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

Sep 22, 2020 - World

Study: China's economic policies directly harmed U.S. industries

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

China's economic planning and targeted subsidies have increased the competitiveness of Chinese firms in the global economy to the direct detriment of U.S. industry, an academic study has found.

Why it matters: When it comes to American industries and workers, the rise of Chinese industrial policy hasn’t been a win-win — researchers found for every 100 factories opened in China, 12.5 U.S. factories in the same industry closed.

The hacking of Iran's hackers

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

An Iranian cyber operations front organization that’s a target of new U.S. sanctions was itself the victim of an attack that looted its own hacking tools and dumped them on the internet two years ago.

Driving the news: Last week, amid increasing tensions between Washington and Tehran, the Treasury Department announced major new Iran-related sanctions targeting cyber operators working for Iranian intelligence. The sanctions targeted 45 individuals affiliated with Iran’s Ministry of Intelligence and Security (MOIS), Tehran’s main civilian intelligence agency.

CIA launches new high-tech lab

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

In a bid to attract and retain top tech talent, the CIA has announced the formation of CIA Labs, a new venture designed to encourage innovation in "artificial intelligence, data analytics, biotechnology, advanced materials, and high-performance quantum computing,” among other areas, per MIT Technology Review.

How it works: Formed in part because of concerns over a talent drain to the private sector in Silicon Valley, CIA Labs will allow employees to patent their own inventions and keep 15% of the proceeds derived from them, with a maximum salary bump of $150,000 per annum.

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