Former CIA and FBI officer charged with spying for China after undercover sting

A former CIA officer accused of spying for China allegedly told an undercover law enforcement officer he was keen to resume his espionage activities when the coronavirus pandemic ended.

Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, 67, was charged last week with revealing government secrets to Chinese officials.

He is accused of accepting thousands of dollars for classified information about CIA sources and assets, international operations, secure communication practices and US espionage methods.

Ma was arrested after a sting in which he allegedly told an FBI officer posing as a Chinese intelligence officer that he wanted to see the “motherland” succeed, and that he was eager to help China again soon.

“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 John Demers, the Justice Department’s top national security official, said in a statement following his arrest.

A naturalised American, Ma started working for the CIA in 1982, with Top Secret security clearance.

He left the CIA in 1989 and lived and worked in China before moving to Hawaii in 2001, which is when prosecutors say his spying began.

It is alleged he and another former CIA officer — a relative of Ma who has not been charged because the now 85-year-old suffers from advanced and debilitating cognitive diseases — met Chinese officers in a Hong Kong hotel room in 2001.

A videotape of that meeting allegedly shows Ma counting $50,000 in cash he received for secrets.

Weapon technology documents allegedly stolen

The FBI claims by that point Ma had become a compromised asset of China’s Ministry of State Security, which collects intelligence information of value and interest to its government.

It is alleged Ma still had a close relationship with Chinese intelligence officials when he joined the FBI as a contract linguist in 2004.

He is accused of using his FBI work computer to copy images of documents related to missiles and weapon system technology research.

Prosecutors say he spent years using a digital camera to photograph translation documents in a secure work area.

He also allegedly stole secret records that he took to Asia.

Court documents reveal his travel habits eventually started to draw the attention of authorities.

In 2006, he returned from a trip to Shanghai with $20,000 and a set of golf clubs that he did not previously own.

The FBI undercover investigation took shape in January 2019 when an official posing as a Chinese intelligence officer met with Ma in his Honolulu office and showed him a video recording of the 2001 meeting in Hong Kong, asking for help identifying people who were present.

Ma assisted and met again with the officer two months later, when he accepted $2,000 for his work on China’s behalf, according to court papers.

He offered to do more work for China, prosecutors said, and met again last week with the undercover officer, accepting another $2,000.

Ma faces up to life in prison if convicted.

Another former CIA officer, Jerry Chun Shing Lee, was sentenced to 19 years in prison last November after pleading guilty to an espionage conspiracy in which prosecutors say he received more than $840,000 from China to divulge the names of human sources and his knowledge of spycraft.

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