UPDATE: Hawaii Man Charged with Revealing Defense Intel to Chinese
Updated at 7:45 pm with detailed allegations from the special agent involved in the investigation.
The United States Attorneys’ office announced today that a former US Army officer has been charged with disclosing classified national security details to a 27-year-old Chinese woman.
Benjamin Pierce Bishop, 59, a resident of Hawaii who now works as a civilian employee of a defense contractor at US Pacific Command, was arrested Friday without incident at his workplace at USPACOM on Oahu.
Bishop was charged with one count of of willfully communicating national defense information to an unauthorized individual and one count of unlawfully retaining national defense documents.
According to an affidavit, Bishop, who held top secret security clearance since 2002, disclosed classified national defense information to a 27-year-old female from the People’s Republic of China.
Bishop reportedly met the woman in May of 2011 in Hawaii while both were attending a conference on international defense matters. The two have allegedly been in a romantic relationship since June of that year.
The affidavit states that between May of 2011 and December of 2012, Bishop willingly communicated critical national defense secrets regarding nuclear weapons and missile defense capabilities to the Chinese national, who was using a student visa at the time.
In the affidavit, a FBI special agent involved in the investigation reports that “both physical and electronic court-authorized surveillance conducted by your affiant and other FBI agents…” were used, revealing that Bishop had been involved in an “intimate, romantic relationship” and had hidden his ties to the woman from US government officials.
Bishop was reportedly aware at the time that any contacts with a foreign national required disclosure to government officials, having attended briefings and signed documents stating his understanding of government policy.
The former army officer apparently had “daily access to a large volume of highly sensitive US classified national defense information.” The affidavit alleges that Bishop repeatedly filled out official documents where he failed to disclose his contacts with the woman, with the most recent being filed in February of 2013.
Bishop is alleged to have gone to great lengths to conceal his relationship, having purportedly changed the 27-year-old’s name on a form requesting leave. During an attempt to visit her in the United Kingdom, Bishop is said to have changed the woman’s surname to make it appear masculine, and added a letter to obscure her identity.
In the affidavit, the special agent involved in the investigation notes that Bishop exchanged emails with the 27-year-old that “transmitted national defense information, regarding existing war plans, information regarding nuclear weapons… to an email address known to be used by PERSON 1 (the Chinese citizen).”
Electronic surveillance was also used to tap telephone conversations where Bishop allegedly disclosed information regarding “planned deployment of US strategic nuclear systems” and “deployment of US early warning radar systems… and the ability of the US to detect short and medium range ballistic missiles…”
A court-authorized search of Bishop’s home in November 2012 allegedly found approximately 12 classified documents. Bishop’s residence was not an authorized location for storing classified information, and he was not authorized to remove such documents from his workplace.
The affidavit does not specifically accuse the 27-year-old Chinese national of spying activities, although the FBI special agent involved speculates that “based on my training and experience PERSON 1 may have been at the conference… to target individuals such as Bishop.”
In the affidavit, the special agent also notes that the Chinese woman “represented to Bishop that she did not want him to disclose classified information to her” but that she “continued over time to question Bishop on matters relating to the subject of his work.”
Bishop is said to have told the woman he would not disclose classified information to her, although the affidavit alleges that he proceeded to do exactly that on multiple occasions.
According to the documents submitted by the FBI, on Feb. 5, the Chinese woman “tasked Bishop to conduct research for her… regarding what Western nations know about… a particular naval asset of the People’s Republic of China.”
The woman’s request was apparently outside the scope of Bishop’s assignments, but the affidavit alleges that “since that time, Bishop has acted on her request” and had been observed “reviewing classified information on this subject matter…”
Bishop allegedly misrepresented himself to US government personnel as an active duty officer in order “to gain access to classified information requested by PERSON 1.”
The case is currently being investigated by the FBI Honolulu Division and the NCIS Hawaii Field Office, in coordination with USPACOM and the US Army.
The arrest comes amid heightened tensions between the United States and North Korea, which has been threatening a preemptive nuclear attack.
If convicted of the charges against him, Bishop faces a potential maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.