The Department of Justice announced on Monday that a former CIA officer, who is a naturalized citizen from Hong Kong, had been arrested for allegedly stealing Top Secret-level information and turning it over to the Chinese government.
The DOJ said that Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, 67, conspired with an unnamed relative, who also was a former CIA officer, to “communicate classified information up to the to intelligence officials of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).”
“According to court documents, Ma began working for the CIA in 1982, maintained a Top Secret clearance, and 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,” the DOJ said in a statement. “Ma left the CIA in 1989 and lived and worked in Shanghai, China before arriving in Hawaii in 2001.”
“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 statement continued. “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.”
Authorities say that after Ma moved to Hawaii he applied to work at the FBI in order to gain access to classified information that he again allegedly turned over to communist China.
“Over the following six years, Ma regularly copied, photographed and stole documents that displayed U.S. classification markings such as ‘SECRET,'” the DOJ said. “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.”
“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 statement continued. “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, if convicted, faces a maximum sentence of life in prison.
Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers warned that Americans need to stay vigilant about China’s nefarious activities in the U.S.
“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,” Demers said. “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.”
Alan E. Kohler Jr., Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, said that this case was “another example in a long string of illicit activities that thePeople’s Republic of China is conducting within and against the United States.”