Utah man accused of spying for China appears in court as judge sets restrictions on top secret evidence

SALT LAKE CITY -- A Syracuse man accused of spying for the Chinese government has pleaded not guilty to federal espionage charges.

Ron Rockwell Hansen, 58, appeared in federal court on Friday afternoon. Shackled and wearing a jail jumpsuit, he sat with his hands in his lap and answered the judge's questions politely.

"Mr. Ron Rockwell Hansen, I know as you sir, how do you plead to the indictment and all counts therein? Guilty or not guilty?" U.S. Magistrate Judge Paul Warner asked.

"Not guilty, your honor," Hansen replied.

He was ordered detained pending trial. Outside court, prosecutors and Hansen's court appointed attorneys declined to comment.

Ron Rockwell Hansen (image courtesy Salt Lake County Jail)

Hansen was indicted by a federal grand jury accusing him of being an agent of a foreign government; attempting to gather or deliver Defense information; structuring monetary transactions; and smuggling goods from the United States. He faces up to life in prison, if convicted.

The indictment alleges Hansen had been a defense intelligence contractor who was passing classified information along to the People’s Republic of China Intelligence Services. The indictment claims he repeatedly tried to gain intelligence information after leaving work for the U.S. government but offered to work as a “double agent” — including contacting a congressman on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. However, the indictment alleges Hansen never disclosed to the feds that he was ever working as an agent of the Chinese government.

Federal prosecutors allege Hansen traveled between the U.S. and China between 2013 and 2017, and provided information to contacts in China and receiving payments of at least $800,000.

The case has already taken some interesting twists. Because there is so much national security and classified information involved, defense attorneys must have top secret clearance. They will also be put under a protective order to not disclose what they see.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Rob Lund gave defense lawyers 32,000 pages of evidence -- which is what has been declassified, he said. It represents less than 10-percent of the total evidence.

To view any classified material, lawyers will have to go to a special, highly secured room set up in the federal courthouse. Even then, court filings indicate, some of that will be vetted.

It's an unusual situation, said Greg Skordas, a criminal defense attorney not associated with the case.

"It’s created a special problem in this case because the defense is entitled to information to help them prepare their representation of their client," he told FOX 13. "But the government’s saying you can’t have that information because it’s highly classified."

Skordas predicted that ultimately the judge will have to step in to settle disputes over what's top secret and what should be put before a jury. U.S. District Court Judge Dee Benson has been assigned to hear the case. He served on the top secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court from 2004-2011.