Indictment for ex-CIA Agent in China Espionage Scandal

CIA Scandal

While Gina Haspel, Trump’s pick for CIA director, testifies in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee confirmation hearings, one of the biggest intelligence and espionage scandals in recent memory is unfolding not far away.

NY Times:

Mr. Lee was at the center of an intensive F.B.I. and C.I.A. investigation into how the Chinese determined the identities of agency informants. The dismantling of the C.I.A.’s spy network in China was one of the worst American intelligence failures in years.

Mr. Lee joined the C.I.A. in 1994 and left in 2007, moving his family to Hong Kong. According to court documents, the F.B.I. lured Mr. Lee back to the United States in 2012 as part of a sensitive intelligence operation.

While he was in Virginia and Hawaii, agents secretly searched his belongings and found a pair of notebooks containing sensitive details about C.I.A. operations and the identities of undercover officers and informants.

The F.B.I. interviewed Mr. Lee five times but never directly asked him whether he had worked for the Chinese government. Investigators let Mr. Lee leave the country in 2013 in hopes of gathering more evidence and proving he had committed espionage.

Prosecutors said Mr. Lee made “unexplained cash deposits, and repeatedly lied to the U.S. government during voluntary interviews when asked about travel to China and his actions overseas.”

From the official DOJ press release:

The Justice Department announced today that Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 53, of Hong Kong, was indicted by a federal grand jury sitting in the Eastern District of Virginia with one count of conspiracy to gather or deliver national defense information to aid a foreign government, and two counts of unlawfully retaining documents related to the national defense.

Assistant Attorney General for National Security John C. Demers, Acting U.S. Attorney Tracy Doherty-McCormick for the Eastern District of Virginia, and Assistant Director in Charge Nancy McNamara of the FBI’s Washington Field Office announced the charges.

“When government officials violate their oath to defend our nation and protect its secrets, the National Security Division will hold them accountable,” said Assistant Attorney General Demers. “Lee, a former CIA case officer, allegedly conspired to provide information to the Chinese government about the national defense of the United States. Lee’s alleged actions betrayed the American people and his former colleagues at the CIA. We will not tolerate such threats to our country or its national security.”

“The allegations in this case are troubling,” said Acting U.S. Attorney Doherty-McCormick. “Conspiring with foreign agents poses a real and serious threat toward our national security. The United States will hold accountable those who conspire to compromise our national security.”
“Espionage is a serious crime that can expose our country to grave danger” said Assistant Director in Charge McNamara. “The FBI will continue to aggressively pursue all allegations of espionage.”

Lee is a U.S. citizen who speaks fluent Chinese. According to the indictment, Lee was a case officer for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) until 2007. After leaving the CIA, Lee resided in Hong Kong. The indictment alleges that in April 2010, two Chinese intelligence officers (IOs) approached Lee and offered to pay him for information. The indictment alleges that Lee received taskings from the IOs until at least 2011. The taskings allegedly requested that Lee provide documents and information relating to the national defense of the United States. According to the indictment, the IOs provided Lee with a series of email addresses so that he could communicate covertly with them. The indictment further alleges that Lee prepared documents responsive to the taskings, made numerous unexplained cash deposits, and repeatedly lied to the U.S. government during voluntary interviews when asked about travel to China and his actions overseas.

In August 2012, Lee and his family left Hong Kong to return to the United States to live in northern Virginia. While traveling back to the United States, Lee and his family had hotel stays in Hawaii and Virginia. During each of the hotel stays, FBI agents conducted court-authorized searches of Lee’s room and luggage, and found that Lee was in unauthorized possession of materials relating to the national defense. Specifically, agents found two books containing handwritten notes that contained classified information, including but not limited to, true names and phone numbers of assets and covert CIA employees, operational notes from asset meetings, operational meeting locations and locations of covert facilities. Agents also found a thumb drive on which was stored a document later determined to contain information classified at the Secret level. During voluntary interviews with the FBI, Lee admitted preparing the document in response to taskings from the IO.

Despite the wordiness of the charges, they are the most serious that can be brought, and a conviction on any one of them will mean life in prison. The charges stem from activity linked to the deaths or capture of over a dozen CIA operatives in China. Lee faces life in prison if convicted.

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One thought on “Indictment for ex-CIA Agent in China Espionage Scandal

  1. It definitely did seem to slip under the radar for some reason, but the news of Lee’s arrest was reported, if somewhat sparsely, shortly after that arrest in January.

    What’s also remarkable is a tidbit from this story in the NYT last May (i.e. a year ago) on how the CIA’s network in the PRC got the snot kicked out of it.

    The mole hunt eventually zeroed in on a former agency operative who had worked in the C.I.A.’s division overseeing China, believing he was most likely responsible for the crippling disclosures. But efforts to gather enough evidence to arrest him failed, and he is now living in another Asian country, current and former officials said.

    So the New York Times has a (front page) story about your biggest crime, say straight up that they can’t get to you because you’re out of the country – and you completely miss this and come back (and bring your spy books with you, also).

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