Pentagon official charged in plot to pass secrets to China

By Calvin Palmer

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

A criminal complaint unsealed today in the Eastern District of Virginia accuses James Wilbur Fondren, Jr of passing classified information to a foreign agent.

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, Virginia.

He has been on administrative leave since February 2008.

If convicted, Fondren faces a maximum five years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.

“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.”

Fondren retired from active duty as a Lieutenant Colonel in the U.S. Air Force in May 1996. He later began providing consulting services from his Virginia home. His sole client was a friend by the name of Tai Shen Kuo, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Taiwan who lived primarily in Louisiana.

In August 2001, Fondren became a civilian employee at the Pentagon and held a Top Secret security clearance, working as the deputy director of the Washington liaison office for U.S. Pacific Command.

Between 2004 and 2008, Fondren gave Kuo classified information through “opinion papers” he sold to Kuo for between $350 and $800 apiece, officials charge. Eight of the papers allegedly contained classified information, according to investigators.

FBI investigators say that Fondren did not know that Kuo was taking orders from the Chinese government. Officials say Fondren believed the information was being sent to Taiwan.

In February 2008, Kuo and former Defense Department employee, Gregg William Bergersen, were arrested on espionage charges.

They both pleaded guilty. Kuo was sentenced to 188 months in prison. Bergersen was sentenced to 57 months in prison.

Yu Xin Kang, an accomplice of Kuo from New Orleans who was arrested at the same time, pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting Kuo and was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

[Based on a report by PR Newswire.]

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