HONOLULU – A former CIA officer and contract linguist for the FBI accused of giving China classified information must remain detained because the trained spy is an “extreme flight risk,” U.S. prosecutors said.
Alexander Yuk Ching Ma was scheduled for a detention hearing Thursday. But his federal defender asked for a postponement, saying an arranged phone call with his client from the Honolulu Federal Detention Center didn’t happen as planned Wednesday.
Assistant Federal Defender Craig Jerome said he was only able to speak to Ma for about 10 minutes Thursday, which wasn't enough time to go over the allegations and prepare for a detention hearing.
A judge rescheduled the hearing for next week.
Ma, 67, was arrested last week 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.
“His conduct continued over the course of many years with regular, clandestine meetings with members of China’s intelligence services," prosecutors said in a document outlining why he should remain detained. “Ma is trained on tactics of covert movement and travel. He was trained to perform in a covert role for one of the world’s preeminent intelligence services and the Government submits Ma could easily evade even the most stringent of pretrial conditions.”
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. Those secrets included information about CIA sources and assets, international operations, secure communication practices practices and operational tradecraft.
Ma 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.
As recently as last week, 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.
Ma and his wife were born in China, and he speaks multiple dialects of Chinese, prosecutors said.
If convicted, he faces life in prison, or if the U.S. Department of Justice seeks it, a death sentence.
“Ma’s potential punishment multiplied by the probability of his conviction gives him an irresistible incentive to flee to a country from whom the United States could not extradite him,” prosecutors said. “The foreign intelligence service with whom Ma is accused of conspiring has every reason to help him escape.”