Ex-CIA officer is convicted of spying for China

WASHINGTON: A former CIA case officer faces life in prison after he was convicted on Friday of betraying his country to spy on behalf of China.

Kevin Mallory, 61, of Leesburg, Virginia, was found guilty of espionage charges and lying to the FBI about his s with Chinese intelligence.

The verdict capped a nearly two-week trial that offered a rare glimpse into the murky world of US espionage cases, which typically do not go to trial because of the difficulties involving highly classified information.

“There are few crimes in this country more serious than espionage,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, the US attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “This office has a long history of holding those accountable who betray their country and try and profit off of classified information.”

Mallory’s lawyers have steadfastly denied the charges. They claim that Mallory, a former CIA clandestine officer and a private consultant, is a patriot who planned to use his recruitment to lure Chinese intelligence handlers into the CIA’s grasp. Mallory left the CIA in 2012.

“This was an intelligence operation against Chinese intelligence,” Geremy Kamens, a lawyer for Mallory, said on Thursday during closing arguments. “In reality, Kevin Mallory was working against the Chinese.”

The jury was not convinced, deliberating for a day before deciding to believe the substantial evidence prosecutors presented in the federal courtroom in Northern Virginia.

In early 2017, a Chinese headhunter sent Mallory a message about contracting work using a networking site. But the job Mallory thought he was exploring turned out to have a far different purpose.

He was passed to a Chinese intelligence operative working for a think tank who wanted him to become an informant. And over the next four months, Mallory, who is fluent in Mandarin Chinese, travelled to Shanghai, had covert communications with the operative on a Chinese-provided phone and passed information — including an unclassified white paper on US intelligence policy — to his handlers, the authorities said.

But Chinese attempts to protect the contents of the phone from prying eyes failed because of an apparent technical problem. The FBI was able to analyse it and found a handwritten index describing eight documents. Four of the documents listed in the index were found on the phone, with three containing classified information.

The twist in Mallory’s spy career was that he told the FBI and the CIA parts of the story and provided his phone to agents. This was evidence that Mallory was not a spy, his lawyers said.

The prosecution said that story was “totally and completely absurd.” Mallory, prosecutors said, selectively disclosed his s in order to have a potential defence in case federal investigators caught on to his true plan: to trade US secrets for cash.

“His intent was never to help,” John Gibbs, a federal prosecutor, said Thursday. “His intent was to lie.”

At the time he was recruited, prosecutors say, Mallory was thousands of dollars in debt and behind on his mortgage, making him a prime target for intelligence operatives looking to trade money for secrets. In Mallory’s case, the Chinese gave him $25,000 (Dh91,750), authorities said.

Mallory is scheduled to be sentenced in September.

The high-profile case is among several recent ones involving Chinese attempts to recruit former US intelligence officials. In January, the FBI arrested Jerry Chun Shing Lee, another former CIA officer, who had repeated s with Chinese intelligence. He has been charged with illegally possessing classified information and conspiring to spy for the Chinese.

Last week, prosecutors charged Ron Rockwell Hansen, a former Defence Intelligence Agency case officer, with attempted espionage. The FBI began investigating Hansen’s activities in 2014.