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Consulate guard accused of trying to spy for China

/ Source: The Associated Press

A former contract security guard at a U.S. consulate under construction in southern China's largest city was charged Wednesday with trying to pass defense secrets about the site to Chinese intelligence officials.

Prosecutors said Bryan Underwood, 31, was arrested early Saturday in Los Angeles after going on the run and is being brought to Washington to face a four-count indictment.

Underwood was originally charged a month ago with two counts of making false statements to the FBI, but he failed to appear in court for a hearing Sept. 21. A grand jury in Washington returned a second indictment Wednesday that further charged him with failing to appear at the hearing and trying to pass national defense information to a foreign government earlier this year.

The indictment alleges that Underwood wrote a letter expressing "interest in initiating a business arrangement" with Chinese officials and took photographs of his worksite to pass on. But the indictment said that when questioned by the FBI about the letter and photographs on Aug. 5, he lied and said he was intending to assist the FBI when really he had reason to believe they would be used to injure the United States.

The indictment did not identify Underwood's worksite, but prosecutor John Han said at an earlier court hearing that the consulate Underwood worked at was under construction in southern China. The consulate in Guangzhou, scheduled for completion next year, is the only one under construction in the world's most populous nation, according to the State Department.

The Justice Department would not say whether Underwood actually gave confidential information to China but said the investigation is ongoing. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

"Our national security depends upon our ability to keep our most sensitive information confidential," said Ronald Machen Jr., U.S. attorney in Washington. "Bryan Underwood is charged with trying to pass American secrets to China and then lying to cover up his betrayal."