Former CIA agent charged with years of spying for China

Alexander Ma allegedly began working with Chinese intelligence in 2001, according to court documents made public Monday.

A Chinese honour guard raise the Chinese flag during the commissioning ceremony of China's Shandong aircraft carrier at a naval port in Sanya, south China's Hainan Province [Li Gang/Xinhua via AP Images]

A former Central Intelligence Agency and FBI officer was arrested and charged with spying for China in a years-long operation, the US Justice Department said on Monday.

Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, aged 67, according to court documents, was arrested on Friday on charges of conspiracy to communicate national defence information to aid a foreign government and faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment if convicted, the Justice Department said. 

The criminal complaint was unsealed on Monday.

“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,” Alan E Kohler Jr, Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, said in a statement. 

“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.”

Numerous allegations 

A sworn affidavit (PDF) from Special Agent Chris Jensen of the FBI said Ma joined the CIA in 1982 and was assigned as CIA officer overseas, holding “Top Secret” clearance. Ma is alleged to have worked with a co-conspirator, aged 85, who also worked for the CIA. 

This individual is listed in the document as CC#1. No arrest warrant is sought for said individual, given “an advanced and debilitating cognitive disease” from which they suffer, the document says. 

The affidavit alleges that Ma “became a compromised asset” of Chinese intelligence agencies by “early 2001”. 

Ma, alongside CC#1, met with “at least” five Chinese intelligence officials in Hong Kong hotels between March 24, 2001, and March 26 of that same year, the document claims.

The two men “disclosed a substantial amount of highly classified national defense information” of the US to said agents, the affidavit alleges. 

The document further claims that Ma continued working with Chinese intelligence as he sought employment with the FBI, where he began working in August 2004 at the Honolulu field office as a Chinese languages contract linguist.

Ma allegedly continued his illegal activities at the Honolulu field office through 2010, according to a timeline found in the affidavit. 

The FBI conducted an undercover operation in January 2019, during which an undercover officer allegedly claimed to be working for Chinese intelligence services and showed Ma a video recording of a 2001 meeting. 

The undercover agent continued meeting with Ma through August 2020, offering the accused payments for working with Chinese intelligence, which Ma allegedly accepted.

The FBI did not immediately respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment on Monday. 

No defence lawyer was listed for Ma, who will make his first appearance in court on Tuesday, August 18. 

Source: Al Jazeera