Retired CIA officer Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, 67, was arrested Friday and charged with selling U.S. intelligence secrets to Chinese agents.
The evidence against Ma includes a video that depicts him counting the $50,000 in cash he was paid for classified information he divulged.
Ma is a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Hong Kong and currently lives in Hawaii. He worked for the CIA from 1982 to 1989, lived in Shanghai for a decade after leaving the agency, and moved to Hawaii in 2001.
Ma sought a job with the FBI after he moved to Hawaii and was hired by the Bureau as a contract linguist in 2004. His indictment indicated he kept in touch with Chinese intelligence agents throughout the hiring process. On the day before he reported for work with the FBI in Hawaii, he called an unidentified accomplice and boasted that he would really be working for “the other side.”
According to court documents filed by the Justice Department (DOJ), Ma conspired with one of his relatives over the course of six years to copy and steal classified documents from the FBI he was tasked with translating from Chinese.
Ma allegedly made “frequent trips to China” to deliver the stolen intelligence, returning with “thousands of dollars in cash and expensive gifts, such as a new set of golf clubs.” One of his duties was said to be helping the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) identify U.S. intelligence assets. On one occasion documented by DOJ, the MSS sent Ma an email with a photo of five puppies to signal that they wanted him to help identify five suspected U.S. intelligence sources. Some of the documents he passed along to China pertained to “guided missile and weapons system technology research.”
DOJ did not identify the relative Ma conspired with, saying only that “co-conspirator #1” is 85 years old, based in Los Angeles, also worked for the CIA, and currently suffers from an “advanced and debilitating cognitive disease,” so they will not be arrested or indicted.
This individual resigned from the CIA in 1983 under allegations of “inappropriately” using their position to “assist PRC nationals in obtaining entry into the United States,” and was convicted in the late 1990s of making “false statements to a lending institution.”
According to the charging documents, the co-conspirator traveled with Ma to Hong Kong in 2001 to meet with multiple intelligence agents from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and sell them a trove of intelligence about “the CIA’s personnel, operations, and methods of concealing communications.” This meeting was the source of the incriminating videotape that showed Ma counting his money.