The United States Department of Justice announced details of a new spying case, cited in court documents. Photo: AFP.

The scene resembled a plotline from a nail-biting novel by the master of the spy genre John le Carré. Standing in a Seattle court, former United States intelligence officer Ron Rockwell Hansen was charged with allegedly selling state secrets to Beijing.

On Saturday, the 58-year-old was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as he tried to board a flight to China.

In court documents cited by the US Justice Department, Hansen had served in the US Army in signals intelligence before being recruited by the Defense Intelligence Agency, or DIA, as a civilian case officer in 2006.

Fluent in Mandarin and Russian, he held top secret clearance “for years” and regularly traveled from the US and China between 2013 and 2017, the Justice Department said.

The court documents also claimed that Hansen attempted to pass on information to Beijing and received at least US$800,000.

“His alleged actions are a betrayal of our nation’s security and the American people and are an affront to his former intelligence community colleagues,” Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers said in court documents cited by the Justice Department.

‘Swear an oath’

“Our intelligence professionals swear an oath to protect our country’s most closely held secrets and the National Security Division will continue to relentlessly pursue justice against those who violate this oath,” he added.

Hansen, who lives in Utah, is alleged to have attempted to regain access to classified information after he stopped working for the US Government, which alerted the authorities.

Previously, he had been employed by the DIA, a branch of the US Department of Defense, which is responsible for “analyzing and disseminating” military intelligence.

The agency’s main responsibility is to provide foreign military intelligence for US combat missions.

Still, Hansen’s case is the latest in a string of arrests involving former intelligence officers and China.

Relations between the two countries are already strained. The US and China have been embroiled in a trade dispute during the past five months involving the spiraling “deficit.”

Jerry Chun Shing, an ex-Central Intelligence Agency employer, was charged earlier this month with “conspiring to gather or deliver national defense information,” while former CIA officer Kevin Mallory is on trial in Virginia, charged with selling information to Beijing.

Relations between the two countries are already strained. The US and China have been embroiled in a trade dispute during the past five months involving the spiraling “deficit.”

Between January to March, the US deficit with the world’s second-largest economy stood at $58 billion, while last year it was a record $375.2 billion.

There is also an ongoing row over President Donald Trump’s demand that Beijing halts state subsidies for high-tech industries and the “forced transfer of technology” when doing business in China with local partners.

Last month, the White House announced plans to place a 25% tariff on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports, mainly from the technology sector.

Escalating tensions

To add to escalating tensions, US Defense Secretary James Mattis has accused China of attempting to intimidate its neighbors by deploying missiles on disputed islands in the South China Sea.

He made the claims at the annual Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore at the weekend.

“China’s policy in the South China Sea stands in stark contrast to the openness that our strategy promotes, it calls into question China’s broader goals,” he said.

Naturally, Beijing has dismissed the comments as “irresponsible.”

Even so, this latest alleged espionage case in the US will simply ratchet up the rhetoric by another notch. Cold War II, anyone?

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