Former CIA case officer Kevin Mallory betrayed his country by giving a Chinese spy information about human assets and other top secret information in exchange for US$25,000, US prosecutors said.
However, defense lawyers said that their client is a loyal American who was merely stringing the Chinese along to try to get them and expose details of their own intelligence operation.
A jury on Wednesday heard opening statements in the trial of Mallory, 60, of Leesburg, Virginia, who was working as a self-employed consultant when he returned from Shanghai with more than US$16,000 in undeclared cash.
Mallory’s attorney Geremy Kamens said that Mallory had grown suspicious about a Chinese think tank’s job offer and hatched a plan to feed them phony documents.
He told people at the CIA, but prosecutors said that was just to cover his tracks.
Prosecutor Jennifer Gellie told jurors that Mallory’s scheme unraveled in April last year when he was selected for secondary screening at O’Hare International Airport on a flight back from Shanghai with his son.
Customs agents found US$16,500 in unreported cash and they questioned Mallory about the nature of his trip.
The customs agents allowed Mallory entry after assessing a US$188 tariff on some electronics Mallory said he had purchased, but Gellie said that the encounter prompted Mallory to reach out to some old CIA contacts to concoct a cover story for his espionage.
She said Mallory in May last year agreed to be questioned about his contacts and was caught off guard during that interview when a telephone given to him by the Chinese displayed text conversations between Mallory and the Chinese recruiter.
Mallory had expected that the phone’s secure messaging features would keep the conversation hidden, Gellie said.
In one text message, Mallory wrote: “Your object is to gain information, and my object is to be paid.”
Agents later searched Mallory’s home and found two small computer discs — one balled up in tin foil in a closet box filled with junk.
The drives contained secret and top secret documents, some of which had been sent to the Chinese recruiter on the phone, Gellie said, adding that one document contained information about human assets.
“Kevin Mallory chose to pass closely held government secrets to a Chinese government agent,” Gellie told the jury.
However, Kamens said that Mallory reached out to his old CIA contacts months before he was supposedly spooked by the airport inspection.
During testimony on Wednesday, a CIA analyst and a CIA contractor testified that Mallory contacted them in February last year, two months before the Shanghai trip.
One of the two testified that Mallory wanted him to reach out to China contacts in the CIA, because he was concerned that the think tank’s offer was not on the level. The other testified that he could not recall exactly why Mallory reached out.
“The only reason we are sitting in this courtroom is Mr Mallory knocked on the front door of the CIA” to tell them about the offer he received from the Chinese, the contacts said.
The trial is being heard in the Eastern District of Virginia, which is home to the CIA and US Department of Defense and often plays host to US security and espionage cases.
Espionage trials are a rarity, given that both sides have strong incentives to reach plea deals. The government is concerned about exposing secrets, while defendants are worried about potentially stiff sentences.
The last espionage-related trial in the Alexandria courthouse came in 2009, when Pentagon official James Fondren was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison for charges involving espionage and making false statements to the FBI.
Fondren was convicted of providing classified documents to Taiwan-born Kuo Tai-shen (郭台生), a naturalized US citizen who was providing information to China.
However, Mallory is charged under a different statute that allows for stiffer penalties. The last trial under this specific statute came in 2003, when defense contractor Brian Patrick Regan was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for offering intelligence to Iraq and China.
Mallory faces up to life in prison.
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