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Defense contractor charged with sharing top secret information

Published On: Mar 19 2013 03:57:00 PM HST

It sounds like it's right out of a spy novel. A man shares nuclear secrets with a woman from China, with whom he's romantically involved. But it's not fiction.

HONOLULU -

Benjamin Pierce Bishop, 59, a former U.S. Army officer who works as a civilian employee of a defense contractor at U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii, has been arrested on charges of communicating classified national defense information to a person not entitled to receive such information, according to the FBI.

Bishop, a resident of Hawaii, was arrested Friday without incident at his workspace at USPACOM in Hawaii and made his initial appearance on Monday in federal court in Honolulu.

The criminal complaint filed in the District of Hawaii charges him with one count of willfully communicating national defense information to a person not entitled to receive such information and one count of unlawfully retaining documents related to the national defense.   If convicted, he faces a maximum potential sentence of 20 years in prison.

According to an affidavit filed in support of the criminal complaint, Bishop currently works as an employee of a defense contractor that has a contract with USPACOM, whose command is based on Oahu.  Bishop has held a Top Secret security clearance since July 2002 and held access to Secure Compartmented Information from November 2002 to April 2012. As a person holding a Top Secret security clearance, Bishop has been subject to multiple security briefings on restrictions regarding the disclosure of classified national defense information, as well as the handling, marking and storage of such information.

"Mr. Bishop communicated classified national security information with a citizen of the People's Republic of China," said U.S. Attorney Florence Nakakuni.

According to the affidavit, between May 2011 through December 2012, Bishop willfully communicated classified national defense information on multiple occasions to Person 1, an individual not entitled to receive such information.  The affidavit alleges that Person 1 is a 27-year-old female citizen of the People’s Republic of China who is residing in the United States on a visa and who does not possess, nor has ever possessed, a U.S. security clearance, and thus is not entitled to receive U.S. classified information.

According to the affidavit, Bishop and Person 1 originally met in Hawaii during a conference regarding international military defense issues.  Since June 2011, Bishop and Person 1 have allegedly been involved in a romantic relationship.  Despite a Defense Department directive requiring personnel, like Bishop, who maintain a U.S. security clearance to report to the U.S. government any contacts with foreign persons, Bishop has affirmatively hidden his relationship with Person 1 from U.S. government officials, the affidavit alleges.

The affidavit alleges that Bishop communicated information classified at the Secret level to Person 1 on several instances.  According to the affidavit, the national defense information that Bishop passed to Person 1 included information relating to nuclear weapons; information on planned deployment of U.S. strategic nuclear systems; information on the ability of the United States to detect low- and medium-range ballistic missiles of foreign governments; and information on the deployment of U.S. early warning radar systems in the Pacific Rim.

The affidavit further alleges that a court-authorized search of Bishop’s residence in November 2012 revealed approximately 12 individual documents each with classification markings at the Secret level.  Bishop’s residence is not an authorized location for the storage of classified information and Bishop was not authorized to remove and retain those documents.

Bishop's attorney Birney Bervar said, "He's doing OK.  As you can expect, this is devastating. He served his country honorably for 29 years and he maintains he would never do anything to intentionally harm the United States."

FBI agents claim Bishop hid the relationship from U.S. government officials even though he knew he was required to report it.

"My office and our partners at the Department of Justice National Security Division Counterespionage Section are collectively committed to the ongoing protection of military secrets here in Hawaii," said Nakakuni.

Two year ago, another Hawaii resident Noshir Gowadia, a former B-2 stealth bomber engineer, was sentenced to 32 years in prison for selling military secrets to China to pay for his oceanfront Maui home.  Bervar represented Gowadia in that case.

"It's unusual to have two espionage cases in the last 7-or-8-years in Hawaii but we do have a large defense presence here in Hawaii so in that vein, it's not unusual," said Bervar.

If convicted of the charges, Bishop could face a maximum of 20 years in prison.  He is scheduled to appear in court later this month.

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