Former CIA Operative Suspected Of Disclosing Secret Information


Alexander Thorp

Anisa Persaud ’19, Editorial Columnist.

A former Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) officer, Jerry Chun Shing Lee, has been arrested on suspicion of leaking information to the Chinese government about American spy operations in China. He is suspected of helping to dismantle spy networks in China and divulging highly protected information, which was used to identify informants who were later imprisoned or killed. He was apprehended by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (F.B.I.) at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on January 15, 2018. This case has been open since 2012, when the F.B.I. began to conduct an investigation on how so many C.I.A. sources have been discovered by the Chinese. According to the Justice Department, he faces up to ten years in prison if convicted.

Lee started working for the C.I.A. in 1994 as a case officer trained in covert communications, surveillance detection, recruitment, and the handling and payment of assets, which included agents and informants. He retired from the C.I.A. in 2007 and has been living in Hong Kong ever since. Lee only traveled back to the United States once in 2012 to visit family. It was during this time that F.B.I. agents, desperate for information, searched Lee’s hotel rooms in both Hawaii and Virginia. Inside, they found two notebooks that detailed meetings between C.I.A. informants and undercover agents, along with the addresses of secret facilities and notes about certain operations. These details included the real names and phone numbers of the informants and agents. The C.I.A. have suspected this to have lead to the deaths and imprisonment of more than a dozen C.I.A. informants.

The discovery of Lee’s misconduct has been described as a ‘devastating setback’ for the C.I.A. It rivals losses suffered by the C.I.A. from the betrayals of Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen. Aldrich Ames was a C.I.A. counterintelligence analyst, who committed espionage against the United States by spying for the Soviet Union and Russia. He offered secret information to the K.G.B., the main security agency for the Soviet Union, for large sums of money. Ames compromised more C.I.A. assets than any other mole in history until Hanssen, seven years later. Hanssen’s betrayal was described as “possibly the worst intelligence disaster in U.S. history” by the Department of Justice’s Commission for the Review of FBI Security Programs. He narrowly avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty to fifteen counts of espionage, for which he was sentenced life in prison with no chance of parole.

Lee’s breach of national security has been said to be part of one of the worst United States intelligence failures in recent years. His incarceration comes after the arrest of Kevin Patrick Mallory, another former C.I.A. officer, last June for providing classified information to China, and the arrest of Candace Marie Claiborne, a State Department employee, accused of lying to investigators about her contacts with Chinese officials. Mallory was charged with making false statements to the F.B.I. and for gathering and delivering defense information to aid China. Claiborne was paid with thousands of dollars worth of gifts and money wired into her bank account in exchange for her provision of information. Various government officials are startled and concerned by this troubling pattern of Chinese intelligence targeting former C.I.A. officers, although this is an easier task than recruiting current working officers.    

Many people are curious about why and how the C.I.A. has lost so many informants in China and so many officers to the Chinese government. The agency itself has many differing opinions on the situation. Some believe a mole inside the C.I.A. has exposed its entire roster of informants, while others believe the Chinese government has hacked the C.I.A.’s communications. A number of officers believe it has been a mixture of the two with an addition of careless work ethic. The C.I.A. has declined to comment on Lee’s arrest, as shown from the lack of statement on their website.

A former Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A.) officer, Jerry Chun Shing Lee, has been arrested on suspicion of leaking information to the Chinese government about American spy operations in China.