Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 53, a former CIA officer and a resident of Hong Kong, was arrested Monday night after he arrived at the JFK International Airport.
Lee, who served in the CIA from 1994 to 2007 as a case officer, was charged with illegally retaining classified documents and records, including notebooks that contained names and phone numbers of covert CIA assets, and top secret information about CIA activities.
A sworn affidavit, dated Saturday, January 13, 2018, which was unsealed Tuesday, confirms that Lee is a naturalized U.S. citizen, and served in the U.S. Army from 1982 to 1986. He attended college in Hawaii, then joined the CIA in 1994.
The New York Times reported that Lee is suspected by investigators of helping China dismantle United States spying operations and identify informants. Over a dozen C.I.A. informants were killed or imprisoned by the Chinese government.
According to the affidavit, Lee and his family traveled from Hong Kong to Virginia in August 2012, with a lay-over of several days in Honolulu, Hawaii. For unknown reasons, the FBI obtained a search warrant and searched his luggage and hotel, discovering two notebooks filled with information about covert CIA employees and facilities. Searches were conducted at his hotel rooms both in Hawaii on August 13, then in Fairfax, Virginia on August 15, 2012.
The affidavit says Lee was interviewed five times by FBI agents in 2013. From August 15, 2012 through June 6, 2013, he lived in the northern Virginia area, before returning to Hong Kong.
Monday night, officials nabbed him at JFK as he was returning from Hong Kong. It remains uncertain why the FBI let him go back to Hong Kong in 2013.
He is being charged with illegal retention of documents, which carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.
The New York Times reported:
The collapse of the spy network was one of the American government’s worst intelligence failures in recent years.
The arrest of the former officer, Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 53, capped an intense F.B.I. inquiry that began around 2012, two years after the C.I.A. began losing its informants in China. Investigators confronted an enduring mystery: How did the names of so many C.I.A. sources, among the agency’s most dearly held secrets, end up in Chinese hands?
Some intelligence officials believed that a mole inside the C.I.A. was exposing its roster of informants. Others thought that the Chinese government had hacked the C.I.A.’s covert communications used to talk to foreign sources of information.
Still other former intelligence officials have also argued that the spy network might have been crippled by a combination of both, as well as sloppy tradecraft by agency officers in China. The counterintelligence investigation into how the Chinese managed to hunt down American agents was a source of friction between the C.I.A. and F.B.I.
The New York Times further reported:
The F.B.I. suspected an insider had revealed sensitive information to the Chinese government, a theory not initially embraced by the C.I.A. Mr. Lee eventually became a prime suspect in the hunt for a traitor.
Former intelligence officials said that the F.B.I. lured Mr. Lee back to the United States as part of a ruse and he was interviewed five times in May and June 2013. The authorities said he never disclosed the two books, described as an address book and a datebook, to investigators.
CLICK HERE TO SEE THE PRESS RELEASE FROM THE JUSTICE DEPARTMENT