Former CIA officer accused of spying for China expected to plead guilty

HONOLULU (AP) — A former CIA officer and FBI contract linguist accused of spying for China for at least a decade pleaded guilty Friday in federal court in Honolulu.

Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, 72, has been detained since his arrest in August 2020. The U.S. Department of Justice said in a court filing that it amassed “a trove of damning evidence” against him, including an hour-long video featuring Ma and an older relative, also a former officer. of the CIA, providing classified information to intelligence agents with China’s Ministry of State Security in 2001.

The video shows Ma counting the $50,000 he received from Chinese agents for his services, prosecutors said.

During an undercover operation, he accepted thousands of dollars in cash in exchange for past espionage activities, and told an undercover FBI agent posing as a Chinese intelligence officer that he wanted the “motherland” to succeed, they said. The prosecutors.

The secrets he was accused of providing included information about CIA sources and assets, international operations, secure communications practices and operational techniques, according to charging documents.

As part of a deal with prosecutors, Ma pleaded guilty Friday to one count of conspiracy to collect or deliver national defense information to a foreign government. The deal calls for a 10-year sentence, but a judge will have the final say on Ma’s sentencing scheduled for Sept. 11. Without the agreement, he faced life in prison.

Ma was born in Hong Kong, moved to Honolulu in 1968, and became a U.S. citizen in 1975. He joined the CIA in 1982, was deployed overseas the following year, and resigned in 1989. He had a top-secret security clearance, according to the court. documents.

Ma lived and worked in Shanghai, China, before returning to Hawaii in 2001. He was hired as a contract linguist at the FBI’s Honolulu field office in 2004, and prosecutors say that over the next six years, he regularly copied, photographed and stole classified documents. documents. He often took them on trips to China and returned with thousands of dollars in cash and expensive gifts, such as a new set of golf clubs, prosecutors said.

In court on Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Sorenson revealed that Ma’s hiring as a part-time contract linguist was a “plot” to monitor his contact with Chinese intelligence officials.

The FBI was aware of Ma’s ties to intelligence officials and “made the determination to theoretically hire the defendant to work at an off-site FBI location in Honolulu,” the plea agreement said.

In 2006, while Ma was living in Hawaii, Chinese intelligence officers sent him photographs of people they were interested in, Sorenson said, and Ma contacted the accomplice relative and convinced him to reveal at least two of the identities.

Ma, in pleading guilty, said everything Sorenson described is true. Ma said that he had signed confidentiality agreements that he knew would be in effect even after leaving the CIA and that he knew that the information he was providing to Chinese intelligence officials could harm the United States or help a foreign nation.

In 2021, Ma’s former defense attorney told a judge that Ma believed he was suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and was have trouble remembering things.

A defense motion noted that Ma’s older brother developed Alzheimer’s 10 years earlier and was left completely disabled by the disease. His brother is referred to as a co-conspirator in the indictment against Ma, but prosecutors did not charge him because of his incompetence due to Alzheimer’s disease, according to the motion.

The co-conspirator is now dead, Sorenson said in court Friday.

Last year, a judge declared that Ma was competent and did not suffer from any major mental illness, disorder or defect.

Ma’s plea agreement with prosecutors also says he will “provide more detailed facts related to this case during briefings with government representatives” and undergo polygraph examinations.

“The defendant understands and agrees that his obligation to cooperate represents a lifelong commitment by the defendant to the United States to cooperate as described in this agreement,” the court document said.