The walls have closed in on a former U.S. intelligence officer who was caught admitting that he sold top secret information to the Chinese government, including details on CIA operations and high tech U.S. weapons systems.
The Department of Justice put out a press release on Monday stating that 67-year-old Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, a former CIA officer, was arrested on Friday and charged with selling classified information up to the “Top Secret” level to intelligence agents of the People’s Republic of China. The criminal complaint containing the charge was unsealed on Monday morning.
“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.”
Ma, who worked for the Central Intelligence Agency from 1982 to 1989, allegedly unknowingly revealed what he did to the FBI. Following his retirement from the CIA, Ma, a U.S. citizen born in Hong Kong, lived and worked in Shanghai before arriving in Hawaii in 2001.
Leaks lasted for a decade, informant was paid $50K cash from Chinese handlers
Federal prosecutors allege that Ma met with agents from the PRC intelligence apparatus in Hong Kong some 12 years after his retirement and allegedly leaked classified national security information over the course of a decade.
“The charges announced today are a sobering reminder to our communities in Hawaii of the constant threat posed by those who seek to jeopardize our nation’s security through acts of espionage,” said U.S. Attorney Price in the statement. “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 defence information to China. My office will continue to tenaciously pursue espionage cases.”
Unsealed court documents state that Ma and his relative, who is identified as his co-conspirator, provided information to the foreign agents about CIA’s personnel, operations, and methods of concealing communications. Prosecutors say that part of his meeting with Chinese agents was captured on video, including a part where Ma is seen receiving and counting $50,000 in cash as payment for the confidential information.
When Ma returned to the United States, he worked as a Chinese linguist at the FBI’s Honolulu field office. Federal prosecutors say that he used his position to pilfer classified documents and provide them to PRC agents. In addition to providing classified information on CIA operations, the information Ma allegedly sold to the Chinese included documents on guided missile and weapons systems, according to NBC News.
Accepted cash from an undercover FBI agent
In 2019, an undercover FBI agent met with Ma while acting as a representative for the Chinese government. Ma accepted $2,000 in cash from the FBI agent as a “small token” of appreciation for his continued assistance to the Chinese government and offered his services to them once again.
On August 12, 2020, shortly before his arrest, Ma again accepted cash from the undercover agent for his past activities as a spy. Prosecutors detail that Ma professed his allegiance to China’s communist government and said he “wanted ‘the motherland’ to succeed” against the United States and admitted that he previously provided information to agents of the PRC.
“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.”
“These cases are very complicated and take years if not decades to bring to a conclusion,” said Eli Miranda, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI's Honolulu Division. “I could not be more proud of the work done by the men and women of the FBI's Honolulu Division in pursuing this case. Their dedication is a reminder that the FBI will never waiver when it comes to ensuring the safety and security of our nation.”
If convicted, Ma faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.