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The Would-be Spy Who Failed First Try

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On Tuesday, Bryan Underwood was sentenced to nine years for trying to pass secrets to China.

The irony is that the Chinese government didn’t put him up to it, and when Underwood went to a Chinese government building to sell photos of a U.S. consulate compound in Guangzhou, the Chinese turned him away. They were not interested, or didn’t understand what he was trying to convey.

Judge Ellen Huvelle of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia noted that Underwood had failed to establish any contact with Chinese officials, and his plans to sell national security information lacked substance.

  
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Huvelle said, “This is the most half-baked treason I’ve ever heard of … nothing happened.”

Underwood was working as a security guard at a U.S. consulate in China, when he photographed the under construction consulate compound where he was working. He had this idea of selling the information to the Chinese government. And he tried to flee when he somehow learned of federal investigators being interested in his activities.

In March 2011, after losing his savings in investment, Underwood went to a government building in China with an envelope in his hand, but was refused admittance. The federal investigators caught on to his plans.

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Though federal prosecutors stressed that Underwood had “betrayed his country and gravely jeopardized the national security of the United States,” and asked for seventeen years of imprisonment, the court disagreed.

Underwood told the court he was a paranoid schizophrenic and is under mental health treatment.



While sentencing him, the court took into account his honorable service in the U.S. Marine Corps, his mental problems, his troubled childhood, and the fact that he had failed to contact any Chinese officials.

Underwood said, “I’m sorry I’ve shamed my country.”

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