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Ex-CIA Army vet pleads guilty to stealing defense secrets for China

Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a former officer for the CIA, was indicted on espionage charges this week. (CIA)
May 02, 2019

A former CIA case officer and Army veteran pleaded guilty yesterday to conspiring with Chinese intelligence services for personal gain.

Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 54, admitted to conspiring to communicate, deliver and transmit national defense information to the People’s Republic of China, the Justice Department said.

Court documents revealed that Lee served in the U.S. Army between 1982 and 1986, and later moved to Hong Kong after leaving the CIA in 2007.

In 2010, Lee was offered cash, in the amount of $100,000 and future payments, in exchange for national defense information he had attained as a CIA case officer by Chinese intelligence services

The Justice Dept. reported that from May 2010 into 2011, the Chinese intelligence services requested Lee to reveal sensitive information about the CIA, including national defense information.

On May 14, 2010, Lee made a cash deposit of $138,000 HKD (approximately $17,468 in USD) into his personal bank account in Hong Kong. But this was just the first of many deposits that would follow, the last being in Dec. 2013.

Assistant Attorney General Demers said, “This is the third case in less than a year in which a former US intelligence officer has pled or been found guilty of conspiring with Chinese intelligence services to pass them national defense information. Every one of these cases is a tragic betrayal of country and colleagues.  The National Security Division will continue to prosecute individuals like Lee who abuse their former access to classified information for financial gain while threatening the security of America.  Many thanks to the agents, analysts and prosecutors whose work led to today’s outcome.”

Lee devised a document on his computer on May 26, 2010 that detailed specific locations where CIA officers with certain qualifications were assigned, as well as the precise location and time frame of a sensitive CIA operation, which was all secret level classified information. He then transferred the sensitive information to a thumb drive.

When the FBI raided his hotel in Honolulu in Aug. 2012, the thumb drive was discovered. It was forensically imaged and the information had been deleted.

The notes included intelligence provided by CIA assets, true names of assets, operational meeting locations and phone numbers, and information about covert facilities.

During several bouts of questioning by the CIA in 2012, Lee intentionally withheld the fact that he’d received assignments from Chinese intelligence agents.

During three separate interviews in May 2013 conducted by the FBI, Lee told investigators that he received written requests from China, but opted not to keep them for fear of incrimination.

When confronted with the thumb drive, Lee claimed knew nothing about it and never deleted it.

One week later, after receiving two tasks, Lee then developed the document and saved it on a thumb drive, but maintains he never turned it over to the Chinese.

U.S. Attorney Terwilliger said, “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.”

The FBI also found a planner and an address book containing notes he wrote about his CIA case work before 2004. When he was interrogated by the FBI in Jan. 2018, he lied when he said he never kept work-related notes at his residence.

When the FBI produced photocopies of the planner and address book with his handwriting inside, he stated that he never possessed the items while traveling through Hawaii in Aug. 2012.

He then recanted his story about placing any information on the thumb drive, even though he had admitted it May 2013.

Assistant Director Brown said, “By knowingly aiding a foreign government, Mr. Lee put our country’s national security at serious risk and also threatened the safety and personal security of innocent people, namely his former intelligence colleagues.  He deserves to answer for his treachery, and he will do so as a result of the dedication of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division, the Washington Field Office, and the Department of Justice in pursuing this case.”

Senior U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III accepted Lee’s guilty plea on Wednesday. He could face a lifetime prison sentence.

Lee’s sentencing is set for Aug. 23, 2019.