Ex-CIA agent, suspected of spying for China, is arrested in US ‘with top-secret notes’

Hong Kong resident Jerry Chun Shing Lee is accused of illicitly carrying notebooks listing the names of CIA spies and helping China identify informants

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 January, 2018, 8:06am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 January, 2018, 5:57pm

A former Central Intelligence Agency officer who now lives in Hong Kong was arrested at a US airport on Monday night in connection with charges that he illegally retained highly classified information, the US Justice Department said Tuesday.

Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a US citizen, used to maintain a top-secret clearance and began working for the CIA in 1994.

The Justice Department said that in 2012, FBI agents searched his hotel rooms during trips to Virginia and Hawaii. They discovered he had two small books containing handwritten information on details such as the true names and numbers of spy recruits and covert CIA employees.

The New York Times reported that the Justice Department suspected Lee “of helping China identify the agency’s informants”.

He was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

The case is being prosecuted by the US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. But Lee made his first court appearance on Tuesday before a federal magistrate judge in Brooklyn. The judge ordered Lee held without bail.

A federal public defender who represented Lee at Tuesday’s hearing declined to comment.

According to an affidavit filed by an FBI agent, Lee, 53, served in the US Army from 1982 through 1986 and worked for the CIA from 1994 through 2007.

The FBI affidavit to support the arrest of Jerry Chun Shing Lee

The FBI agent wrote that Lee and his family left Hong Kong in August 2012 to travel to northern Virginia. Along the way, they stayed in hotels where the FBI found the books.

The small books were discovered inside Lee’s luggage, sealed in a small clear plastic travel pack.

The handwritten information inside ranged in terms of classification, but the agent said at least one page contained top secret information, “the disclosure of which could cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States.”

Was Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife Wendi Deng spying for the Chinese?

The agent also noted that classified cables Lee wrote while he was a case officer describing his interactions with CIA assets were reflected in the two books.

Lee was interviewed by the FBI five separate times in 2013 and never disclosed he had the books. He also met with former CIA colleagues around that time without returning the materials to the government, the Justice Department said.

CIA spy-killing claims ‘show China’s strength in counter-espionage’

The New York Times reported last year that starting in 2010, to the end of 2012, China had killed “at least a dozen” sources the CIA had inside China and imprisoned six or more others.

A hunt for a “mole” in the agency led to one person, a “former operative” now living elsewhere in Asia, the Times said. But there was not enough information to arrest him.

But others in the agency blamed sloppy work and not a mole, the Times added.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse