Jerry Chin Shing Lee, a former CIA case officer, has been indicted for the unauthorized possession of classified material as well as conspiring to commit espionage, according to a Justice Department announcement on Tuesday. The 53-year-old US citizen has been accused of trading information to two Chinese intelligence officers in exchange for money while he was living in Hong Kong.
According to a report by CNN, Lee is thought to have assisted China in the dismantling of a US spy network operating in the country by identifying informants, many of whom were later killed or imprisoned.
One dozen Chinese nationals, who were working for the US, were imprisoned or executed, striking a devastating blow to US intelligence.
Lee was arrested in January on a charge of unlawful retention of defense information. At that time, he had not been charged with espionage.
He allegedly provided the information to two Chinese intelligence officers in 2010 and 2011.
In late 2011, according to a report by the Washington Post, an FBI informant in China contacted his American handlers stating that others who had helped the US were being exposed. Some were forced to work for the Chinese and others had been killed, according to the informant.
Lee was soon suspected of being a potential source of information for the Chinese.
The Justice Department announcement stated that Lee left Hong Kong in 2012, along with his family.
Government officials were surprised Lee had returned to the US, as law enforcement had been attempting to get him back into the country for several years. However, he was reportedly lured by a potential job offer.
After his return to the US, Lee made stops at hotels in Hawaii and Virginia, and ultimately settling in northern Virginia.
During his hotel stays, federal agents searched the room and discovered that Lee “was in unauthorized possession of materials related to national defense.”
Some of the materials, according to the announcement, were handwritten notes of CIA assets, including addresses of covert facilities, and details about covert employees, including their names and phone numbers. There was also a thumb drive that contained information with a secret classification.
According to prosecutors, Lee admitted to preparing information for the Chinese. However, Lee has also claimed to be innocent.
If convicted, Lee could face life in prison.