HONOLULU (AP) — U.S. prosecutors are asking that a former CIA officer and contract linguist for the FBI be held without bail on charges of spying for China.
Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, 67, had his first court hearing Tuesday, appearing by phone from the Honolulu Federal Detention Center.
He was arrested last week after an undercover operation in which prosecutors say he accepted thousands of dollars in cash in exchange for 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.
A detention hearing is scheduled for Thursday.
A judge provisionally appointed a federal defender to represent Ma. “I don’t believe that he can afford counsel," said Assistant Federal Defender Craig Jerome, adding that he has yet to have an extensive financial conversation with his client.
An FBI affidavit accuses Ma, who worked for the CIA from 1982 to 1989, 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.
The FBI undercover investigation took shape in January 2019 when an official posing as a Chinese intelligence officer met with Ma in his Honolulu office and showed him a video recording of the 2001 meeting in Hong Kong and asked for help identifying people who were present, prosecutors said.
Ma, apparently convinced that the undercover officer was an actual intelligence officer, provided the help and met again with the officer two months later, when he accepted $2,000 for his work on China’s behalf, according to court papers.
During Tuesday's brief hearing, Ma said he understands the general charges against him.
In a motion to detain Ma without bail, prosecutors said there is a serious risk he will flee if released.