HONOLULU — A retired U.S. Army lieutenant colonel and civilian contractor will spend more than seven years in federal prison after he was convicted on espionage charges.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Sorenson said Benjamin Pierce Bishop, 60, confessed to taking home top-secret government documents and sending an email to his girlfriend that included details about a classified meeting with officials from the U.S. and South Korea about existing war plans.
Bishop pleaded guilty in March to two counts, including “willfully communicating classified national defense information to a person not authorized to receive it and unlawfully retaining classified national defense information at his home.”
Bishop became romantically involved with the Chinese student in June 2011 but hid the relationship from government officials, an FBI affidavit said.
Bishop was required to disclose contact with foreign nationals but failed to do so; on a travel form he changed his girlfriend’s first name to a masculine version to disguise her gender and identity, the affidavit said.
According to a statement from the U.S. Attorney’s office, Bishop disclosed information related to joint training and planning sessions.
Bishop also admitted to keeping at his home multiple classified documents that related to the national defense, including a U.S. Armed Forces Defense Planning Guide and a classified photograph of a Chinese naval asset Bishop retrieved from classified sources based on a request from the Chinese woman.
The documents were taken from Bishop’s workplace at U.S. Pacific Command, the U.S. attorney’s office said.
If the information fell into the hands of a foreign power that country would have access to hundreds of facts about military strategies, resources, location of those resources, Sorenson said.
“It would be a treasure trove for a foreign government. And we know the foreign governments that we are involved with in the Pacific arena.”
Bishop said in court he never intended to hurt the United States and was only trying to help his girlfriend with her research.
Bishop’s attorney, Birney Bervar, blamed his client’s error in judgment on love, not espionage.
“There was no intent to harm the United States. He made an error, a serious error in judgment for the love of a woman. As one of his friends said in a letter, quoting Shakespeare, ‘He loved not wisely, but too well,’” Bervar said.
Before issuing the sentence, Judge Leslie Kobayashi said she believed Bishop had no intent to harm the United States, but he appeared to under the woman’s spell.
“This person has compromised you completely,” Kobayashi told Bishop.
Sorenson said foreign governments are sending college and graduate students to the United States to get classified and non-classified information, and the students are expected to use sexual and romantic relationships to get it.
U.S. Attorney Flo Nakakuni said this is the second major espionage case prosecuted in the District of Hawaii, and it’s particularly troubling because it involves the communication of classified information to a citizen of the People’s Republic of China.
Hawaii resident Noshir Sheriarji Gowadia was sentenced to 32 years in prison in 2011 on espionage-related charges. Sorenson was the lead prosecutor on both cases.