Ex-CIA officers sold secrets to China: Indictment

WASHINGTON: A former officer for the CIA and then the FBI was charged in federal court in Hawaii on Monday (Aug 17) with selling US secrets to China, including disclosing the identities of US informants in China.

Andrew Yuk Ching Ma was tricked into admitting his activities last year by a US undercover agent who, posing as a Chinese intelligence officer, told Ma he had been underpaid for at least a decade of work, according to an indictment.

He continued to meet with the undercover agent, accepting money and offering secrets until this month, when he said he was happy to keep working for Beijing but “would prefer to discuss opportunities after the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided”, the indictment said.

The Justice Department said Ma was arrested on Aug 14, but only unsealed the indictment on Monday.

READ: Harvard professor accused of lying about China ties faces US tax charge

Ma, 67, a naturalised US citizen born in Hong Kong, worked for the Central Intelligence Agency with a high-level security clearance from 1982 to 1989.

He had a relative, unnamed and uncharged in the indictment due to his age, 85, and advanced cognitive disease, who also worked for the agency from 1967 to 1983.

The indictment says that at least as early as 2001, the two were already providing information to agents of Beijing’s Ministry of State Security.

The indictment says FBI investigators gained video and audio recordings of their meetings with MSS agents in Hong Kong in March 2001 – though it does not explain how and when they obtained such evidence.

At those meetings they provided details of CIA communications, field operations and informants, and the video shows them receiving US$50,000.

After them Ma applied for a position at the FBI in Hawaii that gave him access to classified information that, over the following decade at least, he downloaded and photographed documents to turn over to his Chinese handlers.

He and his relative were also asked to identify from pictures possible US agents and informants in China during this period, according to the charges.

The indictment gives no hint of what Ma may have done after 2010 or when US counterintelligence investigators first became suspicious of him before 2019.

READ: Dickson Yeo: China ‘not aware’ of case, says US should stop using ‘espionage issue’ to smear it

The case is the latest of several brought against US government employees who sold secrets to China.

After China reportedly broke up a network of CIA sources and operatives inside China around 2010, the agency began digging deeply for leaks and possible moles that may have exposed them.

Last November Jerry Chun Shing Lee, who worked for the CIA from 1994 to 2007, was sentenced to 19 years in prison for giving US secrets to Chinese intelligence.