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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Former CIA officer Alexander Yuk Ching Ma has been arrested and charged with allegedly sharing classified information with China, the Justice Department announced Monday.

Our thought bubble, via Axios China reporter Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian: No one should underestimate China’s intelligence services. In the past decade, the efforts of Chinese intelligence to identify as many individual CIA personnel as possible have paid off, resulting in the decommissioning of dozens of CIA assets in China.

Details: Ma, a naturalized U.S. citizen who worked for the CIA from 1982 to 1989 and maintained a "Top Secret" clearance, allegedly conspired with his relative and Chinese intelligence officials "to communicate classified national defense information over the course of a decade," according to the Justice Department.

  • Court documents allege that Ma sought employment with the FBI "in order to once again gain access to classified U.S. government information which he could in turn provide to his [People's Republic of China] handlers."
  • In spring 2019, Ma confirmed his espionage activities to an undercover FBI employee that he believed was a member of Chinese intelligence, stating that he wanted "the motherland" to succeed.

What they're saying: “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 Justice Department official John Demers. 

  • "This betrayal is never worth it. 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.”

The state of play: Amid broader geopolitical tensions over issues ranging from the coronavirus to Beijing's crackdown on Hong Kong, the U.S. and China have also been engaged in a recent tit-for-tat over espionage.

  • President Trump shuttered the Chinese consulate in Houston over allegations that China has been using it to spy.
  • Beijing responded by ordering the U.S. consulate in the western Chinese city of Chengdu to close.

Go deeper: How China became a global power of espionage

Go deeper

U.S.-based Chinese activists targeted by Guo Wengui supporters

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

In the weeks before the U.S. presidential election, three prominent Chinese activists in the U.S. found their homes surrounded by anonymous protesters who accused them of spying for the Chinese Communist Party.

Why it matters: The three activists, who had fled China due to repression from Chinese authorities, now face physical threats on U.S. soil.

Updated Nov 25, 2020 - Politics & Policy

Trump gives Biden access to presidential intelligence briefings

Photo: Mark Makela/Getty Images

The Trump White House on Tuesday gave President-elect Biden access to daily presidential intelligence briefings, a source familiar with the matter tells Axios.

Why it matters: Trump has refused to share the briefs until now, as he continues to challenge the result of the election and declines to concede. The president's acquiescence comes as another sign that the transition to a Biden administration is taking place.

Why migrants are fleeing their homes for the U.S.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios Photo: Herika Martinez /Getty Images 

Natural disasters in Central America, economic devastation, gang wars, political oppression, and a new administration are all driving the sharp rise in U.S.-Mexico border crossings — a budding crisis for President Biden.

Why it matters: Migration flows are complex and quickly politicized. Biden's policies are likely sending signals that are encouraging the surge — but that's only a small reason it's happening.

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