Former CIA Jerry Chun Shing Lee — The Plot Thickens [UPDATE]

“Some former officials who reviewed the evidence described the case against Mr. Lee as strong but circumstantial, not bulletproof. Some at the C.I.A. argued that officials were too quick to suspect a mole — especially a Chinese-American — when there were other explanations.”

New York Times

“Mr. Lee is not a Chinese spy, he’s a loyal American who served his country in the military and in the CIA.”

Edward MacMahon — Jerry Lee’s attorney

On January 15 2018, Jerry Lee — a former Central Intelligence Agency officer — was arrested at JFK airport. According to the charges, Mr. Jerry Lee illegally retained highly classified information. But the FBI suspects a bigger crime. The Bureau believes that Lee betrayed the identities of several CIA assets in China. Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today

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UPDATE (May 1 2019) — Jerry Chun Shing Lee was charged with the unlawful retention of secret information and conspiracy to deliver that information to aid a foreign government [China].

The United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia announced that a change of plea hearing is scheduled for Wednesday (May 2 2019) afternoon.

“Such a hearing signals that a defendant is expected to plead guilty. Lawyers for Mr. Lee would not comment, and it was unclear whether he would plea to lesser charges or what sentence he would face. (…)

Counterintelligence experts and intelligence officials have long been divided over the cause of the collapse of the C.I.A.’s network in China. Some officials believed that the Chinese had hacked the covert system the C.I.A. used to communicate with its foreign sources. Others believed a mole was at work, and Mr. Lee was one of the leading suspects.” [NYT]

Mr. Lee faced a maximum penalty of life in prison on the original charges against him, although federal sentences are usually short of the maximum.

Mr. Lee will undoubtedly face a far shorter sentence as a result of the plea. His lawyers would not discuss the agreement until it is made public on Wednesday (May 2 2019).

END of UPDATE

Judge T. S. Ellis III set a trial date for Jerry Chun Shing Lee for February 12, 2019. Why on earth has no one reported anything about this trial? Where is Jerry Lee? What happened to him?

Interesting details about this case emerged in November 2018, when Asia Times posted a story based on a “declassified document” from the UK National Archives regarding Barry Cheung Kam-Lun.

According to Asia Times,

“Lee’s business partner Cheung, who had been a superintendent with the former Royal Hong Kong Police Force, could have been a detainee-turned-middleman for China.

A file among documents declassified by the UK National Archives, titled “Hong Kong Residents Detained in China,” (…) Cheung was intercepted in Shenzhen across the border on June 11, 1992, and transferred to a detention center in Quanzhou in the southeastern province of Fujian, when Cheung was working for the Michigan-based private security company Pinkerton.

More than two decades later, it transpired that Cheung had been acting as Beijing’s intermediary and was heavily involved in Lee’s case since the two founded a detective agency in Hong Kong in 2009, two years after Lee ended his tenure as a CIA case officer.”

So I decided to go back and read again this article, titled “Details emerge on Hong Kong biz partner of CIA mole recruited by Beijing“.

And guess what? This article is no longer online…

A bit puzzled, I thus decided to research the file “Hong Kong Residents Detained in China”.

According to the information posted on the website of the UK National Archives, this file — Hong Kong residents detained in China | The National Archives — was classified in 1992 for a period of 70 years!

So either, Asia Times made up this story or else someone gave them a copy of that file.

For what is worth, I would rather believe that the story is true. But, obviously, the Asia Times could not have seen it legally.

Perhaps the Asia Times got a stolen/leaked copy believing it to be legally released, and later realised that they could be in trouble for using leaked classified material, and so took the article down.

In reality, the Asia Times has no reason to fear the UK authorities.

PS — When I suggested — long before it was known — that there was a link between the John Reidy’s complaint to the CIA’s internal watchdog and the CIA debacles in both Iran and China, very few people believed it.

On November 2 2018, Zach Dorfman and Jenna McLaughlin reported that this was indeed the case.

Their investigation, published by Yahoo News, was based on conversations with eleven former U.S. intelligence and government officials directly familiar with the case.

According to these current and former  intelligence officials, the CIA did indeed botch the communication system it used to interact with its sources.

This new information makes the case against Lee much weaker, but certainly no less mysterious… Stay tuned!

Jerry Chun Shing Lee — Short Bio & TIMELINE

Jerry Chun Shing Lee (about 55-year-old) — also known as Zhen Cheng Li — is a US citizen (Naturalization)

Born 1964

1982-86 –Lee serves in the US Army

1992 —  Graduation (International business management) at Hawaii Pacific University

1993 — Lee receives a master’s degree in human resource management

1994 to 2007 — Officer in the CIA. His job “was helping to recruit foreign spies to spill secrets to the United States.” Lee is trained in covert communications, surveillance detection, recruitment, and the handling and payment of assets (agents or informants). Lee is said to have left the CIA discontented after his career plateaued. At the time of his resignation, Lee was the second secretary at the US Embassy in Beijing, China.

2007 — Lee starts working on the brand integrity team at Japan Tobacco International in Hong Kong, responsible for investigating smuggling and counterfeiting of tobacco.

2009 — The company terminates his contract.

April 26 2010 — Lee meets with two Chinese intelligence officers

May 2010 — Lee reports the meeting to the CIA, but not the fact that the officers had offered him $100,000 in exchange for his help.

June 2010 — Lee decides to set up his own company to do investigations. That company, FTM International, was created in June 2010 and dissolved in September 2014.

2010: Information gathered by the US from sources deep inside the Chinese government bureaucracy start to dry up. CIA informants in China begin to disappear. In all, 18-20 in total are killed or imprisoned between 2010 and 2012

2011: It is not clear whether the CIA has been hacked or whether a mole has helped the Chinese to identify agents

2012: CIA and FBI begins the investigation. “How did the names of so many C.I.A. sources, among the agency’s most dearly held secrets, end up in Chinese hands?”

August 2012: Lee and his family travel from Hong Kong to Virginia and Hawaii. FBI agents search his hotel rooms and find “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.”  [ US DOJ release]

2013: The FBI questions Lee five times but does not arrest him. The FBI, meanwhile, continues the investigation.

Summer 2013 — Lee returns to Hong Kong with his family

June 2013 — Lee joined the cosmetics company Estée Lauder in Hong Kong, working there until September 2015.

May 2014: Five Chinese army officers are charged with stealing trade secrets and internal documents from US companies. Later that same month, China says it has been a main target for US spies

2015: CIA withdraws staff from the US embassy in Beijing, fearing data stolen from government computers could expose its agents

May 2016 — Lee is working for Christie’s auction house in Hong Kong in a security capacity

April 2017: Beijing offers hefty cash rewards for information on foreign spies

May 2017: Four former CIA officials tell the New York Times that up to 20 CIA informants were killed or imprisoned by the Chinese between 2010 and 2012

June 2017: Former US diplomatic officer Kevin Mallory is arrested and charged with giving top-secret documents to a Chinese agent

January 15 2018: Former CIA officer Jerry Chun Shing Lee is arrested

January 16 2018– Lee appears in court in New York, charged with unlawful retention of national defense information. The New York Times reports that he is the suspected mole.

REFERENCES

Ex-CIA officer arrested for retaining classified information — Reuters

Arrested ex-CIA agent was fired from tobacco firm after suspicions he was spying for China — SCMP

How the CIA’s spy network in China collapsed — AXIOS

Chine/Etats-Unis : jeux d’espions — TTU

Ex-C.I.A. Officer Indicted in Dismantling of U.S. Informant Network in China — NYT (May 8 2018)

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Former CIA Jerry Chun Shing Lee — The Plot Thickens

Former CIA Jerry Chun Shing Lee — The Plot Thickens [UPDATE]

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