A former security guard at a US consulate compound under construction in Guangzhou has pleaded guilty to trying to sell photographs and other classified documents to Beijing after losing tens of thousands of dollars in the US stock market.
Bryan Underwood, 32, faces from 15 years to life in prison after admitting in the US District Court in Washington that he sought to communicate national defence information to a foreign government. He told Judge Ellen Huvelle he was "guilty" of making overtures, including a letter offering his "information and skills" to the Ministry of State Security.
He was hoping to be paid from US$3 million to US$5 million, prosecutors said, far beyond his US$158,000 in stock losses last year. But Chinese security officers rebuffed his attempt to make contact, and no secrets were ever divulged, US authorities said.
Ronald Machen, US Attorney for the District of Columbia, said on Thursday that Underwood "was determined to make millions" by selling secret photos and other materials about the new consulate. "His greed drove him to exploit his access to America's secrets to line his own pockets," Machen said.
From November 2009 to August 2011, he worked as a guard at the construction site with a top-secret clearance.
According to court documents, Underwood "in mid-March 2011 became panicked about his financial situation when his stock brokerage account was frozen." The value of his account had plummeted from US$69,000 in February 2011 to a deficit of US$90,000.
Underwood tried to hand-deliver the letter to the Ministry of State Security in Guangzhou but was turned away.