HONOLULU (AP) — A former CIA officer and contract linguist for the FBI accused of selling U.S. secrets to China must remain locked up because he’s a “serious flight risk” in a case involving “espionage over many, many years,” a federal judge ruled Thursday.
Alexander Yuk Ching Ma was arrested two weeks ago after an undercover operation in which prosecutors say he accepted thousands of dollars in cash in exchange for his past espionage activities. He told a law enforcement officer who was posing as a Chinese intelligence officer that he wanted to see the “motherland” succeed and that he was eager to resume helping China after the coronavirus pandemic subsided, prosecutors said.
Ma, 67, faces life in prison or possibly a death sentence if convicted of a rarely used charge involving an intent to hurt the United States or aid a foreign power, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Sorenson said during a detention hearing where Ma participated by telephone from the Honolulu Federal Detention Center.
Prosecutors have video and audio proving he provided classified information including CIA sources and methods, communication systems and secret writing, Sorenson said.
He violated security oaths to the CIA and to the FBI, Sorenson, and “betrayed that trust for money.”
Ma, who worked for the CIA from 1982 to 1989, is accused of revealing government secrets to at least five Chinese intelligence officers in a Hong Kong hotel room over a three-day period in March 2001.
Prosecutors say remained in touch with the Chinese intelligence officers after he joined the FBI as a contract linguist in 2004, at which point he used his work computer to copy images of documents related to missiles and weapon system technology research.
Two weeks ago, Ma again confirmed to an undercover agent during a video recorded meeting that he had given U.S. information to China’s Ministry of State Security and he again accepted cash from someone he believed was representing the ministry, prosecutors said.
Authorities searching his Honolulu home found marked classified documents, Sorenson said.
Ma, a naturalized U.S. citizen, was born in China, where he has family and two residences, Sorenson said: “He has no reason to stick around for further proceedings in this matter.”
Birney Bervar, Ma’s defense attorney, said the government authorities have known about the allegations since 2001 and haven’t done anything until now.
“All of a sudden he’s a danger to the community,” Bervar said, asking that Ma be released to his sister and incarcerated at home.
The government has a cache of evidence that Ma is a flight risk and a “danger to the community and this nation,” said U.S. Magistrate Judge Rom Trader in granting prosecutors’ detention request.
“Allegations include a systemic pattern of conduct by him to allegedly breach his loyalty to this country and provide sensitive information to a foreign power, namely China,” Trader said. “That certainly gets the court’s attention.”
“I don’t make this decision lightly,” Trader said, noting Ma can appeal the detention ruling.