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Former Civilian Guard at U.S. Consulate in China Pleads Guilty to Attempting to Sell Classified Information to Chinese MSS

A former civilian guard at a U.S. Consulate compound under construction in China recently pleaded guilty to attempting to sell for financial gain classified photographs, information and access related to the Consulate to China’s Ministry of State Security (MSS).

“Bryan Underwood was charged with protecting a new U.S. Consulate compound against foreign espionage, but facing financial hardship, he attempted to betray his country for personal gain,” said Assistant Attorney General Lisa Monaco. “This prosecution demonstrates that we remain vigilant in protecting America’s secrets and bringing to justice those who attempt to compromise them.”

According to court documents, Underwood worked as a cleared American guard at the construction site of the compound in Guangzhou, China, from November 2009 to August 2011. In February 2011, U.S. law enforcement approached Underwood about helping with a project at the consulate. The following month, Underwood lost a significant amount of money in the stock market. Underwood then developed a plan where he would sell information about and access to the U.S. Consulate to the Chinese MSS for $3 million to $5 million.

As part of this plan, Underwood drafted a letter to the Chinese MSS with the intent to develop an arrangement whereby Underwood would sell photographs and information related to the U.S. Consulate in exchange for sums of money. According to court documents, Underwood tried to hand deliver the letter to the Guangzhou offices of the Chinese MSS but was turned away. He then left the letter in his apartment under the belief that the MSS routinely searched apartments occupied by Americans.

The investigation was conducted jointly by the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Washington Field Office.

“The close working relationship between the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic Security Service, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office resulted in the capture and conviction of Bryan Underwood before he could harm the security of our country,” said Assistant Secretary of State Boswell. “The Diplomatic Security Service is firmly committed to thoroughly investigating all potential intelligence threats to our nation.”

Underwood pleaded guilty to one count of attempting to communicate national defense information to a foreign government with intent or reason to believe that the documents, photographs or information were to be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign country. Sentencing has been scheduled for Nov. 19, 2012. He faces a maximum potential sentence of life in prison.

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