Pacific Command contractor charged with spying
The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
HONOLULU — A civilian defense employee in Hawaii charged with leaking classified information about nuclear weapons, early-warning radar systems and other secrets to a Chinese national who was his girlfriend may have been targeted because he had access to such information, the FBI says.
Federal authorities announced Monday that Benjamin Pierce Bishop, 59, an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who works as a civilian employee of a defense contractor at U.S. Pacific Command headquarters at Camp Smith, has been charged with giving national security information to an unauthorized person.
Bishop is also charged with unlawfully keeping classified documents in his Kapolei home. If convicted, he would face up to 20 years in prison.
"The arrest of Mr. Bishop is just the first step of what is going to be a long process," U.S. Attorney Florence Nakakuni said at a news conference Monday. "And we're actively continuing the investigation to determine the roles of all those involved in this case."
The Justice Department issued a criminal complaint Thursday and arrested Bishop at his workplace at Camp Smith on Friday. The government is seeking to have him kept in custody without bail.
An affidavit by FBI special agent Scott Freeman says Bishop passed U.S. defense secrets to his girlfriend, a 27-year-old citizen of China who was in the United States on a student visa, from May through December.
The affidavit says Bishop met the woman, described only as "Person 1," in Hawaii at a conference on international defense issues. The affidavit did not give the date of the conference or name Bishop's employer. Nakakuni did not take questions Monday.
Bishop and the woman had "an intimate, romantic relationship" since June 2011, Freeman wrote.
"Based on my training and experience, Person 1 may have been at the conference in order to target individuals such as Bishop who work with and have access to U.S. classified information," Freeman says in the affidavit.
However, no official Monday explicitly said Person 1 was working for a foreign government. Neither did they provide information on her whereabouts or status.
U.S. Pacific Command declined to comment about the charges and referred questions to the Justice Department.
Denny Roy, a senior fellow and China expert at the East-West Center, said Hawaii is a prime target for Chinese intelligence gathering because it is home to the U.S. Pacific Command, which controls U.S. military forces in the Pacific and Asia.
"There are a large number of (military) personnel in the pool here," Roy said. "I think they (China) probably probe as many as they can, and where it looks promising, they'll go further, and if not they'll move on."
The Chinese "have been doing this for a long time," he said.
"This kind of thing — I think it's China's traditional strategic thinking," Roy said. "Chinese traditional strategic thinking puts a lot of emphasis on stratagem, on indirectness. … So using a pretty girl to get someone's guard down and find out something is sort of a very Chinese ways of doing things, whereas the West is more sort of direct in its strategic thinking."
Bishop's court-appointed lawyer, Birney Bervar, said Bishop is a lieutenant colonel in the Army Reserve with three decades of service. The Justice Department said Bishop is a former Army officer.
"He's served his country honorably for 29 years. He maintains he would never do anything to intentionally harm the United States," Bervar said.
The investigation by the FBI and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service has so far involved information from cooperating witnesses, court-authorized searches of Bishop's home and workplace and physical and electronic surveillance, including telephone wiretaps and email searches, the affidavit said.
The affidavit lists five incidents in which Bishop transmitted classified information on topics such as:
- U.S. nuclear weapons and deployment of strategic nuclear systems.
- Ability of the U.S. to detect short- and medium-range ballistic missiles.
- Deployment of early-warning radar systems.
- The proposed deployment of a U.S. radar system in the Pacific.
- Relations with international partners.
- War plans.
Federal agents also searched Bishop's Kapolei home in November and found about 12 documents marked "Secret," including a Defense Department strategic planning document for force development for 2014-2018.
Because Bishop has had a top-secret security clearance since July 2002, he was required to report all contacts with foreign nationals. The FBI says Bishop has failed to report his relationship with the Chinese woman and that on his February 2012 leave request to travel to the United Kingdom to visit his girlfriend, he changed the woman's name to conceal her identity and gender.
The government has asked the court to order Bishop to remain in custody without bail, pending trial. In its request the government says Bishop poses a danger to others and to the community and a serious risk of flight and of obstructing justice.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard L. Puglisi scheduled a Friday afternoon hearing on the government's request.
Puglisi appointed Bervar to represent Bishop at the public's expense, even though the judge said based on Bishop's financial statement, it appears that he should be able to hire his own lawyer.
Bervar Puglisi that although Bishop has money, based on his experience in representing another defendant in an espionage case in Hawaii, it is not enough to retain a lawyer for this type of case.
High-profile cases here involving passing defense information to China include that of Noshir S. Gowadia.
The Maui man was sentenced to 32 years in prison in 2011 for selling national defense secrets to China, including helping the Chinese develop a cruise missile capable of evading heat-seeking, air-to-air missiles when he worked as a U.S. defense contractor.
Bervar said he believes the government contacted him to defend Bishop because he maintains the top-secret clearance he obtained for the Gowadia case.
In 2006 Ronald Montaperto, a former dean of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies in Honolulu, admitted to passing top-secret information to Chinese intelligence officials, The Washington Times reported.