Published: Thu, January 18, 2018
Global Media | By Garry Long

Ex-CIA officer suspected of spying for China

Ex-CIA officer suspected of spying for China

The suspected betrayal of USA informants in China by a former CIA officer is "one of the biggest losses and intelligence failures in modern history", a former counterintelligence official told NBC News.

A former Central Intelligence Agency officer who was charged Tuesday with unlawful possession of secrets is suspected of a much worse crime: betraying USA informants in China, sources familiar with the case told NBC News.

According to reports, Lee's Monday arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport wasn't the first time that he had come back to U.S. soil.

The third arrest in one year of a USA official suspected of helping Chinese spies has bared the tense battle between the two superpowers' intelligence agencies.

While at the CIA, Lee held several overseas positions and was trained in "methods of covert communications, surveillance detection, recruitment of assets, handling of assets, payment of assets, operational security, and documenting, handling and securing classified information".

The government alleges the books contained Secret and Top Secret information "the disclosure of which could cause exceptionally grave damage to the United States". The judge ordered that Lee should be held in custody without bail. It is unclear why Lee was not arrested when investigators first searched his belongings and found the books in 2012.

The FBI was watching in August 2012 when Lee returned to the United States with his family.

The FBI could have arrested him on the spot for possessing classified information. He does not have a lawyer, an official said.

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"Apparently, he operated here in Hong Kong very discreetly and not many people knew him", said former police superintendent Clement Lai Ka-chi, who had a brief encounter with Jerry Chun Shing Lee in the past.

Lee faces 10 years in prison if convicted of the charges.

The former U.S. counter-espionage official said that while there was substantial proof of Lee's complicity in aiding China, U.S. officials worked aggressively for years to gather enough evidence for prosecution, but found Lee to be a very savvy and hard target given his extensive training in counter-spy defensive maneuvers.

The ex-officer's arrest left open the question of what Lee, 53, was planning to do with the sensitive information.

At the CIA, top officials ruefully remembered the treatment of Brian J. Kelly, an agency officer who in the 1990s was wrongly suspected by the Federal Bureau of Investigation of being a Russian spy.

"[Lee] has not been charged with espionage, which can carry the death penalty - with some reports suggesting the US may not want to reveal secret information in court or that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has struggled to gather the quality of evidence required to make a case for such a charge", the BBC stated.

Asked about the case at a regular press briefing in Beijing Wednesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said: "I'm not aware of the information you've mentioned".

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