A former CIA agent, who later worked for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), was arrested and charged in a federal court in Hawaii on Monday for selling sensitive defense documents to China for more than a decade. The former CIA officer has also been accused of disclosing the identities of US informants in China and the way they operate.

Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, 67, is the latest addition to the long list of former CIA intelligence officials accused by the United States in recent years of spying on behalf of the Chinese government. Ma's arrest comes at a time when tensions between the United States and China have been on the rise with President Donald Trump's administration time and again accusing Beijing of stealing national security and trade documents.

Trading National Secrets

Alexander Yuk Ching Ma
Alexander Yuk Ching Ma seen in a grab from the covert video made during a meeting in 2019 released by US Justice Department US Justice Department

According to US Justice Department officials, Ma has been accused of conspiring with one of his relatives, also a former CIA officer, to sell top secret intelligence to handlers with China's Ministry of State Secretary (MSS). A naturalized US citizen born in Hong Kong, Ma last month accidentally told an undercover FBI agent in the guise of a Chinese intelligence officer that he wanted "the motherland" to succeed, according to court documents.

Following this, FBI started investigating and Ma was finally arrested on Friday. Ma has allegedly been stealing and selling secrets since 2001. Senior officials are now calling Ma a traitor. However, the documents didn't reveal why it took so long for the CIA or the FBI to arrest Ma. The FBI hasn't named or charged Ma's relative due to his age, 85, and advanced cognitive disease, who also worked for the agency from 1967 to 1983.

A Long-Planned Espionage

Top Secret
Ma started selling classified defense documents in 2001 amid three days of meetings in a Hong Kong hotel room with five officials from Chinese intelligence services Pixabay

Ma worked for the CIA with a high-level security clearance from 1982 to 1989. According to court documents, Ma started selling classified defense documents in 2001 amid three days of meetings in a Hong Kong hotel room with five officials from Chinese intelligence services. FBI investigators gained video and audio recordings of the meetings.

Ma and his relative are seen in the video providing details of CIA communications, field operations and informants. The video also shows them receiving $50,000, according to prosecutors. "The trail of Chinese espionage is long and, sadly, strewn with former American intelligence officers who betrayed their colleagues, their country and its liberal democratic values to support an authoritarian communist regime," said John Demers, assistant attorney general for national security.

However, Ma was not with the CIA when he sold secrets to the Chinese intelligence officers. Ma retired from CIA in 1989 but in order to gain access to more classified information, he joined the FBI in Honolulu as a Chinese language contract linguist in 2004, according to documents. He has also been accused of photographing translation documents, transferring files related to weapon systems research to a CD and removing documents with classification markings from secure FBI property.

Ma is just one of the many former CIA agents who have been arrested and accused of trading secrets with China. The Justice Department has brought at least three other counterintelligence cases against former US intelligence officials accused of selling secrets to the Chinese. Last November Jerry Chun Shing Lee, who worked for the CIA between 1994 and 2007, was sentenced to 19 years in prison for sharing US secrets with Chinese intelligence agents.