Former CIA agent arrested in Honolulu, charged with helping China spy on US

Updated: Aug. 17, 2020 at 10:59 AM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - A Honolulu resident who spent years working for the Central Intelligence Agency and as a contractor for the Federal Bureau of Investigation was charged Monday with spying on the U.S. and selling state secrets to China.

Authorities say 67-year-old Alexander Yuk Ching Ma ― who moved to Honolulu from Hong Kong in 1968 and began his CIA career in 1982 ― had become ‘a compromised asset’ of the Chinese Ministry of State Security by at least early 2001.

In a press conference Monday morning, the U.S. District Attorney for Hawaii, Kenji Price, said Ma’s illicit actions were a betrayal of the United States.

“Those who feed classified information to the People’s Republic of China will not escape the long arm of the law,” Price said.

While working for the CIA, according to court documents unsealed Monday, Ma held top secret clearance while assigned, for at least part of the time, to the East Asia and Pacific regions.

The designation was important, prosecutors say, because it allowed Ma to become intimately familiar with matters relating to CIA training procedures, communications protocols and the ‘details of clandestine tradecraft’ that the agency employs to avoid detection by other government intelligence services.

He resigned from the CIA in 1989, court documents showed.

In March 2001, Ma is alleged to have conducted a series of at least five meetings with Chinese intelligence officials in Hong Kong ― meetings which, according to court documents, were recorded and later reviewed by the FBI.

During those meetings, Ma is believed to have ‘voluntarily and knowingly’ conveyed to Chinese intelligence agents a variety of material information about CIA protocols, including information about human assets and CIA officer identities.

Recordings of the March 2001 meetings that were obtained by the FBI show Chinese officials paying Ma and another co-conspirator $50,000 in U.S. currency.

The co-conspirator, who is not identified in the court documents, is currently suffering from an ‘advanced and debilitating cognitive disease’ and is not sought for arrest at this time because of those medical issues.

Ma’s alleged espionage continued after he was hired as a Chinese linguist contractor for the FBI in 2004, court documents claim.

Among other crimes during his tenure with the FBI, Ma is accused of using an FBI computer to burn documents about a guided missile system onto a CD and using a digital camera to photograph classified documents.

Early last year, the FBI conducted an operation against Ma in which an undercover agent posed as a Chinese intelligence agent during a meeting at Ma’s Honolulu business office.

The undercover agent possessed video of the March 2001 meeting in Hong Kong, which helped convince Ma of his supposed identity. The agent told Ma that he had been tasked by the Chinese government to investigate ‘how Ma had been treated, including the amount he had been compensated, by certain MSS officers.'

Satisfied with the undercover agent’s presumed identity, Ma accepted $2,000 in cash as an acknowledgement of his work on behalf of China, according to court documents.

During at least one meeting, Ma is alleged to have told the undercover agent that he was willing to continue to help the Chinese government ― During the FBI’s investigation of Ma, he is alleged to have told an undercover agent that he wanted “the motherland” to succeed.

The case is the latest involving a Hawaii resident allegedly spying on behalf of the People’s Republic of China.

Back in 2010, engineer Noshir Gowardia was sentenced to 32 years in jail for selling design secrets to China for the B-2 Stealth Bomber.

And six years ago, defense contractor and retired Army Col. Benjamin Bishop was convicted of emailing classified defense information to his girlfriend from China. All three spy cases have handled by Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Sorenson.

“Make no mistake, the threat from the People’s Republic of China is real. It’s goal is to disrupt by any means necessary out standing on the global stage and our economic progress,” said Eli Sam Miranda, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Honolulu office.

This story will be updated.

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