ALEXANDRA, Va. (CN) – A former Defense Intelligence Agency official told jurors on Tuesday that if the records ex-CIA contractor Kevin Mallory is accused of divulging to the Chinese did indeed wind up in the hands of foreign adversaries, the impact to U.S. national security interests could be deadly.
Hugh Michael Higgins, who retired as an undersecretary with the agency on May 25, oversaw global intelligence and counter intelligence operations for the entire Defense Department. Before that, he spent 25 years as a CIA operations officer coordinating both overt and clandestine operations.
“I wasn’t a spy. I ran the spies. I was the good guy,” he told jurors to laughter at the federal courthouse in Alexandria, Virginia Tuesday afternoon.
Prosecutors Jennifer Gellie and John Gibbs called on Higgins’ expertise as they began wrapping up a second full day of testimony on the classification of several documents Mallory allegedly offered to sell Chinese operatives last year.
Mallory’s defense attorneys, Geremy Kamens and Todd Richmond, contend the information Mallory shared with his Chinese contacts was “innocuous,” mostly generalized “gibberish” about internal Defense Department policies already available in the public domain.
Mallory provided just enough information to the Chinese to keep them on the hook, Kamens argued. He said his client hoped to expose the Chinese businessmen as intelligence operatives working undercover at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, a Chinese think tank.
But prosecutors have sought to impeach that story by presenting several intelligence experts as well as current FBI and CIA agents who described Mallory’s actions as highly suspect.
The prosecution has also maintained that Mallory wasn’t completely forthcoming about his activities even after his June 2017 arrest.
For instance, they told the jury, Mallory didn’t mention two SD cards containing documents he shared with the Chinese nor did he tell agents he typed out sensitive defense information on a business center computer at a hotel in Shanghai while his contact looked over his shoulder.
On Tuesday, Higgins described documents seized from Mallory’s home as intelligence and counter intelligence “concepts of operation,” U.S. science and technological capabilities, operational tradecraft and other vulnerabilities.
“These put the hard-won [U.S.] capabilities at risk and are revelatory to a hostile foreign intelligence service,” Higgins said.
If the information Mallory allegedly exposed was put in the wrong hands, a U.S. human intelligence asset could be incarcerated in a foreign country where “at the least, he would lose income,” Higgins said.
“In some countries incarceration means death,” he noted. “These pose a severe risk to national security interests and Department of Defense interests.
“The net of suspicion is cast very wide here. The repercussions are dire,” Higgins said.
Gellie also asked Higgins to explain the rules around how CIA employees vet possible intelligence sources or assets.
“You start with the most innocuous, non-sensitive points of access that wouldn’t place them at risk,” Higgins said. “You may send them a document of unclassified examples … once access is established, then you begin to levy requests. It’s the beginning of a true give and take relationship.”
Typically, the evolution of the relationship is gradual.
“You build trust. You exchange gifts of increasing value. Maybe you start by giving them movie tickets. Then you build and build and maybe you exchange cell phones,” he said.
“Did Mr. Mallory’s [communication with the Chinese] line up with the usual relationship building process?” Gellie asked.
Higgins conceded while it did, it appeared Mallory’s give-and-take relationship had accelerated quite rapidly.
In cross examination, Mallory’s defense attorney Todd Richmond poured over multiple declassified and unclassified intelligence and defense reports, asking Higgins to affirm that much of the information in the reports was similar and in some cases, identical to information Mallory allegedly shared.
Some information was the same in the public reports and what Mallory allegedly sold was the same, Higgins conceded. But the information Mallory allegedly shared was largely comprised of research he compiled in 2009 for a PowerPoint presentation he gave to the DIA while under their employ.
“His documents go into greater specificity and detail. The publicly available documents may be accurate but they’re general. [Mallory’s] documents speak to specifics of weapons programs and a weakness in the U.S. that could be exploited,” he said.
Though defense questioned why some of the sensitive information from the PowerPoint presentation didn’t ultimately make it into the white papers Mallory allegedly turned over to the Chinese, Higgins said this proved very little about Mallory’s intent or the impact of his decisions.
“You always hold back when you have more information to give because the inevitable question will always come: what more information do you have?” he said.
If convicted, Mallory faces up to life in prison. He has yet to testify on his own behalf and could have a chance to do so Wednesday. Closing arguments are expected later this week.