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  • Benjamin Pierce Bishop, 59, of Honolulu,  charged with passing on secrets
  • The defense contractor met younger lover at  military defense conference
  • He did not tell authorities about her as he  should have done
  • A covert search of his home in Hawaii found  documents marked ‘secret’

By  Associated Press

PUBLISHED: 13:27 EST, 20  March 2013 |  UPDATED: 14:27 EST, 20 March 2013

Bishop, who is accused of passing classified military information to a Chinese lover 32 years his junior
Bishop, who is accused of passing classified military  information to a Chinese lover 32 years his junior

U.S. officials say a 27-year-old university  student from China started a relationship with a civilian defense contractor  more than twice her age and then found out classified information on U.S.  nuclear weaponry, missile defenses and war plans.

But is she a spy?

It is clear the Justice Department believes  the woman’s boyfriend broke the law, but the criminal complaint that outlines  the charges against him never formally accuses her of any crime.

It just paints a picture of a young woman who  seems to be involved in espionage.

A Justice Department official who spoke on  condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing says the government  knows the woman’s location and is continuing to investigate her role.

Her identity and whereabouts haven’t been  released, and U.S. authorities also haven’t said publicly whether they believe  she is working for the Chinese government.

She lives in the United States as a student  on a J-1 visa, according to an affidavit the FBI filed this week by the FBI in  U.S. District Court in Honolulu.

Her boyfriend, Benjamin Bishop, a 59-year-old  civilian defense contractor who works at Pacific Command, met the woman at a  Hawaii conference on military defense issues.

US Attorney Florence Nakakuni said that Benjamin Pierce Bishop had been charged with giving defence secrets to his Chinese loverUS Attorney Florence Nakakuni said Bishop had been  charged with giving defence secrets to his Chinese lover

The counterintelligence agent  investigating  Bishop said the woman may have been at the conference  specifically to meet  people like Bishop, who work with and have access  to certain classified  information, the affidavit said.

They began an intimate, romantic  relationship in June 2011, according to the affidavit. At the time,  Bishop was  working at a Pacific Command office that develops plans to  deter potential U.S.  adversaries, according to his LinkedIn profile  online.

Bishop is scheduled to appear in  federal  court Friday for a hearing on whether he should stay in  detention while  prosecutors pursue their case.

Birney Bervar, Bishop’s attorney,  said he  planned to seek bail but wasn’t optimistic he would be  successful. Bervar  declined to discuss details of the case, saying he  had not yet spoken in depth  to his client.

A preliminary hearing is scheduled for April  1.

The affidavit says the woman told  Bishop  repeatedly she didn’t want him to tell her anything classified  but continued to  question Bishop about his work.

Bishop, on the other hand, told her he  wouldn’t give her any classified information but did so anyway, the document  said.

Bishop, a lieutenant colonel in the  U.S.  Army Reserve, is accused of telling her secrets about U.S. nuclear  weapons,  missile defenses, war plans, early warning radar systems and  other  issues.

Last month, the woman asked Bishop  what  western countries knew about a Chinese naval asset. This fell  outside the scope  of Bishop’s work but he conducted open source record  research for her and  collected and reviewed classified information on  the topic, the affidavit  said.

Bishop’s security clearance required  him to  disclose his contacts with foreign nationals, but the affidavit  says he failed  to let officials know about his relationship with the  woman.

The FBI declined further comment on Tuesday.  A Justice Department spokesman in Honolulu did not return a call seeking  comment.

Bishop was married until last year,  according to state documents in Utah. His ex-wife declined comment when  approached by The Associated Press 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.

Larry Wortzel, a member of the  U.S.-China  Economic and Security Review Commission, said China has used  sexual entrapment  as a means to gather intelligence before and the  allegations aren’t  surprising.

As an Army reserve officer and  defense  contractor, Bishop would have received security briefings on  this and  understood ‘how sex may be used for intelligence targeting,’  Wortzel  said.

Whether U.S. national security was  damaged  by any of the alleged disclosures would depend on how detailed  the information  was and whether the woman knew any of it was classified, said Carl Baker,  director of programs at Pacific Forum Center for  Strategic and International  Studies.

Information on weapons could be  harmful  because it could tell a potential enemy what U.S. weapons system can do as well  as what capabilities the adversary would need to develop to counter U.S.  capabilities, he said.

Bishop’s position wouldn’t have given him  access to specifics about weapons technology, though, Baker said.

Leaked details on military plans might also  be detrimental.

‘That’s an important part, because if you  divulge enough information about the planning process, you end up  giving  information that reveals a strategy and how you could counter  that strategy,’  Baker said.

The key issues for any trial will be Bishop’s  intent and the sophistication of the information he passed on, Baker  said.

Bishop is charged with 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.

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