ALEXANDRIA, Va. (CN) – Former CIA contractor Kevin Patrick Mallory was found guilty Friday of conspiring to provide classified documents to Chinese operatives.
“It is a sad day when an American citizen is convicted of spying on behalf of a foreign power,” said Assistant Attorney General John Demers after the verdict was announced. “This act of espionage was no isolated incident. The People’s Republic of China has made a sophisticated and concerted effort to steal our nation’s secrets. Today’s conviction demonstrates that we remain vigilant against this threat and hold accountable all those who put the United States at risk through espionage.”
The verdict follows a week-long trial in the federal court in Alexandria, Virginia.
In addition to working for the CIA, Mallory, a resident of Leesburg, Virginia, also worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency and the State Department.
He was arrested in June 2017 and charged with transmitting both tsecret documents to Chinese intelligence operatives posing as consultants employed by the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.
Mallory travelled to China twice in 2017 to meet with a man he claimed to have initially believe was a headhunter, interested in hiring him for a private consulting job.
According to text and email records presented at trial, Malloryhe reached out to at least two former colleagues at the CIA following his initial trip to China, and asked them for contacts in the agency’s East Asia bureau.
In one message, he openly told a former colleague he was “getting banged on” by men he believed operated “in a manner” similar to clandestine U.S. operatives.
His onetime associates brushed him off. Each told jurors during the trial that Mallory’s request struck them as suspect. They promptly reported the messages to their superiors.
Prosecutors John Gibbs, Jennifer Gellie and Colleen Garcia argued Mallory’s outreach was a ploy: by corresponding with his colleagues, Mallory believed it would help him cover his tracks if and when questions about his interactions with the Chinese contacts ever arose.
Later, during a voluntary interview with the CIA and FBI, Mallory inadvertently exposed his communications with his Chinese contact, Michael Yang.
As he demonstrated how to initiate an encrypted messaging sequence within an app customized for the phone, a log of Mallory’s texts with Yang appeared on the screen, prosecutors said.
Agents noted Mallory “looked surprised” when the texts suddenly appeared as FBI agents Stephen Green and Mike Lee looked on.
Mallory told authorities he thought the Chinese had created such a secure customized connection within the messaging app, known as WeChat that no logs were able to be kept.
The exposed messages revealed Mallory’s multiple attempts to coordinate the transmission of the documents as well as his eagerness to learn how to use steganography, or the process of concealing a document inside of an image.
Mallory eventually mastered the step, and submitted a classified document through an image of horses grazing before a snowcapped mountain.
A custom phone equipped with advanced technology delivered from Chinese spies right into the hands of U.S. authorities was a “rare” event, FBI forensic analyst Mike Lee told jurors. But engineer James Hamrock, who testified on behalf of the U.S. government, also told jurors the high tech device wasn’t fool proof.
Hamrock said he believed the app may have crashed one point, causing Mallory and Yang’s encrypted conversation to linger unintentionally in a backlog.
In one of the exposed messages, Mallory indicated his wish to return to Shanghai for a third trip in June. 2017. He was arrested before he was able to leave.
During a search of Mallory’s home following his arrest that June, agents seized two SIM cards containing documents Mallory referenced in the messages with Yang.