ALEXANDRIA, Va. – The jury trial for a former CIA spy who allegedly transferred defense secrets to Chinese spies for $25,000 kicked off Wednesday with opening arguments and a simple question by his defense: would a man who wore a “white hat” for the entirety of his career simply take it off to betray the U.S. government for such a paltry sum?
Expected to last a little over a week at the federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, the trial of Kevin Patrick Mallory features twists and turns reminiscent of a classic spy novel.
Mallory was arrested in June 2017 and charged under the Federal Espionage Act for allegedly selling classified information to individuals he believed worked for the People’s Republic of China Intelligence.
But according to his defense lawyer Geremy Kamens, Mallory was no double agent.
“He is only here today because he knocked on the front door of the CIA to tell them what he knew. He’s a patriot,” Kamens said.
Mallory met the men he thought were spies after receiving a job offer from one of them, a man he suspected was a Chinese headhunter. Mallory, fluent in Mandarin and a veteran of the intelligence community, traveled to Shanghai for business, he claimed.
But according to his attorney, he soon became suspicious of the Chinese contacts — all of whom worked for the think tank, Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences — who insisted on holding a series of day-long meetings in hotel rooms instead of office parks.
Questions about currency manipulation, future prospects for U.S. policy in China and curiosity over whether Mallory could land a job within the Trump administration also spooked him, Kamens told jurors Wednesday.
Kamens described his client as a loyal American who wanted to “help the United States, not harm it.” The attorney said his client left China with the intent to use his intelligence training as a lure and force the Chinese contacts into a trap. In short, Kamens said, Mallory intended to play along with their requests until they revealed themselves as covert operatives.
But U.S. prosecutor Jennifer Gellie told jurors Mallory’s story was cooked up to confuse law enforcement and cover his own tracks.
His actual intent, Gellie said, could be summed up in a text message Mallory sent to one of the Chinese contacts, Michael Yang.
“Your obligation is to gain information, my obligation is to be paid,” Mallory wrote.
The trip to China was a financial boon for the cash strapped consultant, Gellie told jurors. His house was “underwater” and he was $30,000 in credit card debt.
Gellie said Mallory’s activities and true intent were evident last April when he was stopped by customs agents at Chicago O’Hare airport returning from Shanghai. He declared he had less than $10,000 on him, but a search revealed he was carrying $16,5000 cash. He also had laptop and a Samsung cell phone he said he purchased while in China.
The phone was a gift for his wife, Mallory claimed. But according to witness testimony provided Wednesday by custom agent Waldemar Prokopiuk, when searching Mallory’s bag, the “brand new” box was opened, “as if it had been used before.”
“But the fingerprints all over it told me right it away it wasn’t,” Prokopiuk said.
The customs agent said Mallory was “angry” and agitated” during the search, but cooled off immediately when he was told the inspection was over and he only needed to pay duty tax for the electronics.
Gellie said the incident spooked Mallory and inspired him to contact former CIA colleagues in an effort to develop a cover story. In a series of texts, Mallory asked a few former co-workers if they could refer him to a point of contact for the CIA’s East Asia and China bureau.
One of those colleagues, Ralph Stephenson, testified Wednesday Mallory’s request was “extremely inappropriate” and left him “uncomfortable.” Per CIA protocol, Stephenson reported the message to an agency’s security officer. When he saw Mallory at church later, Stephenson admonished Mallory for sending the sensitive message over an unsecured line. The two men “barely talked” after that, he said.
A covert CIA agent also testified Wednesday, doing so behind a screen to protect his identity. He told jurors he too received an inappropriate request from Mallory and he too, followed protocol.
Shortly after, Mallory agreed to be interviewed by the CIA about his contacts. The interview only raised more red flags for law enforcement: Mallory appeared visibly surprised when the Samsung phone –which he later admitted was given to him by his Chinese contacts — displayed texts between him and the headhunter, Richard Yang.
The conversations, Gellie said, were supposed to be hidden.
During a search of Mallory’s home on the day of his arrest officers found wigs, mustaches and costumes but also found two small thumb drives. One of which was wrapped in a ball of tin foil and stashed in the back of a junk drawer.
The drives contained both secret and top secret documents which also matched the documents authorities found on the Samsung phone.
“He chose to do it. He chose to pass closely held government secrets to a Chinese agent,” Gellie said.
If convicted, Mallory faces life in prison.