DoD employee facing espionage charges

A Defense Department employee on Wednesday was charged with funneling classified Pentagon information to China.

According the Department of Justice, from Nov. 2004 to Feb. 11, 2008, James Wilbur Fondren, Jr., the employee, "unlawfuly and knowingly conspired with others" to pass on information to another person he had reason to believe represented a foreign government.

The charges come as a result of an FBI investigation.

"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," Dana J. Boente, Acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, said in a statement.

Fondren, 62, worked at the Pentagon and is the Deputy Director, Washington Liaison Office, U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM). He has been on paid leave since Feb. 2008, when he was arrested as a result of the investigation.

Fondren retired from the Air Force in May of 1996 and founded a consultancy in his Virginia home in Feb. 1998. The FBI found that Fondren's consultancy had only one client: Tai Shen Kuo, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Taiwan. Kuo lived primarily in Louisiana, according to the Justice Department, but had business dealings in both the U.S. and China. He also had a business office in China.

Fondren was granted access to classified information when he became a civilian employee of the Pentagon at PACOM. The DoJ says he had Top Secret security clearance, worked with classified documents and had two computers in his work space: one classified and one unclassified.

The investigation found that Fondren continued his consulting services for Kuo after he began working at the Pentagon. And, though Fondren didn't know it, Kuo worked for a Chinese government official. Kuo was instructed by this superior to obtain sensitive documents from Fondren.

The Chinese government official paid Kuo $50,000 for obtaining that information, according to the investigation.

In March of 1999, Kuo introduced Fondren to the Chinese official. Kuo told Fondren that the official was a consultant to the Chinese government. Fondren did not know the Chinese employee's official position, according to the affidavit.

The affidavit says Kuo was instructed by the Chinese official to obtain information from Fondren under the guise that it was for Taiwan's military.

Between Nov. 2004 and Feb. 11, 2008, Fondren provided documents to Kuo that he obtained through his classified clearance at the Pentagon, according to the affidavit. Those documents included classified information on a Chinese military officials visit to the U.S., a joint U.S.-China naval military exercise and information about U.S. and China meetings.

According to the affidavit, at one point Fondren said to Kuo: "This is the report I didn't want you to talk about over the phone...Let people find out I did that, it will cost me my job."

Fondren was arrested on Feb. 11, 2008, on espionage charges. On that day, Kuo was staying in the guest room of Fondren's home.

On May 13, 2008, Kuo pleaded guilty in Virginia to conspiracy charges for trying to disclose U.S. national security information to a foreign government.

Fondren turned himself in to federal agents Wednesday morning. He is expected to appear in the U.S. District court in Alexandria, Va., later Wednesday.

jeremy.jacobs@thehill.com

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