U.S. Attorney Florence Nakakuni speaks March 18 at a news conference in Honolulu to announce authorities have charged a U.S. Pacific Command defense contractor with giving defense secrets to a Chinese woman he was romantically involved with. Benjamin Pierce Bishop, 59, allegedly sent the 27-year-old woman an email last May with information on existing war plans, nuclear weapons and U.S. relations with international partners, according to a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Honolulu. (Audrey McAvoy / AP)
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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.
The affidavit alleges Bishop told the woman several months later about 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.
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.
A criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Honolulu states that Bishop gave information to the woman — a Chinese national — after meeting her at a conference on international military defense issues in Hawaii.
The identity and whereabouts of the woman were not released. Authorities also did not say when the conference took place.
The FBI declined further comment on Tuesday.
Bishop also has experience working as a special operations planner at the U.S. Joint Forces Command, his profile says.
Bishop is now a Special Forces lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, according to his Army biography, which lists several honors including the Defense Meritorious Service Medal.
Bishop’s court-appointed 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.
The woman was in the U.S. on a J-1 visa granted to people in work- and study-based exchange programs. It was not clear what institution she attended.
It’s also not known which defense contractor employs Bishop.
Bishop is accused of hiding the relationship from the government, even though his position and security clearance require him to report contact with foreign nationals.
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.
The woman asked Bishop last month what western countries knew about “the operation of a particular naval asset of People’s Republic of China,” the complaint said, 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 complaint said.
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.
Neighbor Bart DaSilva said Bishop lived alone and was initially friendly when he moved in about three years ago. Bishop once brought a woman and a girl to the home of DaSilva and said they were his wife and daughter from Thailand, the neighbor said.
DaSilva said he never saw Bishop with other visitors as his neighbor increasingly began to keep to himself.
“I kind of felt, what did we do?” DaSilva said. “It was almost like he switched off.”
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.
Associated Press writer Oskar Garcia contributed from Kapolei, Hawaii.