A former CIA officer and contract linguist for the FBI has been charged with spying for China, including by disclosing secret tradecraft and information on sources to intelligence officers, according to court documents unsealed Monday.

Alexander Yuk Ching Ma was arrested last week after an undercover operation in which prosecutors say he accepted an envelope with $2,000 US in exchange for information about his past espionage activities. He told a law enforcement officer who was posing as a Chinese intelligence officer that he wanted to see the “motherland” succeed, prosecutors said.

An FBI affidavit accuses Ma, who worked for the CIA from 1982 to 1989, of revealing government secrets to five Chinese intelligence officers in a Hong Kong hotel room over a three-day period in March 2001. Those secrets included information about CIA sources, international operations, staffing practices and operational tradecraft.

“The trail of Chinese espionage is long and, sadly, strewn with former American intelligence officers who betrayed their colleagues, their country and its liberal democratic values to support an authoritarian communist regime,” Assistant Attorney John Demers, the Justice Department’s top national security official, said in a statement.

Ma remained in touch with the Chinese intelligence officers after he joined the FBI as a contract linguist in 2004, at which point he used his work computer to copy images of documents related to missiles and weapon system technology research.

He was charged in federal court in Honolulu with conspiring to gather and communicate national defence information for a foreign nation.

Ma, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Hong Kong, faces up to life in prison if convicted, and is due to make his first court appearance Tuesday.

No defence lawyer was listed on court records for him.

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