A former CIA officer believed to have helped China dismantle a US spy network in the country and identify informants who were later killed or imprisoned was arrested Monday at John F. Kennedy International Airport, according to multiple reports.
Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a 13-year veteran of the spy agency, was charged with unlawful retention of national defense information and faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted, the Justice Department said Tuesday.
Lee was not charged with espionage but the arrest, The New York Times reported, capped an investigation dating back to 2012, two years after the CIA began losing its informants in China. Over a dozen informants were killed or imprisoned in the period by the Chinese government, a devastating and confounding setback for the agency, the Times reported.
Court documents describe two notebooks, a datebook and an address book, that investigators discovered in FBI searches of hotel rooms Lee stayed in in 2012, wrapped in a “small, clear plastic travel pack” inside his luggage.
Handwritten in their pages were the names and phone numbers of CIA assets and undercover officers, as well as the addresses of covert facilities and operational notes – pieces of secret and top secret information “the disclosure of which could cause exceptionally grave damage to the National Security of the United States,” the government wrote.
The CIA declined to comment beyond the information publicly released on the arrest.
Lee, 53, made an initial court appearance in Brooklyn on Tuesday and did not enter a plea, the Justice Department said. A public defender who represented him at the proceeding declined to comment Wednesday.
A trained CIA case officer, Lee maintained a top secret security clearance from 1994 through 2007, when he left the agency, court documents say.
Lee, a naturalized US citizen currently living in Hong Kong, was in the process of moving to northern Virginia from Hong Kong when the FBI conducted the hotel room searches in August 2012. Lee and his family lived in northern Virginia until June 2013, court documents say.
Monday, when Lee was arrested in New York, was his first time back in the country since he moved in 2013, a person familiar with the case said.