Hawaii isn’t just for those looking for an island escape with sun, sand and surf; it may also have become a prime destination for Chinese intelligence-gathering on the U.S. military.
According to Denny Roy, a senior fellow and China expert at the East-West Center, Hawaii has become a target for Chinese intelligence because it's the headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Command, which controls military forces in the Asia-Pacific.
“There are a large number of [military] personnel in the pool here,” Roy told The Honolulu Star. “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.”
Most recently, Benjamin Pierce Bishop, may have become the most recent target of a Chinese intelligence gathering operation, this time in the form of a classic espionage “honey trap”-- a 27-year-old woman whom the 59-year old had reportedly been dating for over a year.
According to the Honolulu Star, Bishop, an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel currently working as a civilian employee of a defense contractor at Camp Smith, the U.S. Pacific Command headquarters, has been arrested for leaking classified information to his Chinese girlfriend.
The FBI reported that Bishop gave national security information, including information about nuclear weapons and early-warning radar systems, to his girlfriend, who was living in Hawaii on a student visa. Bishop was also charged with illegally keeping classified documents in his home.
FBI Special Agent Scott Freeman was part of the investigation that led to Bishop's arrest. In an affidavit, Freeman wrote that Bishop and a woman, only referred to as "Person 1," had “an intimate, romantic relationship” since June 2011, after meeting at a conference in Hawaii on international defense issues.
Freeman says that he believes the woman attended the meeting with specific intentions. “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.”
According to Roy, seduction by a woman is in China’s espionage toolbox.
“This kind of thing -- I think it’s China’s traditional strategic thinking,” which "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 way of doing things, whereas the West is more sort of direct in its strategic thinking.”
Though the story sounds more like a James Bond plot featuring a femme fatale villain, the charges are very real, and potentially serious. If convicted of the charges, Bishop is facing the possibility of spending 20 years behind bars. Noshir Gowadia, an engineer also from Hawaii, is currently serving a 32-year sentence after being convicted for selling B-2 stealth bomber secrets to China and other countries.
Bishop's lawyer, Birney Bervar, maintains that his client would never give up national secrets with the intention to harm the U.S.
“He’s served his country honorably for 29 years. He maintains he would never do anything to intentionally harm the United States.”
Bishop’s detention hearing will take place this Friday in a federal court. The government is seeking to keep Bishop in custody without bail.