A former CIA officer has been arrested in a sting operation on charges that he spied for China over the course of more than a decade, US officials said.
FBI Special Agent Chris Jensen filed under seal a criminal complaint against Alexander Yuk Ching Ma of Honolulu, Hawaii, charging him with “Conspiracy to Gather and Communicate National Defense Information of the United States to a Foreign Nation.” On Monday, 17 August 2020, the complaint was unsealed.
The arrest of Ma, 67, marked the latest case involving US intelligence officers charged with spying for Beijing and came only a month after the Trump administration closed down China’s consulate in Houston, claiming it was a spy hub.
The evidence against Ma appears to be strong, consisting in part of a video recording of meetings he and an unnamed 85-year-old relative who worked for the CIA from 1967-1983 held with “at least five (5) MSS intelligence officials in a Hong Kong hotel room” from 24-26 March 2001. The 85-year-old relative “suffers from an advanced and debilitating cognitive disease,” and the FBI has therefore not sought his arrest.
Ma worked for the CIA “overseas in the East-Asia and Pacific region” for a decade and a half, from 1967 to 1989.
Everything seemed normal until “about 12 years after his retirement from the agency, around some time in 2001.” That’s when he had a little meeting. Since that sit down, Ma “disclosed a substantial amount of highly classified national defense information” to “five members of the Chinese Ministry of State Security.”
He did it without getting caught too.
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Just a few of the tasty tidbits he passed along from the FBI to his communist handlers were “the identities of CIA officers and human assets, information about the CIA’s internal organization and means of CIA communications.” That’s a no-no. The charging documents suggest that his career at the FBI was ordered by the Chinese. Nobody is saying why it took so long before they caught him doing it.
After his 2001 meeting with “Chinese officers,” Ma stayed in contact “as he applied for an FBI position in 2004.” For the next six years, the spy happily “downloaded, collected or otherwise photographed sensitive information to pass along to China until he stopped work for the FBI in 2010.” And wasn’t caught.
The only answer FBI officials are giving to the question of why he wasn’t caught before 2019 is a nervous cough and a shifty glance at the window. Like they hope the answer will be out there somewhere. They admit that when they finally got around to it in January of 2019, “an FBI agent pretended to be a Chinese government auditor reviewing the Chinese government handling of Ma as an intelligence source.”
Surprisingly, the FBI already had a convenient copy of “a video of his 2001 meeting with the Chinese officials.” They start looking out the window again when anyone asks where they got it or how long they had it. They must have been caught with their hand in the cookie jar again. All they’re saying about it is that they used it to gain Ma’s confidence, and it worked. They “got him to admit in further meetings that he worked for the Chinese.” The indictment explains Ma told the undercover contact that he “wanted ‘the motherland’ to succeed” and said he would consider working again for the Chinese government, “perhaps as a consultant.” He was charged with conspiring to communicate national defense information to aid a foreign government.
Prosecutors expect a stiff sentence, they want him in a cage for the rest of his life. They said that about former CIA agent Jerry Chun Shing Lee too, but he only got 19 years when he got caught for what he did. “Lee reportedly devised a document on his computer on May 26, 2010, that detailed specific locations where CIA officers were, as well as the precise location and time frame of a sensitive CIA operation, which was all secret level classified information. He then transferred the sensitive information to a thumb drive, he used to transfer the information.”