With constant allegations of Russian hacking and leaks from the Trump administration, one could become immune to claims of intelligence problems. While the accusations of Russians hacking the election are largely baseless at this point, a very real intelligence breach occurred when a former government employee, Kevin Mallory, was caught passing classified documents to Chinese intelligence officers.
Customs agents interviewed Mallory when he was returning from a trip to Shanghai in April after he failed to disclose the $16,500 in cash that he was carrying. He was later interviewed by the FBI and admitted that he had passed several documents, which he said were not classified, to representatives from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. The Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences has ties to the Chinese intelligence community and it is expected that the representatives Mallory spoke with were Chinese intelligence agents.
While Mallory claimed what he was doing was legal, further investigation by the FBI on several documents and a communication device indicated that Mallory had passed on four classified documents, including three top-secret documents. Messages on the communication device indicated that Mallory was planning on passing on more documents to the Chinese agents in the future. While Mallory will be unable to pass on more information as he will likely be in prison for a long time, the situation is still concerning.
Mallory had previously worked for the government in a variety of capacities. He was in the U.S. Army, State Department Diplomatic Security Service, and, allegedly, the CIA. In more recent years, Mallory worked as a contractor with various government agencies, focusing on defense and international relations. He held a top-secret security clearance until 2012, when he left government completely to become a consultant. The documents that Mallory passed on were acquired before he lost his clearance, but they still have the potential to harm U.S. interests. The Department of Justice plans to swiftly prosecute Mallory, with possible sentences varying from simple prison time to the death penalty.
This case speaks to a larger problem of government employees and contractors leaking classified information to either foreign governments or media organizations. Notable cases include the Bradley Manning leaks to Wikileaks and when FBI agent Robert Hanssen passed information to the Soviet Union and later Russia. More recently, Reality Winner, a government contractor, and avid Trump critic, passed classified information to a news outlet. These examples show that there are deep problems in the intelligence community regarding sharing classified information, either for whistle blowing or monetary purposes. There are clear, legal channels that can be used for whistle blowing, and Reality Winner ignored them. Mallory’s case goes even further as his greed led him to share classified information with an adversarial foreign power. It is clear that there needs to be greater counter-intelligence measures implemented by the government, particularly from insider threats.