RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:
A former CIA officer is going on trial today at a federal courthouse outside Washington, D.C. His name is Kevin Patrick Mallory, and he stands accused of passing national defense secrets to the Chinese government. NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas has been following the case and is in our studios.
RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.
MARTIN: Tell us more about this man, Kevin Patrick Mallory, and what he's alleged to have done.
LUCAS: Well, Mallory worked for the government for a long time, more than 30 years in all. He was in the military in the early '80s in active duty, moved into the intelligence world after that, worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency for several years and also as a case officer for the CIA for a long time. Those jobs took him overseas. He was stationed in Iraq, spent time in China and Taiwan. He speaks fluent Mandarin. He left government work and set up his own consulting firm in 2012. He was then arrested by the FBI last June. He faces espionage-related charges, three counts related to sharing defense information with China and one count for allegedly lying to the FBI.
MARTIN: All right, defense information with China - can we get more specific? Do we know exactly what information he's alleged to have provided the Chinese?
LUCAS: Well, in court filings, the government has spelled out its allegations. And the indictment reads like a bit of a cloak-and-dagger tale. So it says that Mallory was contacted online by a recruiter from a Chinese think tank in Shanghai. This recruiter put him in touch with a potential client. Mallory traveled to Shanghai to meet with this potential client, but the government says that individual was, in fact, a Chinese intelligence officer.
LUCAS: After returning to the U.S., Mallory sent secret U.S. government documents to this Chinese agent, and he was paid for it. Mallory and the alleged Chinese intelligence officer communicated by using what they thought was a secure messaging system on a cellphone provided by the agent. And then there's a twist. The FBI met with Mallory in May. He tells them he has not given the Chinese intelligence any documents, but he allows them to go through the cellphone. And an examination of it turns up these secret encrypted CIA documents.
MARTIN: Weren't so secret.
LUCAS: Weren't so secret. And the FBI also discovers messages between Mallory and the alleged officer. And in one Mallory writes, quote, "your object is to gain information, and my object is to be paid."
MARTIN: So that sounds fairly damaging for Mallory. Do we have a sense of what his defense is going to be?
LUCAS: Well, in pretrial hearings and court papers, Mallory's attorneys have said that he reached out to people at the CIA before he traveled to China to express concerns that his contacts there may indeed be Chinese intelligence officers. He was later in touch with people at the CIA, told them about his Chinese contacts, his concerns. He kept them informed, he says, of what he was doing. And his lawyers have also argued that he didn't provide the Chinese anything of value. They floated this idea that he was potentially trying to arrange himself as a sort of double agent for the U.S., trying to kind of lure these Chinese intelligence agents in. And they say that Mallory is at root a patriotic American. Now, prosecutors say that Mallory is trained in deception. He's a CIA - a former CIA officer. He knew exactly what he was doing. He wanted the money. He needed the money, and if he had contacted former CIA colleagues, it was basically an attempt to cover his tracks. Mallory so far has pleaded not guilty. Jury selection is today, and opening statements could start as early as this afternoon.
MARTIN: I mean, it's interesting - right? - because President Trump talks a lot about the threat from China - in particular, Chinese espionage that's being used to take American trade secrets and the need to protect intellectual property. But this isn't that, right? This is about national security risks. And it really underscores that the Chinese are aggressive about trying to get that information.
LUCAS: Absolutely, absolutely. Current and former officials that I've spoken with told me that the Chinese are indeed very aggressive in their espionage efforts against the U.S. They're deliberate. They're patient. They're relentless. And they are effective, much to the chagrin of the United States government. The Chinese have targeted American industrial and economic secrets. They've stolen those - everything from wind turbine technology to engineered rice and corn. Large population in China - you need to feed that population.
LUCAS: They're very active in the world of cyberespionage, both for economic gain, as well as national defense reasons. Of course, there's the case of the Office of Personnel Management that U.S. government officials have blamed on the Chinese and...
MARTIN: All those accounts was - that were hacked...
LUCAS: Some 20 million former - current and former U.S. officials, family members. This case is more about traditional espionage - going after intelligence secrets, defense secrets. But the Chinese go after everything. It's the broad spectrum. And this is just part of that ongoing kind of espionage war.
MARTIN: Although rare to see a former CIA agent stand trial for it. Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department. Thanks.
LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.