Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a former CIA officer was arrested on January 15th, at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on charges of unlawful retention of national defence information. He has had flown down from Hong Kong. Lee made an initial court appearance on January 16th in the Eastern District of New York.
Jerry Chun Shing Lee
Jerry Chun Lee served in the US Army from 1982-86. He began his CIA career in 1994 as a case officer trained in covert communications, surveillance detection, recruitment, and the handling and payment of assets (agents or informants), among other duties. He was given top secret clearance and signed several non-disclosure agreements.
When Lee left the CIA in 2007, those who knew him said he left the agency disgruntled after his career plateaued. Lee remained in Hong Kong and only returned to America in 2012 to live in Northern Virginia, the court documents say - according to one report lured by a fake job offer.
He worked for the CIA between 1994 and 2007, when he left for Hong Kong.
2010: Information gathered by the US from sources deep inside the Chinese government bureaucracy start to dry up
2011: Informants begin to disappear. It is not clear whether the CIA has been hacked or whether a mole has helped the Chinese to identify agents
2012: FBI begins investigation
May 2014: Five Chinese army officers are charged with stealing trade secrets and internal documents from US companies. Later that same month, China says it has been a main target for US spies
2015: CIA withdraws staff from the US embassy in Beijing, fearing data stolen from government computers could expose its agents
April 2017: Beijing offers hefty cash rewards for information on foreign spies
May 2017: Four former CIA officials tell the New York Times that up to 20 CIA informants were killed or imprisoned by the Chinese between 2010 and 2012
June 2017: Former US diplomatic officer Kevin Mallory is arrested and charged with giving top-secret documents to a Chinese agent
January 2018: Former CIA officer Jerry Chun Shing Lee is arrested
The justice department says that Lee, 53, has been charged "with unlawful retention of national defence information and faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, if convicted".
He has not been charged with espionage, which can carry the death penalty - with some reports suggesting the US may not want to reveal secret information in court or that the FBI has struggled to gather the quality of evidence required to make a case for such a charge.
The court documents make no mention of any covert link between Lee and the Chinese state, but sources close to the investigation say this is the suspicion. He appeared in front of Brooklyn federal court on Tuesday after being arrested at JFK. He is being held there while awaiting transfer to Virginia, where a federal court has brought the charges against him.
Detained CIA agent Jerry Chun Shing Lee went from being an operative in the world’s top spy agency to investigating counterfeit cigarettes in Hong Kong. Lee worked for Japan Tobacco International after he left the CIA in 2007. Suspicions have been raised that Lee might have played a key role in Beijing’s dismantling of the American spy network in China, although he is not facing any charges related to such allegations. The New York Times reported that some investigators believed Lee had left the CIA discontented after his career plateaued, and begun spying for China. Although Lee did not hold the job with Japan Tobacco International for long, he did not seem to have run into financial problems. The security source said he had “quite a lot of money in his hand”.
Our assessment is that China may have compromised the methods that the CIA uses to communicate with overseas informants. We believe that Jerry Chun Shing Lee may have played a key part in the disappearance of 18 –20 key CIA sources that went silent from 2010 to 2012. This is considered one of the biggest failures of the CIA in recent years after the loss of top agents in the Camp Chapman attack against a CIA base near Khost in December 2009.