Former CIA Officer Arrested, Charged with Espionage

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Sold Top Secret Classified Documents to China

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Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, 67, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer, was arrested on Aug. 14, 2020, on a charge that he conspired with a relative of his who also was a former CIA officer to communicate classified information up to the Top Secret level to intelligence officials of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).  The Criminal Complaint containing the charge was unsealed August 17, 2020.

Ma will make his initial appearance before a Federal judge August 18, 2020 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii. He is a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Hong Kong. According to court documents, Ma began working for the CIA in 1982, maintained a Top Secret clearance. He signed numerous non-disclosure agreements in which he acknowledged his responsibility and ongoing duty to protect U.S. government secrets during his tenure at CIA. Ma left the CIA in 1989 and lived and worked in Shanghai, China before arriving in Hawaii in 2001.

Cash, Expensive Gifts, Golf Clubs

According to court documents, Ma and his relative (identified as co-conspirator #1) conspired with each other and multiple PRC intelligence officials to communicate classified national defense information over the course of a decade. The scheme began with three days of meetings in Hong Kong in March 2001. During which the two former CIA officers provided information to the foreign intelligence service about the CIA’s personnel, operations, and methods of concealing communications. Part of the meeting was captured on videotape, including a portion where Ma can be seen receiving and counting $50,000 in cash for the secrets they provided.

The court documents further allege that after Ma moved to Hawaii, he sought employment with the FBI in order to once again gain access to classified US government information. He could in turn provide it to his PRC handlers. In 2004, the FBI’s Honolulu Field Office hired Ma as a contract linguist tasked with reviewing and translating Chinese language documents. Over the following six years, Ma regularly copied, photographed and stole documents that displayed U.S. classification markings such as “SECRET.” 

Ma took some of the stolen documents and images with him on his frequent trips to China. He did so with the intent to provide them to his handlers. Ma often returned from China with thousands of dollars in cash. He also acquired expensive gifts, such as a new set of golf clubs.

Said He Wanted China to Succeed

In addition, the court documents state that in spring 2019, over the course of two in-person meetings, Ma confirmed his espionage activities to an FBI undercover employee. Ma believed they were representative of the PRC intelligence service. Ma accepted $2,000 in cash from the FBI undercover as “small token” of appreciation for Ma’s assistance to China. The payment had him hungry for more.

Ma offered to once again work for the PRC intelligence service. On August 12, 2020, during a meeting with an FBI undercover employee, Ma again accepted money for his past espionage activities. He expressed his willingness to continue to help the Chinese government. He also stated that he wanted “the motherland” to succeed.

Could Get Life in Prison

Ma is charged with violating Title 18 United States Code, 794(a). Specifically it means gathering or delivering National Defense information to aid a foreign government. If convicted, the defendant faces a sentence ranging from years in prison up to incarceration for life. In addition, the defendant may be subject to Title 18 United States Code, 794(c).

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This statute provides that if two or more persons conspire to violate Section 794, each of the parties shall be subject to punishment for the underlying offenses. Ma is alleged to have assisted another party with additional crimes. Identified only as Co-conspirator #1, that party is age 85 and suffers from “advanced and debilitating cognitive disease” and will not be prosecuted.

Justice For All Who Betray Positions of Trust

“These cases are very complicated and take years if not decades to bring to a conclusion.”

Eli Miranda, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Honolulu Division

According the criminal complaint, the offenses dated from between 2001 and August 2020. “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,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers. “This betrayal is never worth it.  Whether immediately, or many years after they thought they got away with it, we will find these traitors and we will bring them to justice. To the Chinese intelligence services, these individuals are expendable. To us, they are sad but urgent reminders of the need to stay vigilant.”

 “The charges announced today are a sobering reminder…of the constant threat posed by those who seek to jeopardize our nation’s security through acts of espionage,” said U.S. Attorney Price. “Of particular concern are the criminal acts of those who served in our nation’s intelligence community, but then choose to betray their former colleagues and the nation-at large by divulging classified national defense information to China. My office will continue to tenaciously pursue espionage cases.”

“This serious act of espionage is another example in a long string of illicit activities that the​ People’s Republic of China is conducting within and against the United States,” said Alan E. Kohler Jr., Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division.  “This case demonstrates that no matter the length or difficulty of the investigation, the men and women of the FBI will work tirelessly to protect our national security from the threat posed by Chinese intelligence services.  Let it be known that anyone who violates a position of trust to betray the United States will face justice, no matter how many years it takes to bring their crimes to light.”

Cindy Puckett
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