A Virginia man has been charged with selling top secret government documents to Chinese spies.
Kevin Mallory, a 60-year-old former State Department diplomatic security agent and former CIA officer, appeared in federal court on Thursday to face charges of gathering or delivering defense information to aid a foreign government and making material false statements.
Mallory, who has worked as a self-employed consultant since leaving government in 2012, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted.
According to the Associated Press, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Gibbs said in court on Thursday that Mallory could face the death penalty “if certain conditions are met.”
Mallory, who lives in Leesburg, Va., is accused of selling documents containing information classified at the “secret” and “top secret” levels to a group of Chinese spies for $25,000.
Federal prosecutors also allege that he lied to FBI agents about the scheme.
In an affidavit, the federal government says that Mallory traveled to Shanghai in March and April and met with a person who is believed to be an agent of China’s intelligence services.
Mallory admitted in a voluntary interview he gave to FBI agents on May 24 that his Chinese contact represented himself as an employee of Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences (SASS), a Chinese think tank that is believed to serve as a front group for Chinese spies.
Mallory told FBI agents that he was first contacted by the spy ring on social media in February. During his trips to Shanghai in March and April, Mallory said he met with his Chinese contact and that person’s boss.
He also acknowledged that he believed that his Chinese contacts “would like to see him obtain a position of access in the U.S. Government,” and to write white papers about U.S. policy issues.
Mallory misled the FBI agents about his use of the communications device, the complaint states.
Mallory said in the May 24 interview that he only sent test messages on the device. But investigators inspected the device and unlocked secure messages which Mallory believed had been erased.
In one May 3 exchange, Mallory told his Chinese contact that he blacked out security classification markings from government documents.
“I had to get it out without the chance of discovery. Unless read in detail, it appeared like a simple note…I have arranged for a USD account in another name. You can send the funds broken into 4 equal payments over 4 consecutive days…When you agree I will send you the bank E.g. instructions,” he wrote, according to the complaint.
In a May 5 message, Mallory wrote to his contact: “your object is to gain information, and my object is to be paid for.”
The communications device also contained a handwritten index describing eight documents, four of which were found stored on the device. Three of those contained classified information, two with top secret information and the other two with secret information.
It is unclear how or when Mallory had obtained the documents or which government agency they came from. His top secret security clearance lapsed when he left government employment in October 2012.
According to the complaint, Mallory lied to Customs and Border Protection agents upon his return from Shanghai on April 21. He claimed on a customs disclosure form that he was not carrying more than $10,000 in cash. But a search of Mallory’s bags revealed $16,500 in currency.
Mallory also asked two former co-workers at an unnamed federal government agency to “help him get in contact with a specific department” at the agency.
The Washington Post reported that two government officials said that Mallory is a former CIA officer and that the people he contacted work for the agency.
That first attempt was unsuccessful, but Mallory followed up with one of the former co-workers and was given a meeting at the agency on May 12.
Mallory told FBI agents that he informed his unnamed audience that he believed he had been in contact with Chinese spies. He also told the person that he had been given a communications device and been trained how to use it. Mallory said that he agreed to meet at a later time with U.S. government employees to examine the communications device.
Mallory went to the May 24 meeting expecting his government contact to be there, but FBI agents were present instead.