When he came to Las Vegas in 2007 to recruit Army Reserve soldiers for a unit destined for Afghanistan, Lt. Col. Ben Bishop 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 said.
Bishop was hoping to find about 60 citizen-soldiers to join the 650th Regional Support Group. The understaffed unit had just moved to Taylor Hall on East Sahara Avenue after a command reorganization sent Bishop and six others here from Salt Lake City.
The role of the unit, which would later deploy to Afghanistan in 2010, was to supply war-fighters at combat outposts.
“It’s not as sexy as Rangers or aviation,” he told the Review-Journal at the time. “If you’re looking for high-speed Rambo stuff, we’re not it.”
While his duty as the unit’s executive officer wasn’t “sexy” or filled with “Rambo stuff,” the now 59-year-old Special Forces reservist switched gears when he began working as a defense contractor in Honolulu.
That’s where federal law enforcement officials say he began sharing secret plans about nuclear weapons and missile defense radars in the Pacific with his lover, a 27-year-old woman from China who was living in Hawaii on a student visa.
On March 13, FBI agents, who had been watching the couple from afar and using electronic surveillance to intercept emails and listen to their telephone calls, arrested Benjamin Pierce Bishop. He’s 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.
A federal judge in Honolulu on Friday said he wants to hear more arguments before deciding whether Bishop should be released on bail while awaiting trial, and set another hearing for Monday.
Bishop’s clearance gave him access to high-level defense plans at the U.S. Pacific Command, which is tasked with providing U.S. military security for the entire Pacific region. Officials haven’t disclosed the name of the contractor employing him.
According to an affidavit from FBI Special Agent Scott Freeman, Bishop shared some of those plans with his girlfriend, identified only as “Person 1” in court papers that led to his arrest.
Freeman found that Bishop had been involved “in an intimate, romantic relationship” with the woman since June 2011, when Bishop was working at a Pacific Command office that develops plans to deter potential U.S. adversaries. Bishop hid that relationship from government officials, in violation of Defense Department regulations that require him to report that contact.
A covert search of Bishop’s brown, split-level home on Makakilo Drive in Kapolei, Hawaii, in November 2012 found 12 documents marked “secret.”
He is accused of ”orally communicating national defense information” about deployment of U.S. early warning radar systems in the Pacific rim for detecting short- and medium-range ballistic missiles of foreign governments.
Freeman’s affidavit also said that Bishop had met Person 1 at a conference on international military issues. 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,” the affidavit said.
After they became romantically involved, Bishop told her in a Sept. 2, 2012, phone call about the “planned deployment of U.S. strategic nuclear systems.”
The affidavit stated that Person 1 “on multiple occasions” told Bishop she didn’t want him to discuss classified information with her.
“Nevertheless, Person 1 continued over time to question Bishop on matters related to the subject matter of his work. Additionally, despite Bishop’s representations to Person 1, he continued to disclose classified information to her after representing that he would not,” the affidavit reads.
Finally, on Feb. 5, she requested his help on some research. “She asked for him to advise her regarding what western nations know about the operation of a particular naval asset of the People’s Republic of China,” a subject that was outside the scope of Bishop’s regular work assignments, the affidavit reads, adding that he “acted on her request.”
In another instance, in February 2012, Bishop requested to take leave to go to the United Kingdom to visit Person 1.
“On the form, Bishop changed the name of Person 1 by slightly changing her given name to a masculine form of the same name and by adding a letter to the surname … thereby obscuring the gender and identity,” the affidavit stated.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact reporter Keith Rogers at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0308.