It is the tale of international espionage and an ‘atomic romance’ that exploded in the face of the U.S. nuclear establishment.
This week the FBI made the startling revelation that a defence contractor working with the government in Hawaii had leaked confidential information on U.S. nuclear weapons to a Chinese woman who he was romantically linked to.
Pressing charges against Benjamin Pierce Bishop, the FBI said in a formal statement that he had passed on to a Chinese national resident in the U.S. on a visa classified information pertaining to nuclear weapons and the planned deployment of U.S. strategic nuclear systems; on the ability of the U.S. 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.
Indicating that no contacts, not even amorous relationships, could be hidden where classified information was concerned, the authorities noted that despite Bishop possessing high-level security clearance, his failure to report his connection with “foreign persons,” was being taken seriously, and he had “affirmatively hidden his relationship with Person 1 from U.S. government officials,” according to a court affidavit.
According to the affidavit, Bishop and the Chinese woman originally met in Hawaii during a conference regarding international military defence issues. It was not clear whether their subsequent romantic relationship entailed active demands for confidential information by the woman, or indeed whether she had any links to a foreign government known to be involved in other instances of nuclear espionage.
What appeared to be proven in this case, however, was that the defence contractor had also secreted classified documents away to his personal residence, and a search of its premises in November 2012 led to the discovery of “12 individual documents each with classification markings at the secret level.” Bishop’s residence was not an authorised location for the storage of classified information, and he was not authorised to remove and retain those documents, the FBI noted.
While he has not yet faced trial, this incident comes close on the heels of several such high-profile cases of Chinese nationals suspected of engaging in espionage to procure nuclear components, some with links to Pakistan too.