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

Missile Agency Director Describes Threat, Countermeasures

In recent years, threats from new missile systems against the homeland, deployed forces and friends and allies have arisen from Russia, China, North Korea and Iran, the director of the Missile Defense Agency said.


In recent years, threats from new missile systems against the homeland, deployed forces and friends and allies have arisen from Russia, China, North Korea and Iran, the director of the Missile Defense Agency said.

Navy Vice Adm. Jon A. Hill spoke yesterday at the Space and Missile Defense Symposium in Washington.

“At one time, the MDA focused on the ballistic missile threat. However, adversaries have designed extremely fast and maneuverable advanced cruise missiles and hyper-sonic weapons that make for “a very tough environment for defense,” Hill said. “The Missile Defense Review addressed these new threats, laying out a path to follow in developing new offensive and defensive measures, he added.”

Though defense is a key part of deterrence, Hill said, “you can’t shoot what you don’t see.” Providing that sights are sensors and radars aboard ships, on the ground and in space.

Space-based sensors are the ultimate, Hill said, because they can provide global coverage. Space tracking and surveillance systems collect data, intelligence and real-world missile testing, he said, but that capability is nowhere near where it needs to be.

Sensors start the kill chain by sending out a warning, the admiral explained. Then, radars track the missile, and fire control launches a defensive projectile.

This projectile can come from a Patriot system or Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, all operated by the Army, or the Standard Missile 3 Block IIA or the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System, both operated by the Navy. Besides those defenses, ground-based interceptors, operated by the Army, are deployed at Fort Greely, Alaska, and at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

The command and control and battle management system, fully protected with cybersecurity measures, ties these systems together with the operators.

Many missile defense components are in the research, science and technology and demonstration phase, Hill said. For example, work is being done on the next-generation interceptor and long-range discrimination radar, as well as space-based sensors.

“Where we live today is we don’t have everything we want deployed in space, nor do we have the terrestrial or mobile sea-based sensors where we want, where we need them at the right time,” the missile agency Director said.

Besides new, cutting-edge systems, Hill noted that current systems such as Aegis and command and control are receiving important upgrades as they become available.

MDA is working with the Army to integrate the THAAD and Patriot systems so operators can communicate with both and shoot with either, depending on the scenario, the admiral said.

Allies and partners are developing their own missile defense systems or buying them from the United States through the foreign military sales system, Hill said. These systems used by friends and partners furthers global security, he pointed out, and the Defense Department is working to better integrate those systems so they’re even more effective.

Though the COVID-19 pandemic has presented challenges, Hill said, that hasn’t affected MDA’s ability to perform its mission: “If you ask me where we took risk during the global pandemic, we never took any risk in supporting the warfighter,” he said. “We continue to deliver capability, we continue to support major movements around the globe.” Delivery of systems caused some delay, he acknowledged, because assembly lines require people in confined and enclosed places.

Hill termed his MDA team and those in the services as stellar, and he said there’s no nobler calling than defending America.

Blogs to Follow:

Defense.gov (August 2020) Missile Agency Director Describes Threat, Countermeasures

Confronting the China Threat

China is threatening the U.S. economy—and national security—with its relentless efforts to steal sensitive technology and proprietary information from U.S. companies, academic institutions, and other organizations, FBI Director Christopher Wray said


Director Wray Says Whole-of-Society Response is Needed to Protect U.S. Economic and National Security

China is threatening the U.S. economy—and national security—with its relentless efforts to steal sensitive technology and proprietary information from U.S. companies, academic institutions, and other organizations, FBI Director Christopher Wray said on Thursday.

Wray described the threat from China as “diverse” and “multi-layered.” He noted that the Chinese government exploits the openness of the American economy and society.

“They’ve pioneered an expansive approach to stealing innovation through a wide range of actors,” Wray said during opening remarks at the half-day Department of Justice China Initiative Conference in Washington, D.C.

Wray told the audience that China is targeting everything from agricultural techniques to medical devices in its efforts to get ahead economically. While this is sometimes done legally, such as through company acquisitions, China often takes illegal approaches, including cyber intrusions and corporate espionage.

“They’ve shown that they’re willing to steal their way up the economic ladder at our expense,” he said.

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The FBI is using traditional law enforcement techniques as well as its intelligence capabilities to combat these threats. He said the FBI currently has about 1,000 investigations into Chinese technology theft.

Just last month, a Harvard University professor was charged with lying about his contractual arrangement with China.

Wray also called for a whole-of-society response to these threats. He urged U.S. companies to carefully consider their supply lines and whether and how they do business with Chinese companies. While a partnership with a Chinese company may seem profitable today, a U.S. company may find themselves losing their intellectual property in the long run.

Additionally, U.S. universities should work to protect their foreign students from coercion from foreign governments, Wray said.

Wray noted, however, that these threats do not mean the U.S. shouldn’t welcome Chinese students or visitors.

“What it does mean is that when China violates our criminal laws and well-established international norms, we are not going to tolerate it, much less enable it,” he said. “The Department of Justice and the FBI are going to hold people accountable for that and protect our nation’s innovation and ideas.”

FBI.gov (February, 2020) Confronting the China Threat