Ex-CIA and then FBI agent was charged in federal court in Hawaii Monday with selling US secrets to China, including disclosing the identities of US informants in China.
Andrew Yuk Ching Ma was tricked into admitting his activities last year by a US undercover agent who, posing as a Chinese intelligence officer, told Ma he had been underpaid for at least a decade of work, according to an indictment.
Ma, 67 had a high-level security clearance
He continued to meet with the undercover agent, accepting money and offering secrets until this month, when he said he was happy to keep working for Beijing but “would prefer to discuss opportunities after the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided,” the indictment said.
The Justice Department said Ma was arrested on August 14, but only unsealed the indictment on Monday.
Ma, 67, a naturalized US citizen born in Hong Kong, worked for the Central Intelligence Agency with a high-level security clearance from 1982 to 1989.
"China firmly opposes official exchanges between the US and Taiwan," Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said as he called for the visit to be cancelled https://t.co/zbiSjsQgPk— Intl. Business Times (@IBTimes) August 5, 2020
He had a relative, unnamed and uncharged in the indictment due to his age, 85, and advanced cognitive disease, who also worked for the agency from 1967 to 1983.
The indictment says that at least as early as 2001, the two were already providing information to agents of Beijing’s Ministry of State Security.
The indictment says FBI investigators gained video and audio recordings of their meetings with MSS agents in Hong Kong in March 2001 — though it does not explain how and when they obtained such evidence
“Over the following six years, Ma regularly copied, photographed and stole documents that displayed US classification markings such as ‘SECRET’,” the justice department alleges. The charge sheet claims he burned pictures of US missiles and other weapons technology on to a CD-rom. “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.”
At those meetings they provided details of CIA communications, field operations and informants, and the video shows them receiving $50,000.
After them Ma applied for a position at the FBI in Hawaii that gave him access to classified information that, over the following decade at least, he downloaded and photographed documents to turn over to his Chinese handlers.
Ma and his relative were asked to identify informants
He and his relative were also asked to identify from pictures possible US agents and informants in China during this period, according to the charges.
The indictment gives no hint of what Ma may have done after 2010 or when US counterintelligence investigators first became suspicious of him before 2019.
The case though is the latest of several brought against US government employees who sold secrets to China.
After China reportedly broke up a network of CIA sources and operatives inside China around 2010, the agency began digging deeply for leaks and possible moles that may have exposed them.
Last November Jerry Chun Shing Lee, who worked for the CIA from 1994 to 2007, was sentenced to 19 years in prison for giving US secrets to Chinese intelligence.
Not first time Ex-CIA agents have sold secrets
At a follow-up meeting last week, Ma is accused of accepting more money from the undercover FBI agent and “expressed his willingness to continue to help the Chinese government, and stated that he wanted ‘the motherland’ to succeed”. But Ma said he would prefer to resume his spying work only after the Covid pandemic had subsided.
“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 the assistant attorney general for national security, John Demers, talking about the Ex-CIA agents.
“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.”
Ma is due to appear in court in Honolulu on Tuesday, and will be charged with conspiracy to communicate national defense information to aid a foreign government. He faces a maximum penalty of life imprisonment if convicted.
AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk