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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Defense Department Official Indicted on Espionage, False Statement Charges

A federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia has indicted James Wilbur Fondren Jr., on one count of conspiracy to communicate classified information to an agent of a foreign government and act as an illegal foreign agent; four counts of unlawfully communicating classified information to an agent of a foreign government; and three counts of making false statements to the FBI. If convicted on all charges, Fondren would face a maximum of 60 years in prison.

Fondren, age 62, worked at the Pentagon and, from August 2001 through Feb. 11, 2008, was the Deputy Director, Washington Liaison Office, U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM).  He held a Top Secret security clearance, worked in a Sensitive Compartmentalized Information Facility (SCIF) and had a classified and unclassified computer at his cubicle. He has been on administrative leave with pay since mid-February 2008 and has not performed any duties in or for PACOM since that time.

On May 13, 2009, Fondren turned himself in to federal agents after being charged in a criminal complaint with conspiracy to communicate classified information to an agent of a foreign government.

According to the indictment returned today, from approximately Nov. 2004 to Feb. 11, 2008, Fondren provided certain classified Defense Department documents and other information to Tai Shen Kuo, a naturalized U.S. citizen from Taiwan.

Fondren was aware that Kuo had maintained a close relationship with an official of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), to whom Kuo introduced Fondren during a trip the two took to the PRC in March 1999. As Kuo well knew, this individual was an official of the PRC government. Fondren and the PRC official exchanged more than 40 email messages between March 1999 and November 2000.

Fondren is alleged to have provided classified information through Kuo, under the guise of consulting services, using a business that had Kuo as its sole customer. Fondren would incorporate this information into "opinion papers" that he sold to Kuo. He would also provide Kuo with sensitive, but unclassified Defense Department publications.

The indictment also alleges that, when Fondren was interviewed by FBI agents regarding this investigation, he falsely represented that everything he wrote to Kuo in his opinion papers was based on information from press and media reports and from his experience; that he had never taken any classified information home; and that he had not given Kuo a draft copy of an unclassified document on military strategy.

This investigation was conducted by the FBI. The Air Force Office of Special Investigations (OSI) provided substantial assistance and cooperation throughout the course of the investigation.

The prosecution is being handled by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Neil Hammerstrom and James P. Gillis, from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Trial Attorney Ryan Fayhee from the Counterespionage Section of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

The public is reminded that an indictment only contains charges and is not evidence of guilt. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

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