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Former CIA officer pleads guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage

By: WISCONSIN LAW JOURNAL STAFF//May 29, 2024//

CIA

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headquarters in McLean, Virginia. Staff Photo

Former CIA officer pleads guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage

By: WISCONSIN LAW JOURNAL STAFF//May 29, 2024//

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Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, 71, of Honolulu, a former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer, pleaded guilty today to conspiring to gather and deliver national defense information to the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

According to court documents, Ma and a blood relative of his (identified as co-conspirator #1 or CC #1) were naturalized U.S. citizens who were born in Hong Kong and Shanghai, respectively. Both Ma and CC #1 worked for the CIA ­­­­— CC #1 from 1967 until 1983, Ma from 1982 until 1989. As CIA officers, both men held top secret security clearances that granted them access to sensitive and classified CIA information, and signed non-disclosure agreements that required them to maintain the secrecy of that information.

As Ma admitted in the plea agreement, in March 2001, when he no longer worked for the CIA, at the request of intelligence officers employed by the PRC’s Shanghai State Security Bureau (SSSB), Ma convinced CC #1 to meet with SSSB intelligence officers in a Hong Kong hotel room. Over the course of three days, Ma and CC #1 provided the SSSB with a large volume of classified U.S. national defense information. At the conclusion of the third day, the SSSB intelligence officers provided CC #1 with $50,000 in cash, which Ma counted. Ma and CC #1 also agreed at that time to continue to assist the SSSB.

As detailed in the plea agreement, in March 2003, while living in Hawaii, Ma applied for a job as a contract linguist in the FBI Honolulu Field Office. The FBI, aware of Ma’s ties to PRC intelligence, hired Ma, as part of an investigative plan, to work at an off-site location where his activities could be monitored and his contacts with the PRC investigated. Ma worked for the FBI from August 2004 until October 2012.

Ma further admitted that in February 2006, during this monitored employment by the FBI in Honolulu, Ma convinced CC #1 to provide the identities of at least two individuals depicted in photographs that were provided to Ma by SSSB intelligence officers. The individuals’ identities were and remain classified U.S. national defense information. Ma confessed that he knew that this information, and the information communicated in March 2001, would be used to injure the United States or to benefit the PRC, and he deliberately engaged in the criminal conspiracy with CC #1 and the SSSB anyway.

Under the terms of the parties’ plea agreement, Ma must cooperate with the United States, including by submitting to debriefings by U.S. government agencies. The plea agreement, if accepted by the Court, calls for an agreed-upon sentence of 10 years in prison. Sentencing is set for Sept. 11.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division, U.S. Attorney Clare E. Connors for the District of Hawaii, Assistant Director for Counterintelligence Kevin Vorndran of the FBI, and Special Agent in Charge Steven Merrill of the FBI Honolulu Field Office made the announcement after Chief U.S. District Judge Derrick K. Watson conducted the change of the plea hearing.

The FBI Honolulu and Los Angeles Field Offices investigated the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ken Sorenson and Craig Nolan for the District of Hawaii, and Trial Attorneys Scott Claffee and Leslie Esbrook of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section are prosecuting the case.

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