Alexander Yuk Ching Ma — Former CIA Officer Accused of Spying for China

“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. 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.”

U.S. Attorney Price

“Some intelligence officials still suspect [Jerry Chun Shing] Lee is responsible for the collapse of the CIA’s spy network in China, when assets began dying or defecting to the Chinese en masse. But there are some who think there may be another explanation for how the CIA’s covert communication system was breached, and law enforcement was unable to prove otherwise.”

Washington Post (November 2019)

“The conspiracy began with three days of meetings in a Hong Kong hotel room with at least five Chinese intelligence officials in March 2001, during which the two former CIA officers provided information to the Chinese foreign intelligence service about the CIA’s operations, including the cover used by CIA officers and their identities.”

The Guardian (August 2020)

August 20 2020 — Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, 67, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer, was arrested on August 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 Monday (August 17 2020). Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today

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The Case — According to court documents,

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

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 [March 2001] 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.

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.

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.

Quick Analysis

I am simply baffled. If the March 2001 meeting was captured on videotape, why did it take 20 years to finally arrest Alexander Ma?

Why was he allowed to work for the FBI’s Honolulu Field Office?

And of course, this is the big question.

If Ma provided Chinese Intelligence with CIA methods of concealing communications, could he be the person responsible for the CIA debacle in China?

Remember that John Reidy — a government contractor at the CIA from January 2005 until January 2009 — reported a “massive” and “catastrophic” intelligence failure due to a bungled foreign operation. Just another coincidence?

REFERENCES

Former CIA officer charged with spying for China — BBC

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Alexander Yuk Ching Ma — Former CIA Officer Accused of Spying for China

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