The unsealed indictment against a retired CIA officer alleges he sold classified and national defense information to China for almost two decades. The case comes amid rising US accusations of Chinese espionage.
Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, 67, was arrested on Friday in Hawaii. He faces charges of conspiring with a relative – another former CIA officer, who isn’t named – to “communicate classified information up to the Top Secret level to intelligence officials of the People’s Republic of China,” the US Department of Justice announced on Monday.
“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,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers is quoted as saying about the case.
Kenji Price, US Attorney for the District of Hawaii, said that the DOJ considers “of particular concern” the acts of intelligence community members who “choose to betray their former colleagues and the nation-at large” by selling secrets to China.
A naturalized US citizen born in Hong Kong, Ma worked for the CIA between 1982 and 1989, then moved to Shanghai. He moved to Hawaii in 2001, following a meeting with Chinese intelligence officials in Hong Kong that was caught on tape. The video shows Ma “receiving and counting $50,000 in cash” as payment, according to the DOJ.
Once in Hawaii, Ma allegedly sought employment with the FBI to get access to classified documents. He was hired by the Honolulu Field Office as a contract linguist in 2004. The government claims he copied and stole classified documents, taking them on “frequent trips to China” from which he came back with cash and expensive gifts.
Ma was eventually caught by a FBI sting operation, allegedly accepting $2,000 from an informant he believed was a Chinese intelligence officer in the spring of 2019, and again on August 12, 2020. During that meeting, Ma said he was willing to continue helping the Chinese government and wanted “the motherland” to succeed, the DOJ said.
The arrest and charges come on the heels of last month’s speeches from top US law enforcement officials. FBI Director Chris Wray warned of a rise in Chinese economic and political espionage in the US, while Attorney General Bill Barr said there was an “orchestrated campaign” by the Chinese Communist Party “to exploit the openness of our institutions in order to destroy them.”