tv Declassified CNN September 22, 2019 8:00pm-9:00pm PDT
there were many afghans who put their life on the line to help us, and it will be for people who come after me in my career to go after the next generation of heroin traffickers but haji's not doing it anymore. as a former fbi agent and chairman of the house intelligence committee, i had oversight of all 16 of our nation's intelligence agencies. my name is mike rogers. i had access to classified information gathered by our operatives. people who risked everything for the united states and our families. you don't know their faces or their names. you don't know the real stories from the people who lived the fear and the pressure, until now. it's not a fear as in petrified. it's more like, make sure you do everything you need to do.
and don't have any mistakes or failures be because you didn't take that extra step. you weren't willing to put in the time. fear of failure is motivating for me. if you fail in a counterintelligence area, it can have national implications. failure at that level can mean lost lives. it's a very important value to me. keeping people safe. keeping americans safe. keeping this country safe. it's my job. it's my job. ♪ ♪
intelligence squad in southern californi we were called to headquarters. they didn't tell us what it was about. before we could be exposed to the information we were given about this case, we had to be polygraphed. that's never happened to me before. so i knew the information itself was very sensitive, so they were taking extra steps. steps that i'd never had to take before. >> where did the information come from? >> i can't actually tell you how we got the information. i'm not trying to be coy, but we also have to protect our sources. we sat down and we were told that china was stealing u.s. naval secrets. kevin moberly is one of the first three agents we had on
this case. >> it was around 2003 that i joined the fbi, and immediately upon arriving to the squad it was evident our number one threat was china. >> the fbi is calling for your help in identifying chinese spies amid growing evidence that china is now this nation's greatest intelligence threat. >> china is a huge country. it's a growing country. it's asserting itself. most information worth having is here in the united states. china is our largest counterintelligence threat, easily. what was clear from the beginning was the technology that was at risk was naval technology. >> fbi headquarters asked ssa headquarters to send an agent to investigate the information. that happened to be me. the information we bring to that investigation is we understand the technology. we understand the navy platforms. i'm always motivated to protect the navy's technologies.
i have that advantage. >> we learned there was a leak inside power paragon, a subsidiary of l-3 communications. most of their work is in electronics. the technology being leaked to china was navy destroyer information and submarine information. in the beginning, we didn't know exactly who was the source of the leak at power paragon. we take a look at a number of factors. we look at travel. we look at access. after we sifted through all the information, it came down to one person. and it was chi mak. >> chi mak was born in china. he moved to the united states with his wife. he became an engineer in southern california in the 1980s.
as an employee of power paragon. >> chi mak was a very good electrical engineer. he was the go-to guy in power paragon. >> chi mak had extraordinary access and was highly placed at work. he was trusted by the u.s. government experts. he worked with them side by side. >> chi mak worked on some of the most sensitive navy technologies. technologies that would take the navy into the next century. >> we know he gave the chinese government information regarding the virginia class submarine, which is our newest sub. and ddx information, which is our newest destroyer. most advanced destroyer in the world. but most important thing we were worried about leaving power paragon was quiet electric drive which is a technology to quieting the acoustic signatures of navy ships and especially nuclear submarines. >> a submarine is of no value if the adversary knows where it's at.
a quiet electric drive would have given the chinese a fingerprint for that sub's movement throughout the ocean. that allowed them to track it and eventually destroy it. >> if a foreign power knows the acoustic signature of a submarine, then they can kill that submarine. >> quiet electric drive was at risk. that may have already gone to china or may soon go to china. >> so that's why there's a much greater fear in failing to catch chi mak. >> in 2004, the chinese didn't have a strong navy capability. they were really a brown water navy. a navy stable to operate in shallow water. chi mak chose the chinese efforts to be able to expand their capabilities into blue water.
>> if these technologies are lost, then it means we don't have that edge. so, god forbid, if there's ever a conflict in the pacific that involves china with us on the other side, then i believe lost technology will cost u.s. lives. and that's one of the things that makes me angry. >> in the fbi we have to follow principles, policies and laws. and one of those is we have to have the evidence. our greatest fear initially was, will we catch chi mak doing what we thought he was already doing? >> the thing that hit me hardest about this case was that we've got a man who came here for better opportunity and, in fact, was a spy. sent by china to come here, pledge allegiance to the united states. he took an oath with a full intention of betraying it. he lived in this country for decades and was willing to put in danger members of our military. there was a lot of pressure on all of us.
i wanted to stop that leak. i wanted to stop chi mak from providing any more information that would endanger u.s. navy servicemen. that's why i wanted to catch him. and to protect our people. frustrated that everyday activities cause wrinkles and there's nothing you can do about it? now there's a solution! downy wrinkleguard is a fabric conditioner that helps protect you from wrinkles all day. just pour the dye free liquid into the rinse dispenser. after a day of wear, pants washed with downy wrinkleguard and detergent are virtually wrinkle free. it even comes unscented. if you don't love downy wrinkleguard, we'll give you your money back. these days we're (horn honking) i hear you, sister. that's why i'm partnering with cigna to remind you to go in for your annual check-up. and be open with your doctor
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information being leaked to china. >> we have to have the evidence. our greatest fear initially was, will we catch chi mak doing what we thought he was already doing? >> the allegation itself is not enough to be able to conduct a search warrant into a house or monitor through their telephone. so on the chi mak investigation, we began by doing dumpster diving. >> that's one method that doesn't give notice to the person we're investigating that we're involved. we look at it when they don't know we're looking at it. you're looking through trash that's been sitting there at least a week. usually in hot weather. there's maggots, smells, everything you can imagine. one of the ways that gunnar endeared himself to the others
on the squad is he wasn't above doing the trash either. he volunteered to help. >> my kids would ask, how is your day? i'd tell them i've been dumpster diving all day. didn't sound like a real respectable position, but that's what we do. >> we realized we needed 24/7 surveillance coverage of chi mak and his wife. we needed to understand where chi mak was, who his associates were, how he got from one place to another, where he went and what he did when he went to those locations. in order to do that, you have to rely on just good old-fashioned physical surveillance. >> chi mak's life revolved around his work. he didn't have a social life, that we could see. he didn't even keep in much contact with his brother tai mak who also lived in los angeles close to chi mak. he and his wife would spend long hours in there. rebecca wouldn't leave the house without him. rebecca would look out her
window every day and spend lots of time in the house. we felt she was protecting something. she didn't leave the house, but she was guarding it. >> chi mak and his wife lived extremely simple lives. they cut costs everywhere they could. small home. never improved upon. about 700 square feet total, counting the garage. >> chi mak made between $80,000 and $100,000. that's a fairly good living during that time frame. we'd have discussions during the investigation about the fact that chi mak was a maoist. because of that, it dictated a frugal lifestyle. >> he grew up during a time when chinese academics were looked down on. that the labor movement, the laborers were going to forge the future. >> that lifestyle was something that was engrained into both chi and rebecca when they were raised in china.
>> as we do surveillance of chi, he would regularly pull into a gas station. and we thought we was doing countersurveillance because he'd wash the windows every time he got gas. we felt that gave him a 360-degree view, a perspective of what was around him. in the end, in hindsight, he just didn't want to pay for a car wash. chi mak would travel every saturday into a hardware store. so i made the opinion he was meeting with a foreign intelligence officer in there. that turned out not to be the case. what it turned out is we actually put a body in there that chi mak was cheap.
the store gave him free coffee and that's why he went every week. >> [ inaudible ]. >> sure. sure. time and time we'd doubt. >> the investigation wasn't going well. i wasn't sure we were on the right track. from the beginning of the case, we saw no communication between chi mak and anyone in china. but you have to be patient for your opportunity. if we push any more, we might reveal ourselves to chi mak. so it's a waiting game. we're waiting for the next time he steals information and tries to send it to china. >> i believe jim was under a lot of pressure. you have to remember, we were using a lot of manpower. >> there were times when i thought, are we going to reach the end before someone pulls the plug? that the case wouldn't advance quickly enough, and we'd lose our resources and support? that worried me. at that point i knew we needed to get a look inside his house. we had to develop the rest of the picture. after we started the trash and surveillance, we started writing
up our affidavit for the fisa court. >> the foreign intelligence surveillance act allows national security organizations to conduct surveillance to detect foreign governments spying on the united states or committing terrorism. it's a court, much like criminal court. so in order to get the ability to monitor somebody's telephone, you have to have a warrant. and in it, it explains that i believe chi mak is committing espionage for the following reasons. >> after five months on the case, we got authorization to tap his telephone lines. and to go inside of his house and do a covert search. we were listening to every phone call that came in out of that house. >> which led us to learn about a trip he was taking to alaska. >> when we found out chi mak and rebecca were going to alaska, i believe the first thought in everybody's mind was, he must be going operational. potentially meeting a handler to
give information. that's very typical trade craft for a spy. >> so we took the safest course and sent agents along with them who would watch them and make sure they didn't meet or pass any information to other people. and from what we could tell, they didn't pass any information. but the alaskan cruise, that was our opportunity, i knew, to go inside his house, covertly. we had to see what he had stored, who his contacts were, if he had any letters or correspondence with people in china. that was an important moment in the case to get inside. this was our opportunity to go in and see what he had. s even b? best, fastest, best. enough. sprint's doing things differently. they're offering a new 100% total satisfaction guarantee.
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after five months on the case, we got authorization to tap his telephone lines. and to go inside of his house and do a covert search. doing a covert or surreptitious entry into a home is a very complicated affair. it's not like the ninja movies you see. >> there was a local park we had set up the command post in. that was the brains of the operation. that's where it all was going to
basically be coordinated from. i remember pulling into the park and kind of taking in the visual scene. you had these majestic trees. i was the first one there. and i would be lying if i said i wasn't nervous. >> we had to be absolutely certain that we were able to get into house, get o search the ho and get out of the house without being caught.
in order to do that, we need to make sure we fit into the natural patterns of that neighborhood. the fbi went so far as to obtain a van that looked just like chi mak's van that we used to approach the home. if a neighbor were looking out, they'd assume chi mak was coming home and they'd go back to sleep. >> you need a huge number of people watching the neighborhood making sure nobody walks up on you. you need to watch out for dogs and teenagers, as strange as it is. teenagers can come and go at any time of the night and dogs can be barking. neighbors get up to smoke on their porch or use the bathroom. it's a complicated ballet of controlling when you go in and when you leave. you can't just come and go. >> i remember standing in the command post and taking stock of everything going on around me and then realizing just how complex this operation really was. all of the moving parts. any one of those things fail, and you're done. when you go inside the house, you can't leave a trace that you've been there. for instance, if the coffee table is very dusty, you can't scoot something because then
you've left another trail in the dust. if they really know their house, they'll come back and say, how did that thing get moved? >> literally there was dust on things and the fib would spray dust and replace the dust we moved so it couldn't be detected. you leave the room exactly how you left it. pretty impressive. >> when we went into chi mak's house, we were surprised at the amount of information he had taken and stored in his home. this house was dense with documents. he had them stacked by the front door, on the kitchen table, in his bedroom, in his computer room, a second bedroom, all over the house. when i saw that much information in there, i felt validated. a lot of research, a lot of manpower had gone into this first entry into the house. and this was validation that, again, we were on to the right person. that we had a guy who was collecting information. and this is the information that we thought was at risk that may have already gone to china or may soon go to china.
>> the search of the house confirmed he's stealing information, but we didn't have the proof that he was committing espionage. and that would include giving it to a foreign government. we can prove he stole it. we can prove that he traveled, but we couldn't prove that he traveled with the classified documents. that was the next step. that was the smoking gun we needed to go to the next level. >> after the covert entry, the next big break happened. when we recovered something from the trash. >> we were looking through chi mak's trash for almost a year before we found any real high value evidence. >> amongst the trash, we're found a lot of tiny little papers with chinese characters on them. >> on that given day, special agent jesse murray from the fbi had, in the office, laid out a bunch of pieces of paper. she was putting them together like a puzzle. and she called me over. she said, gunnar, can you help me with this?
we were making some joke about how i could read chinese. i caught the three letters at the bottom that said ddx. of course, that's about the navy's next destroyer. we translated that note and the note went from being a note to being a tasking list which clearly demonstrated chi mak was receiving guidance or direction to steal what he was stealing., clearly demonstrated chi mak was receiving guidance or direction to steal what he was stealing. >> a tasking list is something that the handler, the foreign government, gives the individual and says these are the technologies we want. and in his case, he received two lists. the other list was typed in chinese, specifically telling him, collect this information on a disc. put it together and then give it to us. we learned later the tasking and instruction sheets originated from chi mak's handler in china, mr. pupei leung. the two sheets were delivered in
an orange yellow health book. he opened up the book and inside were these two lists. i thought at the time we were extremely fortunate that chi mak tore up a note that if we were to stop and think about it, he would have burned or shredded or disposed in a way that we couldn't have found. very little was ever in his trash. bills, that sort of thing. to find that tasking list one time, that was one of the big mistakes he made. when i found those two lists, and i knew we had a tasking list and set of instructions, that validated the whole investigation up to that point. i knew nobody would question our investigation, that we were on the right track. and i knew going forward, that would mean we'd continue to get resources to take it to its logical conclusion. >> vo: so when my windshield broke... i found the experts at safelite autoglass. they have exclusive technology and service i can trust.
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evidence we had because it showed he was still spying for china. >> finding the tasking notes in his trash allowed us to use more obtrusive investigate of tools. >> during this investigation, chi mak and his wife took three vacations which gave us opportunities to go into the home. the first opportunity, we went into the home and saw all the paperwork he had stacked up for work. the second opportunity we went in, we planted microphones in the house. the third time we went in is when we put cameras in the house as well. >> installing closed circuit television cameras was a challenge. you can imagine how well you you know your own room. to be able to go into that room and install something as invasive as the equipment needed to record closed circuit tv, it's difficult. >> you watch their daily life, what was going on at home. and how they dealt with each other as husband and wife was really unusual. we never saw an inkling of affection between them. there was no hand holding, pat
on the back, hug, kiss. none of that. that kind of relationship kind of made us wonder, is this actually a marriage in the ordinary sense or more of a contract? more of a partnership or more of something the chinese government had put together to serve its own purpose. in our investigation, we also started following his brother tai mak and his sister fuk li and his son billy mak. it gave us information about who tai mak was and what his role was. we we believe that tai mak was sent to the united states in 2001. tai mak's job was to be the currier of information that chi mak stole. >> tai mak was an integral part of this operation.
>> now that we had the well, we continue every technique that we've been using, waiting for the next time he steals information and tries to send it to china. but you have to be patient for your opportunity. you don't know if it's going to be next week and you have to be ready for that, or it could be next year. >> we received a phone call from the surveillance personnel that they had some video of chi mak and rebecca sitting at the dining room table copying discs. >> that was the day we knew, okay, big break. something is going on here. in the surveillance tape we saw of chi mak and rebecca making a disc, chi mak was making the disc, but rebecca was constantly over his shoulder nagging him about what he was doing wrong or how he could do it better. >> then it was quickly
discovered that, in fact, they were discussing copying discs and giving them to his brother, how they were going to take these discs back to china. >> based on information we had, we believe the quiet electric drive, the very sensitive navy submarine data is on that disc. >> tai mak then took that disc home and gave it to billy, his son, who was in charge of the ibm thinkpad laptop which had the encryption program on it. >> tai mak wasn't so good at doing the encryption on his own. we don't believe billy was originally part of the plan but tai mak asked his son to help encrypt the information his uncle chi mak had given him. we found out fuk li made some calls and then called her husband and said we're going to china. the very next day, tai mak called the handler pupei leung in china.
>> pui leung was happy. he said, hey, when you land, call my cell phone number. it's a number we saw repeatedly throughout the case. and they hung up. and a few days later, tai calls his brother and says, chi mak, i'm going to china. >> we briefed the head of navy nuclear reactors, and he says the quiet electric drive can't leave the united states. you must stop it from leaving the united states. >> qed was too sensitive. it was the deciding factor that we had to make an arrest for the
>> quite honestly, there was a lot of relief because we finally hit the stage in the investigation where, ah-ha, we got him. we finally got him. and now we get to do something about it. >> when we hear this whole series of events go on in the past week, we're very excited. >> chi mak has been stealing information that puts u.s. lives at risk, and we were going to stop him. we were going to finish with a complete case, a trial, and a conviction. spending time together, sometimes means doing nothing at all. holiday inn. we're there. so you can be too. t-mobile's newest signal reaches farther than ever before. with more engineers.
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he compiled three discs of information on one disc with the intention to give it to the chinese government. we believe the quiet electric drive, the very sensitive navy submarine data, is on that disc. >> a few days later, tai calls his brother chi mak and says, brother, i'm going to china. >> that's what was the final straw to say, we had to arrest now. we had to arrest now. >> to complete the charge of espionage, we have to show the
complete cycle, that you've stolen it and transferred it to a foreign power. by watching tai take the information and go through security, we're able to complete that charge that he's now committing espionage because he's flying through china in order to give it away. >> the operation to arrest tai mak and his wife at los angeles international airport was extremely complicated. >> it's not just taking down one person in one place. we had to do multiple arrests simultaneously. we have to make sure we knew where chi and rebecca were. phao, billy, tai and fuk all at the same time. prior to the arrest at the airport, we were doing heavy surveillance of them as they approached the airport. billy drove them, dropped them off and left. as they were at the airline counter, we had an outer ring of surveillance personnel who noticed an asian male standing on the sidewalk at l.a.x., outside, filming them through the window. >> he's at an airport and videotaping people in line in
front of him. why would he do that? >> we told that unit to stay on that unidentified man and the inside unit would stay on fuk and tai. they followed him through security and then made the arrest. >> and that went very, very smoothly. very quietly. not like tv, no guns fired, but very quiet arrest. >> what was interesting is that man watched the arrest, sat down and started using his phone. and he looked bewildered, completely confused. and during that time, we were able to go through his telephone and learn more about him. >> his name was mr. luo. he had five telephones on him, and he was texting people in
china about his progress. this was frosting on the cake for us. we didn't realize they would have surveillance personnel watching their own people for signs of compromise. and it also confirmed the importance of this delivery to china that they'd have somebody watching it. >> at the airport, we searched the bag of tai and fuk li, his wife. in the piece of luggage, they had a small book titled "how to speak american english." in it they had two out of three cds. and they are the type of discs, you'd learn to speak english. put it in your computer, spit out words, talk back to it. instead of having the third disc, they had the disc they copied and encrypted. pretty ingenious. any inspector would open the book up, look at it quickly, see the two discs and move ahead. >> when tai mak and fuk li entered through security at the
right moment, all the elements were in place to take them down, all coordinated at the same time with the exact moment of the arrest of chi mak and rebecca at their house. it was about 11:30 at night. we showed them the search warrant. we told them what they were under arrest for and transported them to the fbi office to be processed. >> after following someone around for two years and getting to know them without ever speaking to them it makes the first conversation quite an awkward one. jim gaylord and gunnar would finally hear from chi mak, his own mouth, what his story was. >> i don't care you believe me. i just tell the fact, that's all. >> okay. give me an explanation for why those two are in your trash and
where they came from. not a long one. just who belongs to these lists and where did they come from? >> when jim asked him a question about the list, he was shocked by it and started muttering whatever he could think of to deflect from us. a great moment is when he reads that tasking list and grabs for a cup of tea that had been empty for 40 minutes and sucks it to his mouth just to give him time to think about what his answer was going to be. >> i pulled this out of your trash. and i put it together. this came out of your trash. >> what -- >> don't ask me like i didn't because i saw it. i did it. >> i never trash anything. >> you tore up this note so people would just see a lot of gibberish and wouldn't mind, pay any attention. but since i know what i'm
looking for, i know what you're doing, we pieced this together and we see instructions to you about how to do things. from those people that you're helping back in china. you put it on a cd. it goes back to them. >> hard to explain how you would have such a list in your trash and then to be typed in chinese. >> of course i can write something -- >> that's a typed chinese script. you do not have that on your computer. >> no, i don't have it. >> so where did it come from? >> very hard for chi to explain. we thought we had him. we really thought he was going to turn and talk to us at that point. but he didn't. he dug his feet in, and it was frustrating. it was frustrating because we knew -- we knew that he knew we had him. we all knew that he was lying, and he just refused to open up.
when i interviewed chi mak for the second time, with omar lopez, another ncis agent, i'll never forget walking into the very unusual no see waving. that he would never want to talk to me again. but that day, he waved and he wanted to talk. so he brought him in and he didn't really have a great plan for how we wanted to talk to chi. we wanted to talk about the technology. and we built rapport. >> chi mak wanted to be the smartest man in the room. it was realized that chi mak wanted to be the professor. and so we, therefore, had to put ourselves into a position of being the student in order to get chi mak to open up. ego was the key to opening him up. >> when we confronted him about the work he did, he wanted to talk more about it. when he talked, we talked about
the significance to china. and we asked, did you do it to help the chinese? he said absolutely. and my response was, but wouldn't that also hurt the united states navy? and he eventually came around and said, i guess you're right. i can't help china without hurting the united states navy. >> how come that conversation wasn't recorded? >> well, a lot of different reasons. the first reason was we were doing it in a prison. and when we went over there, we never expected him to talk. and it was not policy to record all of our interviews. it just wasn't our method of operation. when chi mak finally confessed to me that he had been passing information to china. part of me was delighted, this was a break through, and now he
was telling me the truth. part of me was angry, pissed because he was putting sailors into a really vulnerable position only to satisfy his own ego, only to get the gratification to talk to people about the work he had done. he had no regard for the safety and security. >> once we made the arrest of chi mak and his family, then it was a waiting period. and it wasn't until a year and a half later that we went to trial. but we were going to dot every i and cross every t to make sure there were no gaps, nothing that could be taken advantage of to derail the case. because then i'd feel guilt, feel guilt for letting these people get away for what they did for decades. just ok? (in dutch) tell him we need this merger. (in dutch) it's happening..! just ok is not ok.
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an american engineer who worked for a defense contractor is now on trial. he's accused of stealing critical u.s. navy technology for the chinese government. >> the trial went smoothly from our end. we had excellent government witnesses as special matter experts, engineers as witnesses to what chi mak was doing, and of course, a lot of the agents took the stand, including myself, to testify about what we'd seen and what we'd recovered. in the end, chi mak was convicted of every single charge that was brought against him. >> a victory today for federal prosecutors as a former defense
industry engineer, chi mak, was found guilty conspireing to export u.s. defense technology to communist china. >> when chi mak was found guilty, all of the faith that we had to put into this investigation from the very beginning was finally justified, finally paid off. >> the conviction of chi mak on all charges by a jury of his peers was extremely satisfying to me, it was a huge win for the whole intelligence branch. >> once the decision had come out that chi was guilty of the charges, the rest of the family came in on a plea deal. the mak family was charged together, all pled guilty to aiding a foreign government, international traffic and arms regulations, conspiracy, false official statements. >> chi mak is currently serving
a 24-plus year sentence in prison. >> the rest of the family had served out their sentence and had been deported to china. chi got a just sentence and we learned a great deal about the chinese methods of operation. the mak case represented how the chinese used family. in a family you can trust one another and you know who they are and allows them to have natural relationships, but the results of our investigation, we caught a family who was committing espionage. we caught a family of spies. >> this ended up being a milestone case. it showed that we could convict people on these sorts of charges and since then, across the country, we've been able to successfully charge and prosecute people for espionage, and espionage-type crimes. >> chi mak stole sensitive navy information and gave it to the chinese government for over a
decade. >> the technology that chi mak gave china significantly reduces the gap, the technological gap between the united states navy and the chinese navy. >> a minor incident in the words of the chinese naval commander on friday after top level talks with the u.s. over the south china sea. beijing sounding off a warning to washington after a u.s. warship sailed close to man-made islands claimed by beijing this week. with only 55 vessels in washington's western pacific fleet, u.s. ships are outnumbered more than five to one by china, but now, both sides agreed to follow guidelines to avoid clashes. but beneath the diplomacy, tensions are simmering. >> i'm certain there are many other people like chi mak in the united states, working on behalf of china, absolutely. >> there are people in this country who are gathering defense information to take back home. to help their countries develop
their own edge to compete in the united states. >> yes, there are a lot of people out there working on behalf of china. as a former fbi agent and chairman of the house intelligence committee, i had oversight of all 16 of our nation's intelligence agencies. my name is mike rogers. i had access to classified information gathered by our operatives. people who risked everything for the united states and our families. you don't know their faces or their names. you don't know the real stories from the people who lived the fear and the pressure, until now. there was a cuban agent with access to classified information, placing our entire nation's future at risk. >> the spy was almost certainly in our building.