A Hawaii-based US defense contractor is facing charges for giving classified defense information, including top secret information about nuclear weapons, to a 27-year-old Chinese woman that he had a romantic interest in.
Benjamin Pierce Bishop, a 59-year-old Army Reserve lieutenant colonel who works as a civilian employee of a defense contractor at the US Pacific Command, was arrested at the command’s headquarters on Friday. He is scheduled to appear in court this week where a judge will decide whether he will remain locked up throughout his case.
The US District Court in Honolulu is prosecuting the man for an email he sent to the Chinese woman, detailing America’s war plans, nuclear weapons stockpile and the country’s relations with foreign partners. The court also alleges that Bishop told the young woman about the deployment of US strategic nuclear systems and the government’s ballistic missiles detection capabilities, according to the complaint.
The transmission of this information to foreign nationals could cause “serious danger to US national security,” the complaint reads.
Bishop is being charged with one count of deliberately relaying national defense information to someone not qualified to receive it, as well as one count of unlawfully retaining national defense documents. If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
The defense contractor first met the 27-year-old Chinese national during a conference on international military defense issues in Hawaii. The woman had been living in the US on a student visa. The affidavit notes that the woman “represented to Bishop that she did not want him to disclose classified information to her,” but then “continued over time to question Bishop on matters relating to the subject of his work.” From May 2011 until December 2012, he allegedly relayed classified national defense information to her and became romantically involved with her starting June 2011.
FBI documents submitted Feb. 5 claim that 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.”
Bishop has also gone to great lengths to keep his relationship with the woman a secret. When he requested leave to visit the woman in the United Kingdom, he changed her surname to make it sound masculine and to hide her identity, court documents state.
Bishop has been appointed with an attorney since he cannot afford to pay for his own defense at this time. After the contractor received his charges on Monday, his attorney, Birney Bervar, told reporters that the man would never intentionally try to put the US in harm’s way.
“Col. Bishop has served this country for 29 years. He would never do anything to harm the United States,” he told reporters.
The case is particularly alarming to the US government, considering that China and the US have long engaged in spying against one another. Last year, China arrested a state security official who was suspected of providing information to the US. The incident was considered the most serious case of espionage since the 1980s.
Court officials have not publicly named the Chinese woman who received information from Bishop, and refer to her as “PERSON 1” in the affidavit.