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Former CIA officer arrested and charged with spying for China

The man who was born in Hong Kong and became a U.S. citizen faces life in prison if convicted.

Updated: August 18, 2020 - 10:57am

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A former CIA officer on Friday was arrested and charged in connection with the allegation that he and a relative who also previously worked for the U.S. agency conspired to supply classified material to Chinese intelligence.

The 67-year-old, Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, was born in Hong Kong and eventually became a U.S. citizen, according to the Department of Justice (DOJ). His work for the CIA spanned from 1982 until 1989.

Citing court documents, the DOJ said that Ma and his relative over a period of 10 years sought to transfer classified information to China. The Department says that video footage exists that shows Ma counting money obtained in exchange for giving information to China.

"According to court documents, Ma and his relative (identified as co-conspirator #1) conspired with each other and multiple [Peoples Republic of China] intelligence officials to communicate classified national defense information over the course of a decade," the DOJ said in a statement. "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 DOJ said that Ma obtained a job working for the FBI in Hawaii, and used his position to provide China with classified materials.

"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 U.S. government information which he could in turn provide to his PRC handlers," the department said in a statement. "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 with the intent to provide them to his handlers. Ma often returned from China with thousands of dollars in cash and expensive gifts, such as a new set of golf clubs."

The DOJ said that Ma divulged his engagement in espionage while speaking to an undercover FBI employee in 2019, and that Ma accepted money from the employee, believing that the individual worked for Chinese intelligence. Ma in 2020 again accepted money, and said he wanted to help China. 

"According to court documents, in spring 2019, over the course of two in-person meetings, Ma confirmed his espionage activities to an FBI undercover employee Ma believed was a representative of the PRC intelligence service, and accepted $2,000 in cash from the FBI undercover as 'small token' of appreciation for Ma’s assistance to China," the DOJ explained. "Ma also offered to once again work for the PRC intelligence service. On August 12, 2020, during a meeting with an FBI undercover employee before arrest, Ma again accepted money for his past espionage activities, expressed his willingness to continue to help the Chinese government, and stated that he wanted 'the motherland' to succeed."

Ma "is charged with conspiracy to communicate national defense information to aid a foreign government and faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment if convicted," the DOJ said.

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