“The disclosure [of this information] could have caused exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States.”
Anonymous FBI investigator
“Some former officials who reviewed the evidence described the case against Mr. Lee as strong but circumstantial, not bulletproof. Some at the C.I.A. argued that officials were too quick to suspect a mole — especially a Chinese-American — when there were other explanations.”
New York Times
January 19 2018 — A former Central Intelligence Agency officer was arrested at JFK airport on Monday night (January 15 2018 ). According to the charges, Lee illegally retained highly classified information. Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today
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UPDATE (January 19 2019) — Jerry Chun Shing Lee Case — A former CIA officer who is believed to have helped China identify and kill members of the US spy network in the country — pleaded not guilty on May 18 2018 in a Virginia federal court on charges of conspiracy to commit espionage and unlawful retention of classified information.
RELATED POST: Former CIA Jerry Lee Case — Why the Disinformation?
Judge T. S. Ellis III set a trial date for Jerry Chun Shing Lee for February 12, 2019.
END of UPDATE
Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a U.S. citizen who was living in Hong Kong, used to maintain a top-secret clearance and began working for the CIA in 1994. He was held at JFK airport on Monday (Jan 16 2018) as he arrived in the US from Hong Kong.
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).
Lee has not been charged with espionage but for “unlawful retention of national defence information.” The former CIA officer faces a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison, if convicted.
“One government official said there was no plan at the moment to charge Mr. Lee with espionage, handing over American secrets to the Chinese or anything beyond the one felony count of illegally possessing classified information. That would leave open the mystery of how China managed to unravel the C.I.A.’s web of informants.” [NYT]
The case is thought to be linked to the crippling of the agency’s spy operation in China. Between 2010 and 2012, some 20 CIA informants in China had been killed or jailed. In 2012 the FBI began investigating the disappearance of CIA agents in China.
But keep in mind that Lee is NOT charged with treason or espionage. We have been ‘there’ before… In the 1990s, Brian J. Kelly — a CIA officer — was wrongly suspected by the F.B.I. of being a Russian spy. FBI agent Robert Hanssen was later apprehended and convicted of spying against the United States. Kelley was then exonerated and eventually received the Distinguished Career Intelligence Medal for his service.
And, as noted by the NYT, “the Justice Department’s efforts to unearth Chinese spies have suffered embarrassing setbacks, including dropped charges against prominent Chinese-Americans.”
Other Possible Explanations
China may have cracked the C.I.A.’s system for communicating with its informants.
The agency has encountered similar problems in other countries. Some investigators believed the technology is/was too clunky to stand up to China’s sophisticated computer specialists.
CIA officials in Beijing may have been sloppy.
They could have been allowing themselves to be identified when meeting with their informants.
And of course, a combination of these — and other — factors could account for the damage.
Jerry Chun Shing Lee — Short Bio
Jerry Chun Shing Lee (53-year-old) is a US citizen (Naturalization)
1982-86 –Lee serves in the US Army
1992 — Graduation (International business management) at Hawaii Pacific University
1993 — Lee receives a master’s degree in human resource management
1994 to 2007 — Officer in the CIA
2007 — Lee lives and works in Hong Kong
August of 2012 — Lee traveled with his family back to the US
Summer of 2013 — Lee returns to Hong Kong with his family
January 15 2018 — arrested at JFK
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 the 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 15 2018: Former CIA officer Jerry Chun Shing Lee is arrested
Fox News senior judicial analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano
Ex-CIA officer suspected of spying for China