updated 7/11/2008 2:45:58 PM ET 2008-07-11T18:45:58

A former Pentagon analyst has been sentenced to nearly five years in prison for giving secret military information to a New Orleans furniture salesman who turned out to be a Chinese spy.

At a sentencing hearing in U.S. District Court, Gregg W. Bergersen, 51, of Alexandria, apologized and said he never meant to hurt his country.

Bergersen thought that Louisiana businessman Tai Kuo, the recipient of the information, was aligned with the Taiwanese government and that the information was furthering the establishment of a sophisticated new air defense system in Taiwan, called Po Sheng.

But Kuo was actually a spy for the People's Republic of China and was relaying the information provided by Bergersen to the Communist regime in Beijing.

"I did not do it for financial gain," Bergersen said, holding back tears. "I somehow in my mind, as convoluted as it sounds, acted out of a perverted sense that the end justifies the means."

Motivated by gifts, job promise
Prosecutors, though, said Bergersen was indeed motivated by financial gain, citing the thousands of dollars that Kuo gave him on gambling trips to Las Vegas, as well as Kuo's promise of future employment after Bergersen retired from the federal government.

"He knew he needed to give Kuo information that the public didn't get so Mr. Kuo would keep lavishing gifts on him," said prosecutor W. Neil Hammerstrom.

Hammerstrom also said Bergersen's claim that he acted solely out of motivation to advance the Po Sheng program is dubious, because the information he provided would have done little.

The 57-month sentence imposed by U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema was less than the sentence of seven to nine years sought by the government. Brinkema said she departed from the federal sentencing guidelines, which also called for a 7- to 9-year term, in part because of a classified memo filed by the government that apparently detailed the damage caused by Bergersen's actions.

Incident caused little harm
Brinkema said she concluded from the memo that the information provided by Bergersen caused relatively little harm to national security. Hammerstrom disputed that conclusion, saying a full damage assessment has not yet been made.

Taiwanese officials said shortly after Bergersen and Kuo were arrested in February that the espionage caused some damage but did not compromise key technology.

Kuo, 58, who has pleaded guilty to espionage, is scheduled to be sentenced later this month. He is a naturalized U.S. citizen and a native of Taiwan. His family is prominent in Taiwan — he is the son-in-law of Xue Yue, a Chinese nationalist general who was a close associate of Chiang Kai-shek.

The Bergersen case is one of more than a dozen in the last few years involving either traditional spying or economic espionage related to China. U.S. officials have warned in the last year of increasing espionage efforts by Beijing.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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