Former CIA Agent Pleads Guilty to Spying for China

Alexander Yuk Ching Ma
U.S. Justice Department via AP

A Hong Kong-born former U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) agent has pleaded guilty to spying on behalf of China, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Friday. 

Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, 71, and a Shanghai-born family member with whom he conspired were both naturalized citizens who worked for the CIA several decades ago.

His unnamed blood relative, referred to only as “co-conspirator #1” (CC #1), was employed with the agency from 1967 until 1983, while Ma was employed from 1982 to 1989. 

According to the DOJ, 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.”

In a plea agreement, Ma admitted that he and CC #1 met with intelligence officers from China’s Shanghai State Security Bureau (SSSB), providing them with “a large volume of classified U.S. national defense information” over three days in a Hong Kong hotel in 2001.

At the conclusion of the third day, the Chinese intelligence personnel gave Ma and CC #1 $50,000 in cash. The pair agreed at the time to continue to assist the SSSB. 

While living in Hawaii in March 2003, Ma applied to work as a contract linguist with the FBI Honolulu Field Office. 

“The FBI, aware of Ma’s ties to PRC [People’s Republic of China] 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,” the DOJ stated. 

Ma worked for the FBI from August 2004 until October 2012.

The convicted spy also admitted in the plea agreement that, in February 2006, he persuaded CC #1 to provide the classified identities of at least two individuals depicted in photographs that SSSB intelligence officers provided. 

This took place while he was still employed with the FBI.

“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,” prosecutors said.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Ma must fully cooperate with the U.S., including by submitting to debriefings by government agencies. The agreement calls for a ten-year prison sentence, to be handed down on September 11.


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