Washington DC, Aug 17 (efe-epa).- A former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer has been arrested and charged with giving classified information to Chinese intelligence officials, the United States government announced on Monday.
Hong Kong-born US citizen Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, 67, a former spy who is accused of conspiring with a relative, also an ex-CIA officer, was arrested in Hawaii on Friday, the Department of Justice said in a statement.
According to the criminal complaint unsealed Monday, Ma, who moved from Shanghai to Hawaii in 2001, was recruited in 1982 by the CIA, an agency he resigned from in 1989, and became an asset of the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) from at least early 2001.
According to court documents, in March 2001 Ma and the other officer held their first meetings with at least five MSS officials in Hong Kong in which they “disclosed a substantial amount of highly classified national defense information of the United States to the MSS officers,” encounters that were partly captured on videotape.
According to the justice department, during those meetings, the pair gave China information about CIA “personnel, operations, and methods of concealing communications” while the court document added that information given included “the cover used by CIA officers,” “officer identities” and “information concerning CIA human assets.”
The videotape allegedly shows Ma receiving and counting $50,000 in cash for the information.
Following the meetings, Ma continued to “remain in contact with MSS officials and to work on their behalf,” the court document said.
Ma’s alleged spying continued after he was hired as a contract linguist by the FBI in August 2004, reviewing and translating Chinese language documents, the court filing showed.
He is accused of having copied information on a guided missile and weapons system technology research just a month later, and of having photographed and photocopied secret documents for over six years.
“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 justice department said.
In January last year, an undercover FBI employee posing as an MSS officer met Ma at his Honolulu office, the court document said, adding that, convinced that it was an agent from Beijing, Ma told the officer that he had provided classified information to the MSS.
According to the document, in another meeting between the pair in March 2019, Ma accepted $2,000 and said he had provided US government information to the MSS while working for the FBI and was willing to continue working with China.
He accepted another $2,000 in a meeting earlier this month, saying he wanted “the motherland” to succeed and confirmed he had given the MSS all the information he had, the document said, adding that Ma said he was willing to continue to help the Chinese government after the COVID-19 pandemic had subsided.
He is due to appear in the US District Court in Hawaii on Tuesday.
“He 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 justice department said.
“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 Kohler Jr., assistant director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division in the justice department statement.
Ma’s relative, who was also a CIA agent and named as Co-conspirator #1, is now aged 85 and an arrest warrant is not sought due to him suffering from an “advanced and debilitating cognitive disease,” the court document said.
“To the Chinese intelligence services, these individuals are expendable. To us, they are sad but urgent reminders of the need to stay vigilant,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said. EFE-EPA