Ex-CIA officer indicted as Chinese spy

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(Photo by: Jacquelyn Martin) “They continue their malign activities across the region” said Defense Secretary James N. Mattis during a Senate hearing on Wednesday about Iran. (Associated Press)

 

A federal grand jury in Virginia has indicted former CIA operations officer Jerry Chun Shing Lee for conspiracy to spy for China, in a case that has been under investigation for more than six years.

Federal officials say the case represents one of the most damaging spy cases in the CIA’s checkered history of losing recruited agents to foreign spy services.

Mr. Lee is believed by American intelligence and law enforcement officials to be the cause of the agency losing a large number of its recruited agents in China around 2010. The agency and FBI spent the next eight years trying to find out the source of the losses.

The rolling up of the CIA’s informant network in China follows similar losses of most recruited CIA agents in the Soviet Union and Russia as the result of spying by CIA turncoat Aldrich Ames and the FBI spy for the Russians, former Special Agent Robert Hanssen, during the 1980s and 1990s.

In addition to the compromise of Soviet and Russian agents, the CIA also lost agents in Eastern Europe during the Cold War and later in Cuba as the result of foreign spy penetrations.

In the Lee case, the indictment revealed that FBI agents traced two notebooks to Mr. Lee that contained handwritten notes with 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.”

Mr. Lee was charged with conspiracy to commit espionage and illegally retaining classified documents. If convicted, he faces life in prison.

According to the indictment, Mr. Lee lived in Hong Kong after retiring from CIA in 2007. In 2010, he was recruited by two Chinese Ministry of State Security (MSS) intelligence officers, who offered him cash in exchange for providing CIA secrets.

The indictment states the ex-CIA officer “had access to the identities of covert CIA officers; the identities of clandestine human sources; details of sensitive intelligence collection operations and methods; details of CIA clandestine training; and details of clandestine tradecraft the agency employs to avoid detection by hostile foreign intelligence services.”

The Chinese intelligence officers gave Mr. Lee $100,000 during their first meeting and then sent numerous “taskings” — intelligence collection orders — to him during the spy operation.

After the first meeting with the Chinese, Mr. Lee reported the spy pitch from the MSS, but kept secret the $100,000 cash payment.

Through 2013, Mr. Lee made “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in deposits in a Hong Kong bank the indictment suggests were payments for spying.

In addition to information on recruited agents, Mr. Lee provided the Chinese with details about CIA operations and facilities, according to the indictment.

Mr. Lee also tried to rejoin the CIA in 2012 and hid his travel to China in the prior two years from CIA interviewers. He also falsified his bank records to hide the MSS payments, according to the indictment.

U.S. counterintelligence agents conducted a search of Mr. Lee’s hotel room in Honolulu in August 2012 and discovered a notebook containing top-secret CIA information, including the names of “operational assets” — recruited CIA agents.

During an interview with FBI agents in January, the 53-year-old Mr. Lee denied keeping the notebook and other secret information found in the hotel room. The Justice Department announced the indictment Tuesday.

“Espionage is a serious crime that can expose our country to grave danger,” said FBI Assistant Director in Charge Nancy McNamara. “The FBI will continue to aggressively pursue all allegations of espionage.”

Said Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers: “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.”

Full article: Ex-CIA officer indicted as Chinese spy (Washington Times)

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