Ex-CIA officer sentenced to 19 years in prison for conspiracy to commit espionage

“Lee betrayed his own country for greed and put his former colleagues at risk.”

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After pleading guilty to conspiring to communicate, deliver, and transmit national defense information to the People’s Republic of China, a former CIA case officer was recently sentenced to 19 years in federal prison. Within less than a year, three former U.S. intelligence officers have been convicted of conspiring with Chinese intelligence services to pass them national defense information.

In 2007, Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a naturalized U.S. citizen who was born in Hong Kong and grew up in Hawaii, left the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and began residing in Hong Kong after working as an overseas case officer since 1994. In April 2010, two Chinese intelligence officers approached Lee and offered to pay him in exchange for national defense information that he had acquired as a CIA case officer.  

The Chinese intelligence officers offered Lee $100,000 in cash and promised to take care of him “for life” in exchange for his cooperation. On May 14, 2010, Lee received a cash deposit of $138,000 HKD (approximately $17,468 in USD) into his personal bank account in Hong Kong.

Tasked with revealing sensitive information about the CIA, including national defense information, Lee received more than $840,000 in cash deposits into his personal HSBC account from May 2010 through December 2013. On May 26, 2010, Lee created a document on his laptop computer describing classified CIA operations and later transferred the file from his laptop to a thumb drive.

In August 2012, Lee and his family left Hong Kong to return to the United States to live in northern Virginia. While traveling back to the U.S., Lee and his family had hotel stays in Hawaii and Virginia.  

During each of the hotel stays, FBI agents conducted court-authorized searches of Lee’s room and luggage, and found that Lee was in unauthorized possession of two small books containing handwritten notes that contained classified information, including but not limited to, true names and phone numbers of assets and covert CIA employees, operational notes from asset meetings, operational meeting locations, and locations of covert facilities. Between 2010 to 2012, more than a dozen Chinese citizens secretly cooperating with the CIA were reportedly arrested and either jailed or executed by the Chinese government.

Lee repeatedly lied during separate interviews with the CIA and the FBI regarding the thumb drive and specific requests made by the Chinese intelligence officers. In a January 2018 interview with the FBI, Lee falsely denied that he ever kept any work-related notes at home. 

On January 15, 2018, Lee was arrested on charges of unlawful retention of national defense information after arriving at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York. In May 2018, the former CIA officer was indicted by a federal grand jury with one count of conspiracy to gather or deliver national defense information to aid a foreign government and two counts of unlawfully retaining documents related to U.S. national defense.

On May 1, 2019, Lee pleaded guilty to conspiring to communicate, deliver, and transmit national defense information to the People’s Republic of China. On Friday, he was sentenced to 19 years in federal prison.

“As I stated at the time of the defendant’s admission of guilt, those Americans entrusted with our government’s most closely held secrets have a tremendous responsibility to safeguard that information,” said G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. “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.”

“Mr. Lee served as a CIA officer and was entrusted with extremely sensitive national security information, and he broke that trust with no regard for the consequences,” stated John Brown, Assistant Director of Counterintelligence for the FBI. “His actions aided a foreign government, hurt our national security, and jeopardized the safety of his former intelligence colleagues.”

“Lee betrayed his own country for greed and put his former colleagues at risk,” asserted Timothy Slater, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office. “The FBI and our partners will continue to aggressively pursue those who put our nation’s security in danger to benefit our adversaries.”

“In just over a year, we have convicted three Americans for committing espionage offenses on behalf of the Chinese government. Each has now received a sentence of at least a decade,” noted Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Demers. “Sadly, all three of them are former members of the U.S. Intelligence Community.”

On September 24, former Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) officer Ron Rockwell Hansen was sentenced to 10 years in federal prison after pleading guilty to attempting to communicate, deliver, or transmit information involving the national defense of the United States to the People’s Republic of China.

On May 17, a former U.S. intelligence official named Kevin Patrick Mallory, who worked as both a former covert case officer for the CIA and as an intelligence officer for the DIA, was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison followed by five years of supervised release after being convicted under the Espionage Act for conspiracy to transmit national defense information to an agent of the People’s Republic of China.

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