A civilian employee of a defense contractor at US Pacific Command in Hawaii has been arrested and charged with providing classified defense information to a woman half his age who investigators suspect is a Chinese spy.
Benjamin Bishop, 59, was arrested last week on charges that he communicated US national security secrets to the 27-year-old woman, a citizen of the People’s Republic of China.
The charges against Mr. Bishop come against the backdrop of deepening, and increasingly public, US suspicions directed toward China’s government over its knowledge of, or participation in, cyberattacks against the US and American businesses. According to US officials, cybersecurity was a topic of discussion between US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew and China’s new president, Xi Jinping, in Beijing Tuesday.
According to federal court documents, Bishop and the woman, who was in the US on a student visa, met at a conference in Hawaii concerning international military issues.
Investigators say the two had maintained an intimate, romantic relationship since June 2011. The woman was not identified by name. Agents refer to her in documents as “Person 1.”
“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 US classified information regarding PERSON 1’s purported interests,” FBI counterintelligence officer Scott Freeman wrote in a sworn affidavit.
Bishop, a former US Army officer, was arrested at his office on Friday without incident. He appeared in federal court on Monday. Prosecutors are asking that he be held without bond prior to his trial.
Bishop has held a Top Secret security clearance since 2002.
Agents say Bishop told the woman details of the planned deployment of US strategic nuclear systems, and the ability of the US to detect low and medium range ballistic missiles. He also told her details concerning the deployment of US early warning radar systems in the Pacific Rim, and the proposed deployment of such systems, investigators say.
“On multiple occasions during the relevant time frame, PERSON 1 has represented to BISHOP that she did not want him to disclose classified information to her,” the FBI affidavit says. “BISHOP represented to her that he would not. Nevertheless, PERSON 1 continued over time to question BISHOP on matters relating to the subject matter of his work.”
The affidavit adds: “Despite BISHOP’S representations to PERSON 1… he continued to disclose classified information to her after representing that he would not.”
Agents used a combination of investigative techniques including physical surveillance and searches, and electronic surveillance and searches. Telephone calls and e-mails were monitored, according to court documents.
During a search of Bishop’s home in Nov. 2012, agents discovered 12 documents classified at the Secret level. They included a copy of the Fiscal Year 2014-2018 Defense Planning Guidance. The document is described as “the definitive planning document for force development, articulating the mission requirements for the Department of Defense at the strategic level.”
Court records say that on Feb. 5, the woman asked Bishop to conduct research for her. “She asked for him to advise her regarding what Western nations know about the operation of a particular naval asset of the People’s Republic of China,” the affidavit says.
Bishop was observed collecting and reviewing classified information concerning that subject matter. In a Feb. 28 search, agents located classified documents at Bishop’s workspace related to the requested research, documents say.
Officials say Bishop owed a duty to the US government to disclose any contacts with foreign individuals. As part of his security clearance he was required to fill out a questionnaire about foreign contacts. He did not disclose his girlfriend.
Court documents say that in Feb. 2012, Bishop submitted a request to travel to the United Kingdom to visit the woman. On the form he changed her name to obscure her gender and her identity, investigators say.
Specifically, Bishop is charged with one count of willfully communicating national defense information to a person not entitled to receive it. He is also charged with one count of unlawfully retaining classified documents in an unsecure location.
If convicted he faces up to 20 years in prison.