A US Defence Department analyst pleaded guilty today to delivering classified information about US and Taiwanese military relations to a New Orleans furniture salesman who turned out to be working with the Chinese government.
Gregg Bergersen, 51, a weapons analyst at the Defence Security Cooperation Agency who held top secret security clearances, was arrested last month.
Prosecutors alleged he divulged military secrets to Louisiana businessman Tai Kuo, who turned over the information to a Chinese foreign agent.
Bergersen pleaded guilty to a single count of conspiring to communicate national defence information to a person not entitled to receive it. He faces up to 10 years in prison when sentenced on June 20.
Bergersen thought that Kuo was aligned with the Taiwan Ministry of Defence, according to a statement of facts. Bergersen was unaware, though, that Kuo maintained regular contact with a foreign official from Beijing, to whom Kuo was relaying the secret information.
Bergersen admitted that he received about 7,000 dollars (£3,500) in cash and gifts from Kuo in the last year, including 3,000 dollars (£1,500) in cash for a poker game on a Las Vegas trip he took with Kuo last April.
Bergersen’s lawyer, Mark Cummings, said during today’s hearing that there was no explicit exchange of money for information.
“In hindsight, he understands that the money was given to him in anticipation that he would provide documents,” Mr Cummings said.
An FBI affidavit filed last month spelled out detailed evidence against Kuo, including taped conversations in which Bergersen acknowledged to Kuo that he could go to jail for his actions.
Kuo and a third defendant, Chinese national Yu Xin Kang, 33, face more serious charges that carry a possible life sentence. Both are in jail awaiting trial.
Bergersen is under house arrest while he awaits sentencing. The plea deal bars him and his lawyer from commenting on the case publicly.
The plea bargain also requires Bergersen to testify against Kuo and Kang if needed.
Kuo, 58, is a naturalised US citizen and a native of Taiwan. He is the son-in-law of Xue Yue, a Chinese nationalist general who was a close associate of Chiang Kai-shek.
Prosecutors allege that Kang, 33, served as the go-between for Kuo and the People’s Republic of China.
Some of the weapons information passed between Bergersen and Kuo related to Taiwan’s new Po Sheng air defence system. Bergersen also admitted giving Kuo projections of US weapons sales to Taiwan over the next five years.
Taiwanese military officials have said the disclosures caused some damage but did not compromise key technology.
The Chinese government has called the accusations of espionage in the Po Sheng affair groundless and accused the US of “Cold War thinking".