HONOLULU — A federal judge denied bail Monday to a civilian defense contractor accused of giving military secrets to a Chinese girlfriend half his age. The judge ruled the suspect poses a danger to national security.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Richard Puglisi ordered Benjamin P. Bishop, 59, to remain in custody while he awaits trial.
Puglisi cited a declaration made to the court by the U.S. Pacific Command’s chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Anthony Crutchfield, in making his decision.
The judge said Crutchfield made the case that Bishop would be able to recall substantial amounts of classified information from memory and could divulge classified information that could harm national security.
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.
Bishop has ties to Las Vegas, where he relocated from Salt Lake City in 2007 to recruit Army Reserve soldiers for the 650th Regional Support Group, a newly reorganized unit that deployed to Afghanistan in 2010.
As its executive officer, he said he wanted “folks to step back from their little world and see the bigger picture of what’s going on.”
“The country is at war,” he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2007.
As an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel, he moved to Hawaii in 2009 for duty with the U.S. Pacific Command.
In June 2011, he began “an intimate, romantic relationship” with a 27-year-old woman from China, who was living in Hawaii on a student visa, said a federal investigator in the espionage case.
In court documents Monday, the prosecution said she is a graduate student and Bishop was having an extramarital affair with her.
State documents in Utah show Bishop was married until last year.
Bishop met the Chinese woman at a conference on international military issues, and she “may have been at the conference in order to target individuals such as Bishop who work with and have access to U.S. classified information,” according to an affidavit from FBI Special Agent Scott Freeman.
Last May, Bishop began working as a defense contractor for the U.S. Pacific Command in Honolulu. According to Freeman’s investigation, that is when Bishop began sharing secret plans about nuclear weapons and missile defense radars in the Pacific with his girlfriend.
FBI agents arrested Bishop on March 15.
Freeman’s affidavit said that on Feb. 5, Bishop’s girlfriend requested Bishop’s help “regarding what western nations know about the operation of a particular naval asset of the People’s Republic of China,” Freeman’s affidavit reads, noting that Bishop “acted on her request.”
Puglisi had asked prosecutors to explain how Bishop, if released on bail, might disclose military secrets when he has been fired from his contractor’s position and no longer has access to classified information.
The prosecution responded with a declaration from Crutchfield that outlined Bishop’s work in cyber defense, a position he held from May 2011 until his arrest, and his previous job helping develop Pacific Command strategy and policy.
In a previous position that Bishop held from May 2010 to April 2012, he also had access to “top secret” information on the command’s efforts to defend against a ballistic missile attack from North Korea, Crutchfield said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ken Sorenson argued in documents submitted Monday that there were no conditions that could assure Bishop won’t divulge classified information if he is released on bail.
“Nothing short of the security of the Pacific, and U.S. forces in the Pacific, are placed at risk by the nature of the information known to this defendant,” the prosecutor said.
Sorenson said Bishop has shown he can’t be trusted in part because he violated security oaths by failing to tell the government about his contact with the woman, a foreign national.
Bishop’s attorney, Birney Bervar, said he was frustrated by the ruling. He said his client is considering appealing. “He’s being detained without bail based upon what’s in his mind, based upon his knowledge and what he knows,” Bervar said. “There’s no authority, case law, statutory or otherwise, to lock people up because of what they know, what’s in their mind.”
Review-Journal writer Keith Rogers contributed to this report.