Ex-Pentagon official indicted in China spy case



WASHINGTON (AFP) — A federal grand jury indicted a former Pentagon official who had a "top secret" security clearance on charges of spying for China and lying to cover up his actions, the Justice Department has said.

Retired air force Lieutenant Colonel James Wilbur Fondren, a deputy director of the US Pacific Command's Washington Liaison Office, was arrested in mid-May and charged with conspiracy to pass classified information to an agent of China.

The charges announced Thursday include one count of conspiracy to communicate classified information to a foreign government agent and act as an illegal foreign agent; four counts of unlawfully communicating classified information to a foreign government agent; and three counts of lying to FBI agents.

If convicted on all charges, Fondren, 62, faces up to 60 years in prison, the Justice Department said in a statement.

According to the indictment, Fondren gave classified Pentagon documents and other information to Tai Shen Kuo, a naturalized US citizen from Taiwan, during a period from around November 2004 to February 2008.

"Fondren was aware that Kuo had maintained a close relationship with an official of the People?s Republic of China (PRC), to whom Kuo introduced Fondren during a trip the two took to the PRC in March 1999," reads the statement.

"As Kuo well knew, this individual was an official of the PRC government. Fondren and the PRC official exchanged more than 40 email messages between March 1999 and November 2000."

Fondren allegedly "provided classified information through Kuo, under the guise of consulting services, using a business that had Kuo as its sole customer. Fondren would incorporate this information into 'opinion papers' that he sold to Kuo."

When Federal Bureau of Investigations agents interviewed Fondren, the indictment alleges, the retired colonel "falsely represented" that the opinion papers were based on media report and from his experience.

Fondren falsely said he had never taken any classified information home and denied that he had given Kuo a draft copy of an unclassified document on military strategy, the indictment alleged.

The US government accuses China of mounting an aggressive operation to prise open its secrets, and President Barack Obama is weighing an overhaul of cyber-security after several reports of computer hacking originating in China.