Arrested man's neighbors 'cannot believe' spying rap
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser/MCT
Friday morning, at least 10 FBI and Naval Criminal Investigative Service agents swarmed Benjamin Pierce Bishop's brown two-story house in Makakilo where he lived alone, according to neighbors.
His arrest for allegedly passing classified information has left neighbors stunned at the accusations leveled at the "nice guy" they knew, and wondering about a possible other side of Bishop that they never saw.
"I can tell you this much: really nice guy. Last person I would expect to be involved in something like this," said Bishop's neighbor named "Rob," who didn't want to give his last name, Tuesday.
Bishop was affiliated with a church, the man said, although he didn't know which one.
"I cannot believe it because he's such a nice guy," said his next-door neighbor, who shares a driveway with him nearly at the end of Makakilo Drive. "Just strange," said the woman, who also didn't want to be named.
She saw FBI and NCIS agents opening boxes in Bishop's garage Friday.
Bishop was arrested "without incident" Friday at his workplace at U.S. Pacific Command at Camp Smith, the U.S Attorney's office said Monday.
More than a year and a half ago, 59-year-old Bishop, a defense contractor at Pacific Command privy to top-secret information, met a 27-year-old woman from China at a conference in Hawaii on international military defense issues, the FBI said. He now is being held in the Federal Detention Center, accused of passing classified information to the woman, officials said.
The details of what happened are still far from clear in what appears to be a case of spying.
The 27-year-old Chinese national, called "Person 1" by authorities, "may have been at the (Hawaii defense) conference to target individuals such as Bishop who work with and have access to U.S. classified information regarding Person 1's purported interests," an FBI affidavit states.
Authorities say Bishop was involved in an "intimate, romantic relationship" with the Chinese woman since June 2011 and that he passed her secret information on war plans, nuclear weapons and the ability of the U.S. to detect short- and medium-range foreign ballistic missiles.
The FBI affidavit states that on multiple occasions the unidentified Chinese woman indicated to Bishop that she did not want him to disclose classified information to her.
"Bishop represented to her that he would not," the filing states.
Nevertheless, the woman continued to question Bishop about matters relating to his work, and he continued to disclose classified information to her, the FBI said.
Birney Bervar, Bishop's court-appointed attorney, said the accused man "was doing OK" Monday.
The government wants to keep Bishop in custody without bail, pending trial. A hearing on the request is scheduled for Friday afternoon.
"He said he would never do anything to hurt the United States, and I don't think he realized anything he was doing was going to China, if in fact it was. We don't know," Bervar said.
Bervar said his understanding is that the Chinese woman is still in the United States. He did not know whether she still is in Hawaii.
"My understanding is she has not been arrested, she has not been detained," Bervar said. "They want to lock my client up, and she's out there, wherever."
The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Hawaii could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.
The woman was in the United States on a student "exchange visitor" visa and was at the conference in Hawaii dealing with international military defense issues, the FBI said.
That's where she reportedly met Bishop, who on his LinkedIn page said he is a senior analyst at U.S. Pacific Command, a former Special Forces lieutenant colonel with the Army and a one-time special operations planner with U.S. Joint Forces Command.
So far, though, only the edges of Bishop's life and the case against him have been revealed.
Records out of Ogden District, Utah, indicate that Benjamin P. Bishop and Siriporn Amornsuwan were granted a divorce Feb. 3, 2012.
Hawaii records reveal that Bishop and Amornsuwan own the house at 92-1479 Makakilo Drive and that they paid $545,500 for it in 2009.
ROB, Bishop's neighbor, said Bishop was in Hawaii on a three-year contract.
"Last I knew, he was married with family in Utah, which is why he was here by himself. He said to me he has a daughter, probably 10 years old by now," Rob said.
He described Bishop as a "geo bachelor," a military term for an individual separated from his family due to an assignment or duty elsewhere.
In about 2011, Bishop said he was applying for a different government job and needed a new security clearance, Rob said. As a result, some in the neighborhood were interviewed about Bishop's character, he said.
Early last month the Chinese woman "tasked" Bishop with conducting research for her on what Western nations knew about the operation of a particular Chinese naval asset, the FBI affidavit said.
Bishop conducted open-source research and was also observed collecting and reviewing classified information about the subject, the report said.