According to Reuters, a former US military contractor in Hawaii was sentenced on Wednesday (September 17) to more than seven years in prison for passing national defense secrets to his Chinese girlfriend and illegally keeping numerous classified documents at his home.
Benjamin Pierce Bishop, 60, a retired US Army lieutenant colonel assigned to the US Pacific Command on Oahu, admitted in March 2014 to the espionage offenses and agreed to cooperate with investigators in a plea deal that staved off additional charges.
As an active-duty reservist stationed at the command headquarters and later as a civilian contractor employed there, Bishop had a top-secret security clearance, authorities said.
Bishop pleaded guilty to one count of communicating classified national defense information to an unauthorized person, in this case emailing secrets in 2012 about joint training and planning sessions between the United States and South Korea.
The email recipient was a 27-year-old Chinese woman who was residing in the United States as a graduate student on a J1 visa while having a romantic relationship with Bishop that federal investigators said he concealed from the US government.
COMMENT: The nagging question I have is why did a retired US Army officer who raised his "right hand and swore to defend his country against all enemies, foreign and domestic, etc., exercise no restraint in releasing national security information to his Chinese girlfriend who was seemingly cognizant of the penalties Bishop faced for violating his oath of office.
The larger question is what came first? The romantic relationship or Bishop's being co-opted by a Chinese agent? Regardless, it is completely understandable that a woman who could be the Lt. Colonel's daughter will write to him every day during his seven years in prison.
In an affidavit filed in the case last year, the FBI said the pair met in Hawaii at an international military conference and that the woman may have been targeting individuals with access to classified information.
Bishop also pleaded guilty to unlawfully retaining classified national defense papers at his residence, including US Armed Forces Defense Planning guides for years 2014-2018, a document titled Optimizing US Force Posture in the Asia-Pacific, and the US Department of Defense China Strategy.
China and the United States, the world's two largest economies, have long engaged in spying against each other, though prosecutors and the FBI have not said whether they believe the woman, identified in court documents as "Person 1," was necessarily working for the Beijing government.
According to the FBI affidavit, Bishop and the woman had been romantically involved since June 2011, and that he passed national defense secrets to her in a series of emails and telephone calls beginning the following May, including plans for deploying US strategic nuclear systems and early warning radar networks.
The two charges to which he pleaded guilty carried a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison. He was sentenced to a prison term of seven years and three months, to be followed by three years of supervised probation.