Salt Lake County Jail
Ron Rockwell Hansen, of Syracuse, faces federal charges for allegedly selling classified national defense information to China.

SALT LAKE CITY — A retired Army intelligence officer from Utah accused of being a spy for China and selling classified national defense information pleaded not guilty in federal court Friday.

Because of the classified documents the government will rely on to prosecute Ron Rockwell Hansen, of Syracuse, authorities will use a secure room — sensitive compartmented information facility, or SCIF — in the courthouse to store the evidence. Prosecutors, attorneys and other court workers must be granted top-secret clearance to access the information.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Warner imposed an order to prevent the sharing of documents outside the case. The court also appointed a classified information security officer.

The government gave Rockwell's lawyers CDs containing 32,000 pages of unclassified documents Friday, which prosecutor Robert Lund said amounts to less than 10 percent of the evidence.

Federal agents arrested Hansen last month as he was preparing to board a flight from Seattle to China. His arrest came after a four-year FBI investigation, 14 search warrants, dozens of subpoenas and witness interviews, and "techniques that we can't discuss in open court," Lund said.

Appearing in court handcuffed, shackled and wearing red Salt Lake County Jail scrubs, Hansen, 58, told the judge he is living on his military retirement and could not afford an attorney. Warner appointed federal public defenders to represent him.

Hansen is charged with attempting to gather or deliver defense information; being an unregistered agent of a foreign government; three counts of bulk cash smuggling; eight counts of structuring money transactions and two counts of smuggling goods from the United States. He faces life in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys declined comment following Friday's hearing.

Hansen is a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer. He retired from the U.S. Army, where he served for 20 years as a warrant officer with a background in signals intelligence and human intelligence. He speaks fluent Mandarin-Chinese and Russian.

During his military service, the U.S. government entrusted Hansen with access to sensitive government materials, including closely held national defense information and classified documents and materials, according to the charges.

He also signed numerous nondisclosure contracts in which he acknowledged that giving away such information could be a violation of criminal espionage laws, according to charging documents.

The Defense Intelligence Agency hired Hansen as a civilian intelligence case officer in 2006. He held top-secret clearance as part of his job for many years, the charges state.

Between 2013 and 2017, investigators allege Hansen regularly traveled between the United States and China attending military and intelligence conferences, and then provided information he learned at the conferences to contacts in China who were associated with the People's Republic of China's intelligence service, prosecutors say.

Hansen was paid at least $800,000 over the years, including receiving a $300,000 "consulting" fee, according to the charges.

Even after he stopped working for the government, investigators believe Hansen attempted in 2012 to regain access to classified information. He was finally caught when he divulged what he was doing to a law enforcement source in an apparent effort to recruit that person, the charges state.

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In 2012, he approached a U.S. Army Intelligence agent and "offered to work as a double agent against" China, according to court documents. He made the same offer to the FBI in 2015 as he continued efforts to regain access to classified information, the charges state.

But by that time, the FBI says it had already begun its investigation into Hansen.

Court records show Hansen had also accumulated a lot of debt.

He had built up about $200,000 in personal debt since 2012, the charges state. And his business, Nuvestack — a company that provided cloud computing information technology services — reported more than $1 million in losses in 2014, failed to file taxes in 2015 and 2016, the charges state.