Ex-CIA officer accused of spying for China pleads guilty

HONOLULU, HAWAII — A former CIA officer and contract linguist for the FBI accused of spying for China for at least a decade pleaded guilty Friday in a federal courtroom in Honolulu.

Alexander Yuk Ching Ma, 72, has been in custody since his arrest in August 2020. The U.S. Justice Department said in a court filing it amassed “a war chest of damning evidence” against him, including an hourlong video of Ma and an older relative — also a former CIA officer — providing classified information to intelligence officers with China’s Ministry of State Security in 2001.

The video shows Ma counting the $50,000 received from the Chinese agents for his service, prosecutors said.

During a sting operation, he accepted thousands of dollars in cash in exchange for past espionage activities, and he told an undercover FBI agent posing as a Chinese intelligence officer that he wanted to see the “motherland” succeed, prosecutors said.

The secrets he was accused of providing included information about CIA sources and assets, international operations, secure communication practices and operational tradecraft, the charging documents said.

As part of an agreement with prosecutors, Ma pleaded guilty to a count of conspiracy to gather or deliver national defense information to a foreign government. The deal calls for a 10-year sentence, but a judge will have the final say at Ma’s sentencing, which is scheduled for September 11. Without the deal, he faced life in prison.

Ma was born in Hong Kong, moved to Honolulu in 1968 and became a U.S. citizen in 1975. He joined the CIA in 1982, was assigned overseas the following year and resigned in 1989. He held a top-secret security clearance, according to court documents.

Ma lived and worked in Shanghai, China, before returning to Hawaii in 2001. He was hired as a contract linguist in the FBI’s Honolulu field office in 2004, and prosecutors say that over the following six years, he regularly copied, photographed and stole classified documents. He often took them on trips to China, returning with thousands of dollars in cash and expensive gifts, such as a new set of golf clubs, prosecutors said.

In court Friday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Sorenson revealed that Ma’s hiring as a part-time contract linguist was a “ruse” to monitor his contact with Chinese intelligence officers.

The FBI had been aware of Ma’s ties with the intelligence officers and “made the determination to notionally hire the defendant to work at an FBI off-site location in Honolulu,” the plea agreement said.

In 2006, while Ma was living in Hawaii, Chinese intelligence officers sent him photos of people they were interested in, Sorenson said, and Ma contacted the co-conspirator relative and persuaded him to reveal at least two of the identities.

Ma, in pleading guilty, said everything Sorenson described is true. Ma said he had signed nondisclosure agreements that he knew would be in effect even after leaving the CIA and that he knew the information he was providing to the Chinese intelligence officials could harm the United States or help a foreign nation.

In 2021, Ma’s former defense attorney told a judge Ma believed he was suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and was having trouble remembering things.

A defense motion noted that Ma’s older brother developed Alzheimer’s 10 years prior and was completely disabled by the disease. The brother is referred to as the co-conspirator in the indictment against Ma, but prosecutors didn’t charge him because of his incompetency due to Alzheimer’s, the motion said.

The co-conspirator is now dead, Sorenson said in court Friday.

Last year a judge found Ma competent and to not be suffering from a major mental disease, disorder or defect.

Ma’s plea agreement with prosecutors also says he will “provide more detailed facts relating to this case during debriefings with Government representatives,” and submit to polygraph examinations.

“The defendant understands and agrees that his cooperation obligation represents a lifetime commitment by the defendant to the United States to cooperate as described in this agreement,” the court document said.

«Рахую не дні, а роки»: у Запоріжжі вийшли на підтримку полонених оборонців Маріуполя

«Наші захисники, Маріупольський гарнізон до останнього боролися. Вони виконали свій обов’язок. Зараз наш обов’язок – боротися за їхню свободу»

US, Chinese defense chiefs to meet following Taiwan tension

Washington — U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will meet his Chinese counterpart, the Pentagon announced Friday, after Beijing carried out war games around Taiwan in a sign to the U.S.-backed democracy’s new leader.

The Pentagon said that Austin would meet Chinese Admiral Dong Jun when they attend the May 31-June 2 Shangri-La Dialogue, an annual gathering of defense officials around the world.

China this week encircled Taiwan with warships and fighter jets in a test of its ability to seize the island, which it claims. The drills followed the inauguration of President Lai Ching-te, who has vowed to safeguard self-ruling Taiwan’s democracy.

Austin’s meeting with Dong had been widely expected since they spoke by telephone in April, in what were the first substantive talks between the two powers’ defense chiefs in nearly 18 months.

President Joe Biden’s administration and China have been stepping up communication to ease friction, with Secretary of State Antony Blinken visiting Beijing and Shanghai last month.

But defense talks had lagged behind until Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to a resumption of military dialogue during a summit with Biden in California in November.

Austin will also travel next week to Cambodia for talks with defense ministers of the Southeast Asian bloc ASEAN and end his trip in France, where he will join President Joe Biden in commemorations of the 80th anniversary of D-Day.

The trip was announced even though Austin late Friday handed over duties for about two-and-a-half hours to his deputy, Kathleen Hicks, due to his latest medical procedure.

Austin is a key figure in Western efforts to support Ukraine against a Russian offensive.

He “underwent a successful, elective, and minimally invasive follow-up non-surgical procedure” related to a previously reported bladder issue at the Walter Reed military hospital in Washington, Pentagon spokesman Major General Pat Ryder said.

During the procedure, Hicks served as acting secretary of defense, and Austin “resumed his functions and duties” as defense secretary later Friday evening and returned home, Ryder said.

The transparency comes after a furor when Austin vanished from public view for cancer treatment in December and again in January when he suffered complications.

A spotlight-shunning retired general, Austin, 70, said later that he was a “pretty private guy” and did not want to burden others with his problems.

But Biden’s Republican rivals went on the attack after it was revealed that Austin did not inform the chain of command.

Austin widely informed the government and public when he returned to the hospital in February for the bladder issue connected with Friday’s procedure.

Понад 2 тисячі дітей в Україні вважаються зниклими безвісти внаслідок агресії Росії – Лубінець

Проблему посилюють «незаконні депортації, викрадення дітей росіянами, хаос, що коїться на тимчасово окупованих територіях», заявив омбудсмен

5 things to know about the US Memorial Day holiday

NORFOLK, Virginia — Memorial Day is supposed to be about mourning the nation’s fallen service members, but it’s come to anchor the unofficial start of summer and a long weekend of discounts on anything from mattresses to lawn mowers. 

But for people such as Manuel Castaneda Jr., the day is very personal. He lost his father, a U.S. Marine who served in Vietnam, in an accident in 1966 in California while his father was training other Marines. 

“It isn’t just the specials. It isn’t just the barbecue,” Castaneda told The Associated Press in a discussion about Memorial Day last year. 

Castaneda also served in the Marines and Army National Guard, from which he knew men who died in combat. But he tries not to judge others who spend the holiday differently: “How can I expect them to understand the depth of what I feel when they haven’t experienced anything like that?” 

  1. Why is Memorial Day celebrated? 

It’s a day of reflection and remembrance of those who died while serving in the U.S. military, according to the Congressional Research Service. The holiday is observed in part by the National Moment of Remembrance, which encourages all Americans to pause at 3 p.m. for a moment of silence. 

  1. What are the origins of Memorial Day? 

The holiday stems from the American Civil War, which killed more than 600,000 service members — both Union and Confederate — between 1861 and 1865. 

There’s little controversy over the first national observance of what was then called Decoration Day. It occurred May 30, 1868, after an organization of Union veterans called for decorating war graves with flowers, which were in bloom. 

The practice was already widespread on a local level. Waterloo, New York, began a formal observance on May 5, 1866, and was later proclaimed to be the holiday’s birthplace. 

Yet Boalsburg, Pennsylvania, traced its first observance to October 1864, according to the Library of Congress. And women in some Confederate states were decorating graves before the war’s end. 

David Blight, a Yale history professor, points to May 1, 1865, when as many as 10,000 people, many of them Black, held a parade, heard speeches and dedicated the graves of Union dead in Charleston, South Carolina. 

A total of 267 Union troops had died at a Confederate prison and were buried in a mass grave. After the war, members of Black churches buried them in individual graves. 

“What happened in Charleston does have the right to claim to be first, if that matters,” Blight told The Associated Press in 2011. 

In 2021, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel cited the story in a Memorial Day speech in Hudson, Ohio. The ceremony’s organizers turned off his microphone because they said it wasn’t relevant to honoring the city’s veterans. The event’s organizers later resigned. 

  1. Has Memorial Day always been a source of contention? 

Someone has always lamented the holiday’s drift from its original meaning. 

As early as 1869, The New York Times wrote that the holiday could become “sacrilegious” and no longer “sacred” if it focuses more on pomp, dinners and oratory. 

In 1871, abolitionist Frederick Douglass feared Americans were forgetting the Civil War’s impetus — enslavement — when he gave a Decoration Day speech at Arlington National Cemetery. 

“We must never forget that the loyal soldiers who rest beneath this sod flung themselves between the nation and the nation’s destroyers,” Douglass said. 

His concerns were well-founded, said Ben Railton, a professor of English and American studies at Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts. Even though roughly 180,000 Black men served in the Union Army, the holiday in many communities would essentially become “white Memorial Day,” especially after the rise of the Jim Crow South, Railton told the AP in 2023. 

Meanwhile, how the day was spent — at least by the nation’s elected officials — could draw scrutiny for years after the Civil War. In the 1880s, then-President Grover Cleveland was said to have gone fishing — and “people were appalled,” Matthew Dennis, an emeritus history professor at the University of Oregon, told the AP last year. 

By 1911, the Indianapolis 500 held its inaugural race on May 30, drawing 85,000 spectators. A report from The Associated Press made no mention of the holiday — or any controversy. 

  1. How has Memorial Day changed? 

Dennis said Memorial Day’s potency diminished somewhat with the addition of Armistice Day, which marked World War I’s end on Nov. 11, 1918. Armistice Day became a national holiday by 1938 and was renamed Veterans Day in 1954. 

An act of Congress changed Memorial Day from every May 30th to the last Monday in May in 1971. Dennis said the creation of the three-day weekend recognized that Memorial Day had long been transformed into a more generic remembrance of the dead, as well as a day of leisure. 

In 1972, Time magazine said the holiday had become “a three-day nationwide hootenanny that seems to have lost much of its original purpose.” 

  1. Why is Memorial Day tied to sales and travel? 

Even in the 19th century, grave ceremonies were followed by leisure activities such as picnicking and foot races, Dennis said. 

The holiday also evolved alongside baseball and the automobile, the five-day work week and summer vacation, according to the 2002 book “A History of Memorial Day: Unity, Discord and the Pursuit of Happiness.” 

In the mid-20th century, a small number of businesses began to open defiantly on the holiday. 

Once the holiday moved to Monday, “the traditional barriers against doing business began to crumble,” authors Richard Harmond and Thomas Curran wrote. 

These days, Memorial Day sales and traveling are deeply woven into the nation’s muscle memory. 

Jason Redman, a retired Navy SEAL who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, told the AP last year that he honors the friends he’s lost. Thirty names are tattooed on his arm “for every guy that I personally knew that died.” 

He wants Americans to remember the fallen — but also to enjoy themselves, knowing lives were sacrificed to forge the holiday.

Despite Biden’s ICC rejection, US sometimes sides with court

white house — The Biden administration denounced an International Criminal Court announcement this week that it is pursuing arrest warrants for Israeli and Hamas leaders over alleged war crimes during Israel’s military campaign in Gaza and the militant group’s October 7 attack on Israel.  

“We made our position clear on the ICC,” President Joe Biden said Thursday. “We don’t recognize their jurisdiction, the way it’s been exercised, and it’s that simple. We don’t think there’s an equivalence between what Israel did and what Hamas did.” 

International law experts say that the relationship between the U.S. and ICC has never been simple. 

The ICC was established in 1998 by the Rome Statute and tasked with prosecuting individuals responsible for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. It was signed by the U.S. in December 2000, by U.S. lead negotiator David Scheffer. 

The U.S., fearing that Americans would be vulnerable to prosecution abroad, never ratified the treaty. 

More than 120 countries have ratified it, making them member states. 

The ICC has jurisdiction over atrocity crimes committed by citizens of member states, or committed in member states, or in nonmember states that grant it jurisdiction. It also has jurisdiction over crimes committed in nonmember states that are referred to it by the U.N. Security Council. 

The U.S. maintains that the ICC has no jurisdiction over citizens of non-ICC states. Israel is not an ICC member; therefore, the Biden administration said, the court has no right to issue arrest warrants for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant. 

Stephen Rademaker, former chief counsel of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs and assistant secretary of state in the George W. Bush administration, agrees.

“The fundamental principle undergirding all treaty-based international law is the principle of consent,” he told VOA.  

Under the U.S. argument, which Scheffer calls the “immunity interpretation,” the same standards should apply to all non-ICC states.  

However, various U.S. administrations have supported some ICC investigations. 

The George W. Bush administration supported the ICC’s 2002 investigations into allegations of atrocities committed in the Darfur region of Sudan. The Obama administration supported the ICC’s case in Libya in 2011, which accused the government of Moammar Gadhafi of war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

Sudan and Libya were non-ICC states, but under the Rome Statute, the U.N. Security Council had the authority to refer those cases to the ICC for investigation, Rademaker said.

The ICC began its investigations of Russian officials for alleged atrocities in Ukraine in 2023, and of Israeli officials and Hamas leaders this month. Russia and Israel are non-ICC states, and neither investigation was authorized by the U.N. Security Council, Rademaker said.

“So the U.N. Charter cannot be cited as a basis of consent by them to action by the ICC,” he said.

However, while it rejected the ICC’s case against Israeli officials, the Biden administration supported the ICC’s investigations of Russian suspects. Biden has used the word “genocide” to describe Russian atrocities in Ukraine and has described Russian President Vladimir Putin as a war criminal who should be put on trial. 

When asked to explain the distinction, White House national security spokesman John Kirby said that Putin’s war aim was “to kill innocent Ukrainian people.”  

“He’s deliberately targeting civilian infrastructure with the aim of killing innocent civilians, and it’s just baked into his operational strategy,” Kirby told reporters Monday. “As we have said before, that is not what the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] is doing.” 

Hypocrisy alleged

Critics say this difference in the Biden administration’s posture amounts to hypocrisy.  

“There is an obvious inconsistency,” said Adil Haque, a law professor at Rutgers University who writes on international law and the ethics of armed combat. 

“It is hard to get around,” he told VOA. “And it’s easier to see when you contrast it with European countries which are allies of Israel but also parties to the ICC statute,” he said, referring to Germany, which said it would execute the arrest warrant on German soil despite disagreeing with the decision. 

While the contradiction is apparent under the Biden administration, selective U.S. engagement with the ICC began decades ago. 

In 2002, George W. Bush signed into law the American Servicemembers’ Protection Act, which authorizes the U.S. president to use “all means necessary and appropriate to bring about the release of any U.S. or allied personnel being detained or imprisoned by, on behalf of, or at the request of the International Criminal Court.”  

The Obama administration rejected the ICC’s preliminary examinations of the war in Afghanistan, including into alleged atrocity crimes committed by the Taliban, Islamic State group and U.S. coalition forces. It also opposed the court as it began pursuing war crimes charges against Israeli officials. 

While the Bush and Obama administrations would apply a case-by-case approach to the ICC, under the Trump administration, U.S. “hostility hit its apex,” said Kip Hale, an attorney specializing in atrocity crimes accountability. He said ICC investigations into Afghanistan and “Israel-Palestine” prompted the Trump administration to level sanctions against then-ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and one of her senior staff and to threaten other ICC staff and their families with visa bans and other punitive actions. 

In the case of investigating Russian atrocities in Ukraine, the Biden administration changed provisions under the American Servicemembers’ Protection Act and the Foreign Relations Authorization Act of 2001 to allow for information sharing, funding and other types of support for the ICC, Hale told VOA.  

“Unfortunately, the criteria is who are your allies and who are your rivals,” he said, adding that geopolitical expediency often dictates the behavior of all states, not just the U.S. 

ICC judges are now reviewing evidence presented by ICC prosecutor Karim Khan, who made the decision to pursue arrest warrants with the advice of a panel of international legal experts that included prominent human rights lawyer Amal Clooney. 

“We unanimously conclude that there are reasonable grounds to believe that Hamas leaders Yahya Sinwar, Mohammed Deif and Ismail Haniyeh have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, including hostage-taking, murder and crimes of sexual violence,” Clooney said in a statement. 

“We unanimously conclude that there are reasonable grounds to believe that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity including starvation as a method of warfare, murder, persecution and extermination.” 

Netanyahu called the ICC’s move against him and his defense minister absurd and said that he rejected “with disgust” the comparison between Israel and Hamas. 

ICJ decision on Rafah 

On Friday, the United Nations’ top court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), ordered Israel to immediately halt its military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, as part of proceedings against Israel brought by South Africa in December.  

Israel doesn’t accept the ICJ’s jurisdiction and is unlikely to comply with the order. It maintains that its military campaign is a “defensive and just war” to eliminate Hamas and to secure the release of hostages and that it is “consistent with its moral values and in compliance with international law.” 

The ICJ was established by the U.N. Charter to settle disputes between states and advise the U.N. on legal matters. It does not have jurisdiction to try individuals. 

While the ICJ’s legal jurisdiction is separate from that of the ICC, Friday’s ICJ decision can impact the ICC’s proceedings, said Oona Hathaway, professor of international law at Yale Law School and member of the Advisory Committee on International Law for the Legal Adviser at the U.S. Department of State. 

“ICJ can’t enforce its orders, that’s true. But it doesn’t mean that there aren’t going to be consequences,” Hathaway told VOA. “If we see Israel refuse to abide by the decision of the International Court of Justice, you could very well see future charges in the International Criminal Court criminal charges,” she said.  

This could include the ICC prosecutor expanding his request for arrest warrants against Israeli leaders to include charges of genocide, she said. 

Hathaway added that other consequences might include states withdrawing their military, financial and diplomatic support for Israel’s war effort, which could further complicate the Biden administration’s effort to continue backing its ally.

Margaret Besheer and Natasha Mozgovaya contributed to this report.

Allies prepare to mark D-Day’s 80th anniversary in shadow of Ukraine war  

Carentan-les-Marais, France — Agnes Scelle grew up listening to her parents’ stories about life in occupied France, living near the Normandy town of Carentan-les-Marais. She heard of the knife pushed up against her father’s throat for trying to block a strategic river, of how German soldiers held her mother at gunpoint.

“They were very afraid,” said Scelle, a former postal worker and village mayor, who still lives in her family’s ancestral home. “Even when the American soldiers had landed, they didn’t know what was going on because there were bombings.”

As Normandy prepares for the 80th anniversary of the Allied landings on June 6, locals like Scelle are focusing on another war, as Russia gains ground in Ukraine.

“The war is at Europe’s doorstep, so of course we’re afraid,” Scelle said. “We need to stick together, the Americans and the European Union, in case we see another conflict on our soil.”

That message is expected to resonate next month, as onetime D-Day allies gather to mark the 80th anniversary of landings on Omaha Beach, roughly 30 km from Carentan-les-Marais. But the celebrations come as some Europeans worry that decades-old transatlantic ties may unravel, along with a U.S. commitment to Kyiv.

The war in Ukraine is shaping this latest D-Day commemoration in other ways. Host France has invited Russia to the official ceremonies, but not Russian President Vladimir Putin. Even including Moscow has reportedly sparked tensions on the part of other WWII allies.

“I can’t say what the solution is for this commemoration,” said Denis Peschanski, a World War II historian at the Sorbonne University in Paris. “What’s certain is we refuse to deny the fundamental contribution of the Soviet army in the liberation. We would never have had a successful landing in Normandy if there hadn’t been 180 German divisions that were blocked on the eastern front’’ by Soviet soldiers.

Like other towns across Normandy, Carentan-les-Marais — known to locals as Carentan — has a full schedule of D-Day events running before and well after official ceremonies. Among them: a parachute drop in period clothes, a parade of World War II military vehicles, and an opportunity to meet Ukrainian war veterans and view a phalanx of donated ambulances bound for Ukraine’s battlefields.

There’s also the wedding of 100-year-old U.S. World War II veteran Harold Terens to 94-year-old Jeanne Swerlin. Carentan’s mayor, Jean-Pierre Lhonneur, will officiate at the ceremony.

“If you come here for the 80th anniversary, you’ll see we almost live in an American state,” said Carentan’s deputy mayor, Sebastien Lesne. “There will be many American flags flying from windows here to celebrate the peace we got back — and especially to say thank you to the veterans who are coming back this year, and who return every year.”

Price of freedom

A strategic crossroad, cut through by highways, waterways and a railway, Carentan saw a pitched six-day battle before American forces defeated the town’s German occupiers on June 12, 1944.

Scelle still remembers her parents’ accounts of German occupation. Troops lived in her home in the village of Baupte, a few kilometers from Carentan. “It was a regular army,” as opposed to Nazi troops, she said. “If you were nice to them, things went well.”

But when her father threw stones into the village river to try to block German passage, the soldiers threatened him with a knife. After the D-Day landings, they demanded of her mother at gunpoint that she disclose the location of arriving U.S. soldiers. Her family fled their home under falling bombs and found it ransacked when they finally returned.

Roughly 20,000 French civilians died during the nearly three-month Battle of Normandy — along with about 73,000 Allied forces and up to 9,000 or so Germans. Overall, Normandy lost many more of its citizens during its liberation than during the entire German occupation.

“My village didn’t have a lot of deaths, but people wouldn’t have been bitter anyway,” Scelle said. “For them, it was the price to pay for freedom.”

Today, Scelle is helping out other war survivors. Since Russia invaded Ukraine two years ago, dozens of Ukrainian refugees have arrived in Carentan and surrounding villages. Many have since returned to their homeland. But Ukrainian student Kateryna Vorontsova, 19, and her family remain and count among those Scelle has helped to settle in and learn French.

“I would like to stay in France,” said Vorontsova, although she wants to eventually return to her homeland in peace. “I like the weather, the landscape, the culture.”

Of D-Day, she added, “it’s important to remember the landings. They’re our common history.”

Ukraine ties

Carentan has other ties to Ukraine. Donated ambulances line a field next to the D-Day Experience Museum, just outside Carentan. Some are funded by U.S. donors, others by European entities like the government of Madrid. Just after the D-Day anniversary, volunteers will drive them more than 2,000 km to Ukraine.

“According to doctors I’ve talked to in Ukraine, every ambulance saves an average of 250 lives a month,” said Brock Bierman, president of Ukraine Focus, a nongovernmental group based in Washington and Ukraine, which is spearheading the effort. He is in Carentan organizing the convoy’s departure.

“Our volunteer drivers have delivered them literally to the front lines … in Bakhmut and Kherson, in Odesa and Mykolaiv,” he added, naming towns in Ukraine. “There’s a lot of work to get this done, and we couldn’t do it without an alliance of people from all over Europe and the United States.”

A former senior official with the U.S. Agency for International Development during the Trump administration, Bierman strongly backs U.S. aid for Ukraine, including the $60 billion finally passed by Congress in April. Uncertainty about whether those funds would be approved lingers and is among issues feeding doubts in Europe about long-term U.S. commitment to Ukraine and — if Donald Trump returns to office — to the NATO transatlantic alliance.

Bierman believes the costs will be high if Washington does not stand by Kyiv.

“If we fail to support Ukraine’s independence, what we could be looking at is a longer-term conflict in the next decade — which could involve boots on the ground and possible American lives lost,” he said.

At Carentan’s town hall, Deputy Mayor Lesne believes the Normandy landings offer lessons for today.

“I think the most important message is in two words: to remember,” he said. “Not to forget what happened, so it won’t be repeated. Millions of people died in the Second World War — we can’t have that happen again.”

Trump to take center stage at another party’s nominating convention

The two major U.S. political parties — the Democrats and the Republicans — will hold their presidential nominating conventions this summer amid spectacle and media saturation. Less attention is being paid to another gathering, one that will nominate its candidate Saturday. VOA’s chief national correspondent Steve Herman is in Washington with the Libertarian Party’s story.