Dale was escorted to the visitor room, and the steel door clanged behind him. In a few moments a guard led Shriver in through an opposite door, which clicked shut as the guard withdrew so lawyer and prisoner could confer in private.
The case before them was daunting.
When questioned after his arrest by Thomas Barlow, an FBI agent in the Washington Field Office, Shriver recounted in detail his dealings with the Chinese.
Barlow’s questioning of Shriver was the break in the case. Espionage is a very difficult crime to prove, unless a suspect confesses or the FBI is able to catch someone in the act of passing secrets. The FBI declined to make Barlow available for an interview or to discuss the Shriver case. Similarly, Shriver didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Initially, Shriver was indicted for lying to the CIA when he denied his contacts with Chinese intelligence and for concealing from the CIA his trip to China in September 2007. But those charges, known by prosecutors as a “thousand-and-one case” for the relevant section of the US Code (Title 18, Section 1001), were a holding action by Campbell as he went through the bureaucratic process of declassifying documents that might be introduced at a trial.
Later, Shriver was charged under the espionage laws for conspiring to obtain documents relating to the national defense that “the defendant would have reason to believe could be used to the injury of the United States and to the advantage of a foreign nation” and to transmit the documents and information to unauthorized persons—that is, the MSS officers.
The US always prefers to avoid trials in spy cases to prevent the exposure of classified intelligence, including what it calls intelligence “sources and methods.” Shriver had been indicted under Section 793 of the espionage laws, which called for a maximum prison sentence of ten years. But the prosecutor made it clear that if a plea deal couldn’t be reached, he would try to charge Shriver under the more draconian provision of the espionage laws, Section 794, which could conceivably have meant life imprisonment.
In October 2010, Shriver pleaded guilty to conspiring to pass defense secrets to China’s intelligence service.
Why do people spy? And what could possibly motivate an all-American boy from Virginia to conspire to spy for China?
On the broader question, there is a variety of reasons people betray their country. During the Cold War—but seldom today—ideology was often a reason. Frequently, spies, especially those who defected from the Soviet Union, acted out of a desire for revenge on bureaucrats who they felt had failed to recognize their talents. Spies with personal vulnerabilities may be susceptible to recruitment by an intelligence service or may volunteer their services. That was true of Aldrich Ames and Edward Lee Howard, CIA officers with severe drinking problems who approached the Russians and spied for them.
But Glenn Shriver had no such personal liabilities. He had no history of youthful misdeeds, no criminal record. His only previous brush with the law was a speeding ticket he received in the spring of 2006.
The answer in his case appears to be simply money. And not, in the grand scheme of things, all that much—just $70,000, with the promise of more down the road.
Yet Shriver was young and had never held high-paying jobs, and the $70,000 he was paid by Chinese intelligence may have looked like a lot of money to him.
“I think he was just swept away by the lure of easy money,” his father, Jon, says. “I think he took money from them because he wanted money. I don’t think he thought through that.”
At his sentencing, Shriver told the judge he regretted his actions.
“I have let down my family, my fiancée, and I have let down myself,” he said. “It started out fairly innocuous: ‘Oh, you know, we really want to help young people here in China. You know, we realize sometimes you’re far from home and the costs can be quite a bit, so here is just a little bit to help you out.’ And then it kind of spiraled out of control.
“I think I was motivated by greed,” Shriver confessed. “I mean, you know, large stacks of money in front of me.”
There is also some evidence that Shriver, with an inflated idea of his own abilities, may have thought he could outwit the MSS. After he was arrested, he rationalized that if he had been accepted by the CIA, he could have refused to hand over any secrets to Beijing. His deal with the Chinese officers could have been a one-time adventure; perhaps he could have taken the money and run.
If Shriver really believed that, he demonstrated a great deal of naiveté about the world of espionage. When an intelligence agency recruits and pays someone, it is basic tradecraft to get the person to sign for the money. Once he or she does, the intelligence agency owns that person.
In hotel rooms in Shanghai, Shriver signed for the money he got from the Chinese. Once he did so, he was completely vulnerable. If he had gained the CIA job and balked at handing over secrets, his Chinese handlers would have gently reminded him that they had his signature on receipts for the money. If he were exposed as a spy inside the CIA, the consequences wouldn’t be pleasant.
On January 21, 2011, in the US District Court in Alexandria, Shriver, still not yet 30, stood before Judge Liam O’Grady for judgment: He was sentenced to four years.
Shriver was sent to the federal prison in Elkton, Ohio, about 45 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. With time served, the Federal Bureau of Prisons expects he’ll be released at the end of next year.
He calls his mother every day.
His fiancée, Yumi Kim, has promised to wait for him.
At the sentencing hearing, Shriver had struggled to explain his actions to Judge O’Grady. “Somewhere along the way,” he said, “I climbed into bed with the wrong people.”
The attempt of the MSS to insert a mole inside the CIA had failed. But not by much.
Says Lisa Monaco, assistant US attorney general for national security: “China’s intelligence service was patient and willing to invest substantial amounts of money up front for the mere possibility of Shriver gaining access to classified US information sometime down the road. We’ve got to assume there may be other Shrivers out there.”
This article appears in the June 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.