Former CIA agent Jerry Chun Shing Lee faced an additional charge when he appeared in federal court May 19: conspiracy to commit espionage.
He pleaded not guilty to that, as well as to two counts of illegal retention of classified information, which he was charged with at the time of his arrest on Jan. 15. His trial is scheduled to begin in February 2019.
Government officials suspect that Lee, 53, gave the Chinese information that led to the deaths of “at least a dozen” sources the CIA worked with in China, and the imprisonment of another half-dozen or more between 2010 and 2012, The New York Times reported in 2017.
Court papers do not specify that Lee’s actions are directly responsible for those deaths, according to The Washington Post.
Prosecutors have linked Lee’s illegal activity to his failed business dealings as a possible reason why he might have turned over sensitive information in exchange for payment.
He worked at a Japanese tobacco company in Hong Kong after leaving the CIA, but was fired after two years, prosecutors said. He founded his own company to import cigarettes to China, but the business didn’t do well. He sold his stake in the company in 2011.
In 2010, Lee’s company was struggling when he met with Chinese intelligence officers who gave him $100,000 “in exchange for his cooperation,” with the promise that “they would take care of him for life,” according to the indictment.
Future correspondence from the intelligence officers requested sensitive information about the CIA and national defense, and some of the requests were accompanied by gifts.
In 2012, the FBI got Lee, who was living in Hong Kong at the time, to return to the U.S. “with a fake offer for a new job at the CIA,” the Post reported. They searched his luggage and discovered a thumb drive containing answers to questions previously asked by the Chinese intelligence officials. They also located handwritten notebooks in which Lee had recorded top-secret information, and a phone number and email address given to him by the Chinese operatives.
Lee was born in Hong Kong but it a U.S. citizen who grew up in Hawaii and served five years in the Army. Lee went to work for the CIA as a case officer in 1994, according to the Department of Justice. He held a top secret clearance, which was terminated when he ended his employment with the CIA in 2007.
His primary mission as a case officer was to recruit spies, according to the South China Morning Post.
If convicted, Lee could face life in prison.
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