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China denies spying claims made in U.S. court

China's Foreign Ministry on Thursday denied spying accusations made in a court case against a U.S. Defense Department official, accusing Washington of clinging to a "Cold War mentality."
/ Source: The Associated Press

China's Foreign Ministry on Thursday denied spying accusations made in a court case against a U.S. Defense Department official, accusing Washington of clinging to a "Cold War mentality."

James W. Fondren Jr., 62, was charged Wednesday with conspiring to give U.S. defense secrets to an agent for the Chinese government under the mistaken impression that the agent was working for Taiwan.

Spokesman Ma Zhaoxu said the accusation that China sought U.S. defense secrets from Fondren were rooted in ulterior motives, but gave no details.

"We urge the U.S. to discard its Cold War mentality and stop its groundless accusations against China," Ma told reporters at a regularly scheduled news conference.

"We urge the U.S. to do more things to help enhance mutual trust ... and friendship between the two peoples," he said.

Fondren is the second Pentagon official charged with giving classified documents to New Orleans furniture salesman Tai Shen Kuo, who pleaded guilty to spying for Beijing and was sentenced last year to nearly 16 years in prison.

Kuo, a Taiwan native and naturalized U.S. citizen with prominent family ties in Taiwan, has admitted that he masqueraded as a Taiwanese agent when in reality he was working with an agent of the Communist regime in Beijing — what spy-hunters call a "false flag" operation.

Sold classified information?
Prosecutors contend that between 2004 and 2008, Fondren gave Kuo classified information through "opinion papers" he sold to Kuo for between $350 and $800 apiece. Eight of the papers allegedly contained classified information, according to investigators.

The papers dealt primarily with U.S.-Taiwanese military relations.

At an initial appearance Wednesday in U.S. District Court, a magistrate ordered that Fondren can remain free while he awaits indictment, but required that he be subject to electronic monitoring.

His attorney, former Republican congressman Asa Hutchinson, declined to comment on the specifics of the case but emphasized that Fondren "did not knowingly provide any information to any agent of the People's Republic of China."

"You cannot present this case as a typical espionage case," Hutchinson said.

In an affidavit, FBI agent Robert M. Gibbs says it is clear that Fondren did not know Kuo was working for Beijing, but Fondren believed the information was being forwarded to Taiwanese officials, which is illegal.

If convicted, Fondren faces up to five years in prison.

State secrets
In a statement, Acting U.S. Attorney Dana Boente said, "Providing classified information to a foreign agent of the People's Republic of China is a real and serious threat to our national security. The U.S. government places considerable trust in those given access to classified information, and we are committed to prosecuting those who abuse that trust."

Fondren worked at the Pentagon, holding top secret clearance as the deputy director of the Washington liaison office for U.S. Pacific Command. He has been on administrative leave since February 2008, when Kuo was arrested at Fondren's home.

Last year, former Defense Department employee Gregg Bergersen pleaded guilty to providing secrets to Kuo, who plied Bergersen with at least $7,000 in cash and gifts from Kuo, including $3,000 in cash for a poker game on a 2007 Las Vegas trip.

Bergersen was sentenced to nearly five years in prison.

The Kuo 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 of increasing espionage efforts by Beijing.

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