SALT LAKE CITY — Ron Rockwell Hansen smiled and winked at his wife as U.S. marshals took him away after he pleaded guilty Friday to spying for China.
In a plea bargain with federal prosecutors, the 59-year-old former U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency case officer admitted in U.S. District Court to one count of attempting to gather or deliver intelligence information.
The deal calls for a 15-year prison sentence. The charge carries a maximum penalty of life behind bars.
Last July, Hansen entered not-guilty pleas to felony charges of gathering intelligence for a foreign power, bulk cash smuggling, structuring monetary transactions and smuggling goods from the United States.
Hansen’s plea agreement said the Chinese intelligence service targeted him for recruitment in early 2014 and he began meeting with agents regularly in China. Over the next few years, Hansen received money from the Chinese in return for intelligence information he gathered at defense conferences in the United States.
Hansen received more than $800,000 in cash, wires and credit card transactions and improperly sold export-controlled technology to people in China, court records said.
The FBI began investigating, and a DIA officer reported to agents that Hansen was trying to groom him to supply defense secrets Hansen could sell to the Chinese.
The DIA officer became an informant for the FBI, and he met with Hansen at the Seattle airport on June 2, 2018. The informant showed Hansen a secret document on U.S. military readiness, Hansen took notes and left, and FBI agents arrested him while he tried to board a flight to China.
Hansen has been in high-security detention ever since, and he showed up in Benson’s court wearing tan jail clothes with “Salt Lake County Jail” stenciled in black on the back.
“Yes, your honor,” Hansen responded each time to a series of questions from Judge Dee Benson.
The judge asked him about his education. Hansen said he attended Brigham Young University, the University of Utah and a state college in New York, receiving degrees in political science, computer science and languages.
Benson set sentencing for Sept. 24 and ordered a pre-sentence report.
John Huber, the U.S. Attorney for Utah, said at a press conference later outside the courthouse that the case showed China’s reach, “even right here in Utah.”
Hansen was “somewhat of a soft target” for the Chinese, said Paul Haertel, the FBI’s Special Agent in Charge of the Salt Lake field office.
Hansen was a businessman after retiring from the DIA, and the Chinese “targeted him while he was working,” Haertel said.
“Unfortunately he went down the wrong path,” he said.
Tyler Hatcher, assistant special agent in charge of Internal Revenue Service criminal investigations in Utah, said Hansen appeared to have debts and financial problems that apparently “prodded him into this life.”