Former CIA Officer Arrested and Charged with Espionage

Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, 67, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer, was arrested on Aug. 14, 2020, on a charge that he conspired with a relative of his who also was a former CIA officer to communicate classified information up to the Top Secret level to intelligence officials of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).


Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, 67, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer, was arrested on Aug. 14, 2020, on a charge that he conspired with a relative of his who also was a former CIA officer to communicate classified information up to the Top Secret level to intelligence officials of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). 

The Criminal Complaint containing the charge was unsealed on Friday.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, U.S. Attorney for the District of Hawaii Kenji M. Price, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division Alan E. Kohler Jr., and Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Honolulu Field Office Eli S. Miranda made the announcement.

“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,” said Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers.  “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.”

 “The charges announced today are a sobering reminder to our communities in Hawaii of the constant threat posed by those who seek to jeopardize our nation’s security through acts of espionage,” said U.S. Attorney Price. “Of particular concern are the criminal acts of those who served in our nation’s intelligence community, but then choose to betray their former colleagues and the nation-at large by divulging classified national defense information to China. My office will continue to tenaciously pursue espionage cases.”

“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 E. Kohler Jr., Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division.  “This case demonstrates that no matter the length or difficulty of the investigation, the men and women of the FBI will work tirelessly to protect our national security from the threat posed by Chinese intelligence services.  Let it be known that anyone who violates a position of trust to betray the United States will face justice, no matter how many years it takes to bring their crimes to light.”

“These cases are very complicated and take years if not decades to bring to a conclusion,” said Eli Miranda, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Honolulu Division.  “I could not be more proud of the work done by the men and women of the FBI’s Honolulu Division in pursuing this case. Their dedication is a reminder that the FBI will never waiver when it comes to ensuring the safety and security of our nation.”

Ma is a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Hong Kong.

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.  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 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.

The court documents further allege that after Ma moved to Hawaii, he sought employment with the FBI in order to once again gain access to classified U.S. government information which he could in turn provide to his PRC handlers.

In 2004, the FBI’s Honolulu Field Office hired Ma as a contract linguist tasked with reviewing and translating Chinese language documents. 

Over the following six years, Ma regularly copied, photographed and stole documents that displayed U.S. classification markings such as “SECRET.” 

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.  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 will make his initial appearance before a federal judge tomorrow in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii.  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 maximum sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes.  In the event Ma is convicted, a federal district court judge will determine any sentence after taking into account the advisory Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.

The investigation was conducted by the FBI’s Honolulu and Los Angeles Field Offices. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Sorenson and Trial Attorneys Scott Claffee and Steve Marzen of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section are prosecuting the case.

Blogs to Follow:

Justice.gov (August 2020) Former CIA Officer Arrested and Charged with Espionage

Suburban Pittsburgh Man Charged with Violating Federal Firearms and Explosives Laws

A suburban Pittsburgh man has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on charges of violating federal firearms and explosives laws, United States Attorney Scott W. Brady has announced.


A suburban Pittsburgh man has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on charges of violating federal firearms and explosives laws, United States Attorney Scott W. Brady has announced.

The five-count Indictment, returned on July 14, named Kurt Cofano, 32, of Whitehall, Pennsylvania, as the sole defendant.

According to the Indictment, on July 9 and July 10, 2020, Cofano was found to be in possession of unregistered destructive devices. Also, the Indictment alleges that on those same dates, Cofano, an unlawful user of a controlled substance, was in possession of a firearm. Federal law prohibits the possession of a firearm by an unlawful user of a controlled substance. The Indictment further alleges that from May 2020 through July 2020, Cofano knowingly and unlawfully and without registering and obtaining approval made destructive devices.

“Kurt Cofano stands accused of illegally possessing multiple completed destructive devices, the components for making additional destructive devices, and a dozen firearms all in violation of federal law,” said U.S. Attorney Brady. “I commend the excellent work of the investigators and the prowess of our prosecutors to take this case from incident to indictment in just five days. In serious cases like this, justice will be certain and swift.”

“We are committed to keeping our communities safe,” said acting Special Agent in Charge John Schmidt, ATF Philadelphia Field Division. “This investigation is a perfect demonstration of how ATF combats violent crime by partnering with our local, state and federal counterparts in this case the Whitehall and Mt. Lebanon Police Departments, the Allegheny County and Pittsburgh Police Bomb Squads and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”

“This investigation successfully disrupted a very real threat,” said FBI Pittsburgh Special Agent in Charge Mike Christman. “A mix of unstable, homemade manufactured explosives, large amounts of ammo and a person who has already made threats to inflict harm is an extremely dangerous combination. The FBI will always rally together with the ATF and our federal, state and local law enforcement partners to take anyone who presents a threat to our community off our streets.”

The law provides for a maximum total sentence of not more than 50 years in prison, a fine of not more than $750,000, a term of supervised release of not more than three years, or a combination thereof. Under the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, the actual sentence imposed would be based upon the seriousness of the offense and the prior criminal history, if any, of the defendant.

Assistant United States Attorneys Cindy K. Chung and Jonathan D. Lusty are prosecuting this case on behalf of the government.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives conducted the investigation leading to the Indictment in this case. The Mt. Lebanon Police Department, the Whitehall Police Department, the Allegheny County Police Department and the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police provided substantial assistance with the investigation.

This case was brought as part of Project Safe Neighborhoods (PSN), the centerpiece of the Department of Justice’s violent crime reduction efforts. PSN is an evidence-based program proven to be effective at reducing violent crime. Through PSN, a broad spectrum of stakeholders work together to identify the most pressing violent crime problems in the community and develop comprehensive solutions to address them. As part of this strategy, PSN focuses enforcement efforts on the most violent offenders and partners with locally based prevention and reentry programs for lasting reductions in crime.

An indictment is an accusation. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

Blogs to Follow:

Justice.gov (July 2020) Suburban Pittsburgh Man Charged with Violating Federal Firearms and Explosives Laws

Stopping Hackers in Their Tracks

Christian Kight used his computer programming skills to hack into various businesses for money while on parole for previous crimes. Kight downloaded scripts from hacker forums and used them to attack company networks.


FBI Arrests Hacker Who Stole Data from Tech Company

A nightmare scenario for many organizations recently became one Atlanta-based tech company’s reality.

But the steps the company took before and after their sensitive data was stolen by a hacker in 2018 helped the FBI identify and arrest the culprit.

Christian Kight used his computer programming skills to hack into various businesses for money while on parole for previous crimes.

Kight downloaded scripts from hacker forums and used them to attack company networks.

In the case of the Atlanta Company, Kight spent a few weeks hacking into the company’s network, using various tactics to hide his identity.

He then downloaded the data to his own computer and deleted it from the company’s systems.

Once he had the data, Kight emailed the company’s CEO to demand payment in exchange for the data—but he insisted that it wasn’t extortion.

“And no, I’m really NOT an extortionist, I would like to see how much you think it’s worth, and if it’s fair, we’ll leave it at that,” Kight wrote, according to court documents.

But whether you call it extortion or not, stealing data and demanding money to have it returned is illegal.

“The data that he took is really valuable,” said Special Agent Tyson Fowler, who investigated this case out of the FBI’s Atlanta Field Office. “He threatened to release this data if they didn’t pay him the ransom.”

The company contacted the FBI and got to work on both restoring their data and assisting in the investigation. Fortunately, the company had a robust backup system, so employees restored the data within days.

Additionally, the company shared critical information from its network’s access logs and other records, which helped the FBI track the IP address of the hacker. After getting a search warrant based on that information, agents found overwhelming evidence against Kight in his San Clemente, California home.

“In the cyber world, it’s very hard to secure a network to the point that it’s never breachable, but you can make it as difficult as possible to break in,” Fowler said.

If someone does break into a network, having strong activity logging on the network in place beforehand can help authorities track the hacker.

The cooperation from the victim company was critical in this case.

Last December, Kight pleaded guilty to extortion, computer fraud, and wire fraud. He was sentenced in March to more than seven years in prison. 

Fowler said it was clear that Kight was perfecting his hacking skills, and there would have been more victims had he not been caught and prosecuted. Imposing consequences on hackers who do harm to companies and individuals is vital. 

“I’ve arrested people all over the world for these types of crimes,” Fowler explained. “The FBI is uniquely positioned to address these crimes almost anywhere they happen.”

FBI.gov (June 2020) Stopping Hackers in Their Tracks

East Longmeadow Man Charged with Attempted Arson at Longmeadow Assisted Living Residential Facility


Incendiary device was placed at entrance of Ruth’s House, a Jewish-sponsored assisted living residential facility

An East Longmeadow man was arrested last week and charged in connection with attempted arson at a Longmeadow assisted living residential facility.

John Michael Rathbun, 36, was charged in a criminal complaint in federal court in Springfield with two counts of attempted arson. Rathbun will make an initial appearance via video-conference before Magistrate Judge Katherine Robertson.

“In times of national crisis, hatred based on religion often blossoms into violence,” said United States Attorney Andrew E. Lelling. “The charges in this case allege that the defendant tried to blow up a Jewish assisted living residence with a five gallon gas canister, at the same time that the facility was being discussed on white supremacist online platforms. We will find, investigate and aggressively prosecute anyone engaged in this kind of mayhem.  I also extend my thanks to the Longmeadow Police Department for its help with this investigation.”

“As alleged, John Rathbun placed a homemade incendiary device near the entrance of a Jewish assisted living facility, located within a short distance of three Jewish temples, a Jewish private school, and a Jewish Community Center,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division. “This case highlights the very real threat posed by racially motivated violent extremists and make no mistake, the FBI will use every investigative tool available, along with the expertise and skills of our partners on our Joint Terrorism Task Forces, to identify, assess and disrupt threats like this one to keep our communities safe.”

According to the criminal complaint, on April 2, 2020, police discovered a homemade incendiary device at the entrance of Ruth’s House, a Jewish-sponsored assisted living residential facility for seniors of all faiths, located on Converse Street in Longmeadow.

The device was located within feet of a widely used pedestrian walkway and approximately 50 yards from the Ruth’s House facility.

Ruth’s House is located within one square mile of several other Jewish facilities, including three Jewish temples, a Jewish private school and a Jewish Community Center. 

It is alleged that the incendiary device consisted of a five-gallon plastic Scepter gas canister, filled with liquid believed to be flammable gasoline, with burnt paper (later identified as a Christian religious pamphlet) placed in the nozzle of the canister.

A portion of the pamphlet was charred and appeared to have been lit on fire in an attempt to ignite the gas. Law enforcement observed what appeared to be blood stains on the canister handle and on the pamphlet. On or about April 9, 2020, it was determined that samples of the stains on the canister and the pamphlet were linked to Rathbun’s DNA profile.

In March 2020, a white supremacist organization that operated on two social media platforms was identified by law enforcement. On these platforms, users promoted mass killings in the United States and elsewhere directed against religious, racial and ethnic minorities; discussed plans to engage in these crimes themselves; discussed using various explosive and incendiary devices, including improvised devices commonly known as “Molotov cocktails”;  and identified targets, such as mosques and synagogues. 

On or about March 4, 2020, a user on the first social media platform specified two choices for mass killings, including “that jew nursing home in longmeadow massachusetts.” The organization’s form on the second platform included a calendar in which users could create events that listed the dates, times, and locations; invite other users to attend the event; and communicate concerning the event.

The calendar listed the following entries: April 2, 2020 – “hating ni**ers day”; and April 3, 2020 – “jew killing day.” The calendar entry for “jew killing day” listed the event location as “Jew Nursery Home” without a specifying address. It is alleged that the user who identified the Jewish nursing home in Longmeadow, and the user who created the April 3 calendar entry, are likely the same individual.

Anyone with questions or information about this case can contact the U.S. Attorney’s Office at (888) 221-6023.   

The charge of attempting to transport or receive explosive devices in interstate or foreign commerce with the knowledge or intent that the device will be used to kill, injure, or intimidate any individual or unlawfully to damage or destroy any building, vehicle, or other real or personal property provides for a sentence of up to 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000.

The charge of attempting to maliciously damage or destroy, by means of fire or an explosive, any building, vehicle, or other real or personal property used in interstate or foreign commerce provides for a mandatory minimum sentence of five years and a maximum of 10 years in prison, three years of supervised release and a fine of $250,000. Sentences are imposed based upon the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines and other statutory factors.     

U.S. Attorney Lelling and FBI Boston SAC Bonavolonta made the announcement today. The investigation was led by the FBI’s Western Massachusetts Joint Terrorism Task Force with valuable assistance also provided by the Longmeadow and East Longmeadow Police Departments and the Massachusetts State Police.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Steven H. Breslow of Lelling’s Springfield Branch Office is prosecuting the case. 

The details contained in the complaint are allegations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. 

Justice.gov (April 2020) East Longmeadow Man Charged with Attempted Arson at Longmeadow Assisted Living Residential Facility

Dark Web Child Abuse Administrator Arrested in the Netherlands

The site had more than 2,000 videos and images and advertised that it offered “real blackmail, rape and forced videos of girls all around the world.”


Website taken down by the Dutch Police and US Authorities.

The site had more than 2,000 videos and images and advertised that it offered “real blackmail, rape and forced videos of girls all around the world.”

In an international case, the Dutch Police (Politie), the Dutch Fiscal Intelligence and Investigation Service (FIOD), Dutch National Prosecutor’s office (Openbaar Ministerie), US authorities (Internal Revenue Service-Criminal Investigations, Homeland Security Investigations, Department of Justice), the German Federal Criminal Police (Bundeskriminalamt) and Europol cooperated in an operation that led to the arrest of the administrator, and the take-down of the website DarkScandals.

This site, available on both the dark web and clear web, featured violent rape videos and child abuse material. 

Europol’s European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) supported the investigation with analysis, information exchange and by providing technical expertise. Europol set up the European Cybercrime Centre (EC3) in 2013 to strengthen the law enforcement response to cybercrime in the EU and thus to help protect European citizens, businesses and governments from online crime.

Since its establishment, EC3 has made a significant contribution to the fight against cyber-crime.

On 9 March, the Dutch Police arrested the administrator of the website in his home in Barendrecht, the Netherlands for the possession and distribution of child abuse material.

The Dutch National Prosecutor’s Office of the Public Prosecution Service in the Netherlands (OM) and the Child Pornography and Child Sex Tourism team of the Police of The Hague had received intelligence from Europol and investigating authorities in the United States of America, to investigate and prosecute the individual and to take the DarkScandals website offline.

DarkScandals hosted and distributed videos and images featuring non-consensual and violent sexual abuse. DarkScandals began operating about 2012 and boasted over 2,000 videos and images and advertised that it offered “real blackmail, rape and forced videos of girls all around the world.”  

DarkScandals offered users two ways to access this illicit and obscene content, which was delivered in “packs” via email for customers to download.  

Users could either pay for the video packs using cryptocurrency, or upload new videos to add to the content of the DarkScandals sites.  Specific rules for the video uploads to the sites included “real rape/forced” content, and stated a preference for “own made material.”  

The site specifically forbade “fake, amateur…or acted movies,” rejecting content if it did not portray real sexual violence.  The arrested administrator allegedly received almost 2 million dollars from selling this obscene and illicit content.

In addition to the arrest in the Netherlands, the administrator of DarkScandals was also indicted by a federal grand jury in the District of Columbia, USA for his operation of DarkScandals.

The Dutch national was charged with various counts of Distribution of Child Pornography, Production and Transportation of Obscene Matters for Sale or Distribution, Engaging in the Business of Selling or Transferring Obscene Matter, and Laundering of Monetary Instruments. 

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Europol.europa.eu (March, 2020) DARK WEB CHILD ABUSE: ADMINISTRATOR OF DARKSCANDALS ARRESTED IN THE NETHERLANDS