DOJ charges former CIA, FBI official with selling classified US secrets to China
Alexander Yuk Ching Ma was a “compromised asset” for China, DOJ says.
August 17, 2020, 11:34 PM
5 min read
The United States Department of Justice arrested and charged a former intelligence officer with the CIA and FBI for selling highly classified U.S. secrets to China, according to court records unsealed in Hawaii on Monday.
Federal prosecutors said Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, a 67-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen living in Honolulu, worked as a CIA officer from 1982 to 1989 — and starting as early as 2001, an FBI investigation found he had “become a compromised asset” of China’s Ministry of State Security.
Ma was allegedly captured on both video and audio recordings holding a series of meetings with at least five MSS officials in 2001 in Hong Kong where he “disclosed a substantial amount of highly classified national defense information,” court records say.
The information included details about the CIA’s international operations, cover used by CIA officers, identities of CIA officers and human assets and other internal CIA intelligence.
Ma and a relative not named in the criminal complaint allegedly received $50,000 in the meeting, which was captured on tape.
Following his meetings in Hong Kong, Ma in 2002 allegedly applied for a position with the FBI and after a series of background checks and interviews started his employment as a contract linguist for the FBI’s Honolulu field office in 2004, all while maintaining communication with his Chinese handlers about his efforts.
The indictment doesn’t make clear when Ma’s work on China’s behalf first became known to federal investigators.
Between 2004 and 2010 Ma “regularly gathered documents marked with U.S. classification markings” with the “intent to provide them to his MSS handlers during regular trips he made to China,” prosecutors said.
In January 2019, an undercover agent with the FBI then met with Ma while posing as an MSS officer, showing Ma the video of his 2001 meeting with MSS officers and asking him to identify the individuals from the video.
Ma believed the undercover agent and agreed to identify the individuals, not knowing he was being recorded the entire time. Then, in a separate meeting, the undercover agent paid Ma $2,000 for providing the information.
Ma is expected to make his initial appearance before a federal judge on Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in Hawaii.
He has been charged with conspiracy to communicate national defense information to aid a foreign government. He faces life in prison if convicted, the DOJ said.
A public defender for Ma did not immediately respond to a request for comment from ABC News.