A former CIA case officer with 13 years at the agency pleaded guilty this week to conspiracy to commit espionage, admitting that he delivered, from his base in Hong Kong, internal intelligence documents to Chinese agents in exchange for long-term cash.
Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 54, the Justice Department announced on Wednesday, admitted in U.S. District Court in Eastern Virginia that he had communicated, delivered and transmitted “national defense information to the People’s Republic of China.”
Lee, who worked at CIA from 1994-2007, had met, beginning in April 2010, two Chinese intelligence officers who offered to pay him for defense information acquired on his old job and were prepared to give him $100,000 and to take care of him “for life.” From May 2010 into 2011, the Chinese agents sent him “taskings,” or requests for secret defense information. Lee received a first installment of some $17,468 placed directly into his personal bank account in Hong Kong. By December 2013, he had received hundreds of thousands more, Justice said.
Lee was arrested by the FBI in Virginia in January 2018.
“This is the third case in less than a year in which a former U.S. intelligence officer has pled or been found guilty of conspiring with Chinese intelligence services to pass them national defense information,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers said. “Every one of these cases is a tragic betrayal of country and colleagues.”
U.S. Attorney G. Zachary Terwilliger added, “Instead of embracing that responsibility and honoring his commitment to not disclose national defense information, Lee sold out his country, conspired to become a spy for a foreign government, and then repeatedly lied to investigators about his conduct. This prosecution should serve as a warning to others who would compromise our nation’s secrets and betray our country’s trust.”
To commit his espionage, the announcement said, Lee created a document on his laptop that contained locations on which the CIA would assign officers “with certain identified experience, as well as the particular location and timeframe of a sensitive CIA operation.” The information–classified at the secret level—was then transferred to a thumb drive for delivery.
The FBI conducted its first court-ordered search of Lee’s hotel room in Honolulu, where agents found the thumb drive containing digital clues to his hidden notes and information such as the locations of cover facilities and CIA employee phone numbers.
In interviews with Lee by the CIA and FBI beginning in 2012, it was later shown, he failed to disclose the Chinese taskings. Then in May 2013, he acknowledged them but claimed he had kept no written records. He falsely denied, the announcement said, that he had created the incriminating document and transferred it to a thumb drive.
The interviewers also confronted Lee with the sensitive document discovered on the thumb drive. Lee falsely denied that he possessed it and claimed not to know who created it. He continued to deny wrongdoing when shown a photocopy of the front covers of his day planner and address book in his own handwriting. He finally admitted to accepting the taskings from the Chinese, but as late as January 2018 was still denying that he kept any work-related notes at home.
Having pleaded guilty this week, he will be sentenced on Aug. 23, and faces a maximum penalty of life in prison.
By Charles S. Clark,