On Monday, US Justice Department officials announced that a former CIA officer has been arrested and charged with conspiracy to provide classified information to the Chinese government.
67-year-old Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, allegedly worked with a relative who is also a former intelligence officer, to provide top secret intelligence information to handlers with China’s Ministry of State Secretary (MSS), for more than a decade since 2001.
According to an FBI affidavit unsealed on Monday, Ma, a Hong Kong-born naturalised US citizen, told an undercover FBI officer that he allegedly wanted the “motherland” to succeed shortly before his arrest.
The 85-year-old relative was not named by the Justice Department, but the person is not being pursued because of his “advanced and debilitating cognitive disease”.
After a meeting in Hong Kong with Chinese handlers who furnished him and his relative with US$50,000 in cash in March 2001, Ma allegedly began providing information regarding the CIA’s operations since then.
If the unauthorised disclosure of information could cause “exceptionally grave damage” to national security, the information would be classified as top secret by the US government.
John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security, said “The trail of Chinese espionage is long and, sadly, strewn with former American intelligence officers who betrayed their colleagues, their country and its liberal democratic values to support an authoritarian communist regime”.
Next Tuesday, Ma is expected to appear in a Hawaiian court before a federal judge. He will possibly face life imprisonment, if he is found guilty and convicted. During the period in which his alleged crimes were committed, Ma was not with the CIA as he retired from the agency back in 1989.
However, in 2004, Ma joined the FBI in Honolulu as a Chinese language contract linguist, in a bid to gain access to more sensitive information, according to the criminal complaint against him.
Ma is charged with allegedly photographing translation documents during his tenure with the bureau, removed documents with classification markings from secure FBI property, and transferred files regarding weapon systems research to a CD.
According to the affidavit, Ma also worked with the relative to identify intelligence officers at the MSS, individuals suspected by his handlers.
He returned with thousands of US dollars in cash and “expensive gifts” after allegedly travelling to China on several occasions to meet with the handlers.
According to US authorities, Ma arranged for his wife, who is not named in the criminal complaint, to travel to Shanghai to meet with MSS contacts and deliver a laptop to them in 2006.
On Friday, two days after he met with an undercover FBI agent posing as a Chinese intelligence officer conducting an audit of how the MSS had financially compensated him, Ma was arrested.
According to the criminal complaint, Ma told the agent he had provided the MSS all of the information he possessed, and confirmed that he was fully aware of his handlers’ affiliation to the Chinese government, while he fell for the sting operation.
Eli Miranda, who heads the FBI’s operations in Honolulu, said such cases were “very complicated and take years if not decades to bring to a conclusion” addressing the time period that had elapsed since the alleged crimes took place.
Amidst the US administration’s grievances against Beijing, espionage has formed to be an increasingly prominent target.
FBI director Christopher Wray called the counter-intelligence and economic espionage danger from China the “greatest long-term threat” to US information and intellectual property during a speech made in July 7th.
Nearly half of the bureau’s 5,000 active counter-intelligence cases were China-related according to Wray.
As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called the Houston diplomatic outpost a “den of spies”, the Trump administration cited efforts by the Chinese military to steal US research as the basis of its July decision to order Beijing to close its consulate in Houston within 72 hours, even though detailed evidence was not provided.
18th August 19:30
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