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Ex-CIA agent arrested, charged with spying for China for years

The CIA seal at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. (Olivier Douliery/Pool/Sipa USA/TNS)
August 17, 2020

A former Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officer was arrested and faces charges he spied for China for years.

Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, 67, a 15-year agent of the CIA, was charged Monday for selling U.S. secrets to China, NBC reported. Ma reportedly disclosed a substantial amount of highly classified national defense information” to five members of the Chinese Ministry of State Security, including the identities of CIA officers and human assets, information about the CIA’s internal organization and means of CIA communications.

Ma worked for the CIA from 1967 to 1989 and was assigned to work overseas in the East-Asia and Pacific region during part of his CIA tenure. The meeting between Ma and the Chinese officers reportedly happened about 12 years after his retirement from the agency, around some time in 2001. According to the charging documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times, Ma kept in touch with his Chinese contacts as he applied for an FBI position in 2004. Over the next six years, Ma allegedly downloaded, collected or otherwise photographed sensitive information to pass along to China until he stopped work for the FBI in 2010.

Ma was reportedly caught after the FBI began a sting operation in January of 2019. The FBI had reportedly held suspicions about Ma for years but it is not clear as to why the FBI waited as long as it had to investigate Ma.

As part of the sting operation, an FBI agent pretended to be a Chinese government auditor reviewing the Chinese governments handling of Ma as an intelligence source. The FBI agent reportedly showed Ma a video of his 2001 meeting with the Chinese officials to gain Ma’s trust. It was not immediately clear how the FBI obtained the footage.

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After playing the footage, the FBI agent gained Ma’s trust and got him to admit in further meetings that he worked for the Chinese.

According to the charging documents, Ma told the agent he “wanted ‘the motherland’ to succeed” and said he would consider working again for the Chinese government, “perhaps as a consultant.”

Ma is charged with conspiring to communicate national defense information to aid a foreign government and, if convicted, faces up to a life term in prison.

Ma is not the only former CIA agent to face charges of spying for China. In May of 2019, Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 54, a former CIA case officer and U.S. Army veteran admitted to spying for China. Lee reportedly devised a document on his computer on May 26, 2010, that detailed specific locations where CIA officers were, as well as the precise location and time frame of a sensitive CIA operation, which was all secret level classified information. He then transferred the sensitive information to a thumb drive, he used to transfer the information.

The New York Times reported in November that Lee was sentenced to 19 years in prison.