A mid-level Pentagon official working for U.S. Pacific Command now faces criminal charges in an ongoing espionage investigation for allegedly providing classified information to an agent of the Chinese government. James Fondren served as the Deputy Director of Pacific Command's liaison office and had a long friendship with Tai Shen Kuo, who was arrested and charged last year for passing sensitive information onto Chinese military and intelligence officials.
Fondren and Kuo were both friends and business associates. Prior to working at the Pentagon as a civilian, Fondren served as a Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Air Force and retired in 1996. Two years later, according to the criminal complaint, Fondren established a consulting company in Virginia whose sole client was Kuo, a naturalized US citizen from Taiwan who lived in Louisiana and ran two companies in the United States.
Kuo is also linked to Gregg Bergersen, a former policy analyst at the Defense Security Cooperation Agency. Kuo and Bergersen were arrested last February on espionage charges. Bergersen was accused of providing information on weapon sales to Taiwan and passing military communications security information to Kuo. Bergersen pleaded guilty to disclosing national defense information in March 2008 and was sentenced to 57 months in prison. Kuo pleaded guilty to conspiracy to disclosing national defense information a year ago and is currently serving a 15-year prison term.
The criminal complaint unsealed today alleges that between November 2004 and February 2008, Fondren provided Kuo with documents he obtained from classified computers at the Pentagon. Specifically, an FBI affidavit in the case alleges that Fondren provided State Department cables and information on Naval exercises and sold Kuo DoD "opinion papers" at prices ranging from $350-800 a piece.
Kuo allegedly represented to Bergersen and Fondren that he was passing information he obtained to a high ranking general in the Taiwanese military when in reality according to the FBI he was receiving tasking instructions and what information to collect from a Chinese government official. According to the FBI, Kuo also maintained offices in China as part of his business ventures.
Kuo and Fondren's friendship allowed the Chinese agent to stay at Fondren's house in Annandale Virginia. According to the affidavit, FBI surveillance conducted on Fondren's home on March 3, 2007 establishes that Fondren provided Kuo with a draft DoD assessment of China's military power and told him, "This is the report I didn't want you to talk about over the phone….[if] people find out I did that, it will cost me my job." According to the FBI affidavit, although the Pentagon assessment of China's military strength was published 3 months later, many items in the draft report were not contained in the public version.
In a statement today, Art Cummings, Executive Assistant Director of the FBI's national Security Branch said, "The complaint unsealed today alleges that Mr. Fondren conspired to steal our nation's secrets for a foreign government, placing his own interests over those of the citizens he served as a U.S. Government employee….Espionage is a profoundly serious crime."
Fondren was initially approached by FBI agents in August 2007, according to an FBI affidavit filed by Special Agent Robert Gibbs. Fondren told agents he maintained some contacts with foreign military officials and also stated he would never tell anyone anything they could not find by doing their own research from public sources or from newspaper articles.
According to the FBI affidavit, two days after the initial visit from the FBI agents, Fondren e-mailed Kuo alerting him that he had been interviewed by FBI counterintelligence agents: "I couldn't determine what they wanted, but I doubt that they are really interested in political, economic and security issues affecting Asian countries…The discussion seemed to be in a bizarre direction so I wanted you to be aware of my surprise visit in case you get a surprise also!"
When Kuo was arrested on February 12, 2008 he was staying as a guest in Fondren's house in Virginia. According to the FBI affidavit, "Among his possessions, Kuo had a draft copy of a DOD document entitled "The National Military Strategy of the United States of America 2008, Version 5."
Later that day Fondren was interviewed by FBI agents and told them that he had a copy of the strategy document at his house and had taken it home because he did not have enough time to read it at work.
Fondren is expected to appear before a federal magistrate this afternoon at the federal court in Alexandria. Asa Hutchinson, the lawyer for Mr. Fondren, was not available for comment.