individuals with potential access to information of interest. The vast majority were individuals that Hansen had not met face-to-face, but who he had attempted to build relationships with through LinkeIn.
The printer file records discovered on his laptop included printed information from the LinkedIn profiles of several former and current DIA case officers. He was actively spotted accessing profile data on behalf of the MSS.
Hansen would carry his notes to and from China digitally on a thumb drive, which he hid in his shoe (stuffed in a sock). Each time he crossed into the U.S. his notes were captured by the FBI with the assistance of the CBP.
During his consensual interviews with the FBI over the course of the investigation, Hansen continued to push his potential as a source or double agent against the MSS. His laptop contained photos of him meeting with Chinese intelligence in their office spaces in China.
And the coup de grace? In April 2018, Hansen asked a DIA case officer who he believed was interested in clandestinely cooperating with Hansen, but who was in reality a confidential human source for the FBI, to acquire the DIA China Ops Plan for which China may pay as much as $200,000. In June 2018, this source met Hansen near Seattle’s SEATAC airport, prior to Hansen’s flight to China, and offered shared classified information with Hansen – who actively took notes. Hansen was arrested as he approached the SEATAC airport concourse.
Now the only trip Hansen will be taking for the next ten years will be to a federal prison.