News & Politics

Former CIA Officer Accused of Spying for China in Tale Worthy of a Spy Thriller

AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

A CIA officer who retired in 1989 has been indicted on espionage charges by the Justice Department. Alexander Yuk Ching Ma is being accused of spying for China since 2001 and may have given Chinese intelligence ways to hack CIA communications as well as the names of human assets spying against China.

The way that the FBI finally trapped Ma is worthy of being included in the next blockbuster spy film. They sent an operative to impersonate a Chinese intelligence official who was “investigating” the way Ma had been treated over the years, including how much he had been compensated. Needless to say, the traitor hung himself in no time.


A video recording showed Ma counting $2,000 in cash provided by the undercover operative, who said it was to acknowledge his work on behalf of China. Investigators said Ma, who was born in Hong Kong, explained that he “wanted ‘the motherland’ to succeed” and admitted that he provided classified information to the Ministry of State Security and continued to work with some of its same representatives who were at the 2001 meeting.

Ma’s treachery began with a series of meetings in a Hong Kong hotel room where he spent three days with Chinese intelligence, giving up secrets. The Justice Department press release mentions one meeting that was videotaped where Ma was seen counting out $50,000.

The court documents further allege that after Ma moved to Hawaii, he sought employment with the FBI in order to once again gain access to classified U.S. government information which he could in turn provide to his PRC handlers. In 2004, the FBI’s Honolulu Field Office hired Ma as a contract linguist tasked with reviewing and translating Chinese language documents. Over the following six years, Ma regularly copied, photographed and stole documents that displayed U.S. classification markings such as “SECRET.” 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.

The case shows the full-court press the Chinese government has initiated against the United States.

“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,” said Alan E. Kohler Jr., Assistant Director of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division.  “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.  Let it be known that anyone who violates a position of trust to betray the United States will face justice, no matter how many years it takes to bring their crimes to light.”

Another former CIA officer, Jerry Chun Shing Lee, was sentenced to 19 years in prison last year for conspiring with Chinese intelligence since 2010. Lee’s actions resulted in the Chinese being able to penetrate the CIA’s secret communications to its foreign operatives and resulted in the death of several assets.

China is accused of hacking millions of personnel files from the Office of Personnel Management in 2015. While CIA personnel files were not kept on the OPM servers, you have to wonder how many government workers have been compromised by China over the years.