Man accused of espionage worked on deterrence
HONOLULU — A civilian defense contractor accused of giving his Chinese girlfriend military secrets worked on developing military plans to deter potential U.S. enemies when the two began their romance, according to his online professional profile and court documents.
The LinkedIn profile of Benjamin Bishop, 59, says he worked as a planner on “extended deterrence” at the U.S. Pacific Command — the military’s headquarters for Asia and the Pacific — for two years starting in May 2010.
It was during that time — in June 2011 — that Bishop began the intimate, romantic relationship with the 27-year-old woman who was in the U.S. on a student visa, according to an affidavit filed in U.S. District Court in Honolulu last week.
Bishop was arrested Friday at Pacific Command headquarters at Camp H.M. Smith in Hawaii.
The LinkedIn profile says he moved to a different department last May to work on cybersecurity. During that month, the FBI claims, Bishop emailed military secrets to the woman, including war plans and information on nuclear weapons.
Several months later, Bishop told the woman about the planned deployment of U.S. strategic nuclear systems and the ability of the U.S. to detect low- and medium-range ballistic missiles of other nations, the affidavit alleges.
Bishop first met the woman at a conference on international military defense issues in Hawaii, the documents said.
The identity and whereabouts of the woman were not released, and U.S. authorities have not said whether they believe she is working for the Chinese government.
“While she is not charged in the criminal complaint, the government is aware of her location and is continuing the investigation to determine the role of all involved,” said a Justice Department official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing.
The woman was in the U.S. on a J-1 visa granted to people in work- and study-based exchange programs, court documents say. It was not clear what institution she attended.
The FBI declined further comment on Tuesday. A Justice Department spokesman in Honolulu did not return a call seeking comment.
Along with being a civilian defense contractor, Bishop is a Special Forces lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, according to his Army biography. He’s received several honors including the Defense Meritorious Service Medal, the biography said.
Larry Wortzel, a member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, said the allegations aren’t surprising or shocking.
China has used sexual entrapment in the past, both inside and outside that country, he said.
As an Army Reserve officer and defense contractor, Bishop would have had security briefings on the topic and understand how sex can be used to target people for intelligence, Wortzel said.
The alleged leak damages national security, Wortzel said, noting that nuclear-related information and all information on systems, deployments and strategy are classified.
The affidavit said the woman asked Bishop last month what Western countries knew about “the operation of a particular naval asset of People’s Republic of China,” though the topic fell outside Bishop’s regular work assignments.
Bishop researched the issue using open source records and was observed collecting and reviewing classified information on the topic, the documents said.
Authorities allege Bishop intentionally hid his romance from the government, even though his position and security clearance require him to report contact with foreign nationals.
An acquaintance of Bishop through the local chapter of Freemasons said Bishop was a member of the Honolulu lodge. The acquaintance, who insisted on anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on behalf of the Freemasons, said he ran into Bishop unexpectedly in October on campus at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, where Bishop said he was taking Saturday Chinese classes.
Bishop was with two or three young Chinese women whom he said were classmates, the acquaintance said.
Bishop was married until last year, according to state documents in Utah. His ex-wife declined comment when approached by the AP on Tuesday at her home in Odgen, Utah.
Her neighbor, Sandra Doyle, said it was clear Bishop was having an affair with a Chinese woman prior to the divorce. Doyle, who said she is friends with the ex-wife, said the girlfriend was a university student in the District of Columbia, though she didn’t know which school.
Doyle said neighbors knew Bishop worked for the government in Hawaii but were unclear on his exact job.
Bishop appeared in court Monday to face one count of communicating national defense information to a person not entitled to receive it and one count of unlawfully retaining national defense documents and plans.
Bishop is scheduled to return to court Friday for a hearing on whether he will remain in detention during the case. A preliminary hearing is set for April 1.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard Puglisi conditionally appointed Bishop an attorney after hearing arguments that his finances weren’t sufficient to cover the costs of defending himself.
The attorney, Birney Bervar, defended his client in brief remarks to reporters on Monday.
“Col. Bishop has served this country for 29 years. He would never do anything to harm the United States,” Bervar said.
Bervar declined to discuss details of the case, saying he had not yet spoken in depth to Bishop.
Bervar said he planned to argue for Bishop to be allowed to be released on bail, but wasn’t optimistic that he would be successful.
Authorities conducting a covert search of Bishop’s home in Kapolei, a Honolulu suburb, in November found 12 individual documents marked “secret” even though he’s not authorized to keep classified papers at home, court documents said.