Ex-CIA Officer Accused of Spying for China Wanted 'Motherland' to Succeed

A former CIA officer and later FBI contractor arrested last week and accused of spying for China told an undercover agent he wanted the "motherland" to succeed, according to a Department of Justice press release detailing the case against him.

Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, 67, was arrested on August 14 after allegedly conspiring with one of his relatives to provide classified information to the Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS)—the country's main intelligence agency.

Ma—a naturalized citizen born in Hong Kong—joined the CIA in 1982 and enjoyed a Top Secret clearance, giving him access to a wide range of classified files and sensitive information. Ma left the CIA in 1989 and moved to Shanghai, before returning to the U.S. to live in Hawaii where he worked as an FBI translation contractor.

Court documents accused Ma of working with an unnamed relative to provide information to the MSS. The 85-year-old relative is a naturalized U.S. citizen and former CIA agent born in Shanghai, who has not been arrested because he is suffering from "an advanced and debilitating cognitive condition."

The unnamed relative resigned from the CIA in 1983 after he was found to be using his position to facilitate the entry of Chinese nationals into the U.S.

Ma and his relative worked together to conspire with multiple Chinese intelligence officials over the course of a decade, the DOJ said. The plot began in 2001 with three days of meetings in Hong Kong, where Ma and his relative "provided information to the foreign intelligence service about the CIA's personnel, operations, and methods of concealing communications."

Part of the meeting was filmed, including Ma receiving and counting $50,000 in cash for the information provided to the Chinese agents.

When Ma moved to Hawaii, he applied to work for the FBI, according to the DOJ "in order to once again gain access to classified U.S. government information which he could in turn provide to his [Chinese] handlers."

He began working for the bureau's Honolulu Field Office in 2014 as a linguist, reviewing and translating Chinese documents. For the next six years, Ma used his position to copy, photograph and steal classified American documents—including documents about guided missile technology—some of which he took with him on "frequent" trips to China where he exchanged them with his handlers.

Chinese officials would provide Ma with cash and other gifts, including a new set of golf clubs. On his return to Hawaii from one Shanghai trip in 2006, Ma was searched by Customs and Border Protection agents and found to be carrying $20,000 in cash plus his new golf clubs, court documents say.

Ma was caught out in spring 2019, the DOJ said, having told an undercover FBI agent posing as a representative of the MSS that he had been working for China and accepting a $2,000 payment as a "small token" of appreciation from Beijing. Ma also told the agent he wished to work for the Chinese again.

Two days before his arrest, Ma met with an undercover FBI agent and accepted more money for his past espionage, again offering to continue working for Chinese intelligence. He told the agent he wanted "the motherland" to succeed, the DOJ said, though allegedly said he only wanted to work for China again after the COVID-19 pandemic had passed.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers said in a statement that such a "betrayal is never worth it." In the DOJ press release, Demers said: "Whether immediately, or many years after they thought they got away with it, we will find these traitors and we will bring them to justice.

"To the Chinese intelligence services, these individuals are expendable. To us, they are sad but urgent reminders of the need to stay vigilant."

CIA, China, agent, arrested, Hawaii, FBI
This file photo shows a man crossing the Central Intelligence Agency seal in the lobby of CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, on August 14, 2008. SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images/Getty