Former CIA Jerry Chun Shing Lee — The Plot Thickens [UPDATE : Lee is sentenced to 19 years in prison.]

“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

Jerry Chun Shing Lee (Right in blue tie) standing in front of  “Salvator Mundi” painting, attributed to Leonardo da Vinci (April 15 1452 – May 2 1519). The painting has not been seen in public since its sale for US $450.3 million (€401 million) at auction house Christie’s in New York in November 2017.

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. UPDATE (November 23 2019) : On Friday, Jerry Lee was sentenced to 19 years in prison for conspiring to deliver classified information to China.  Follow us on Twitter: @Intel_Today

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UPDATE (November 23 2019) — In May 2019, Jerry Chun Shing Lee entered a guilty plea to the most serious of the three charges he was facing.

“I conspired to gather and send secret information to the PRC (People’s Republic of China),” Lee said when asked by Judge T.S. Ellis to describe his actions.

On Friday, Jerry Lee was sentenced to 19 years in prison for conspiring to deliver classified information to China.

Let us be fair, for once, both the NYT and the Washington Post have now posted accurate information regarding this case.

Let me repeat once more what I have tried to explain since the beginning of this affair.

There is no evidence that Lee passed classified information to Chinese intelligence officers and there is no indication that Lee is responsible for the CIA debacle in China.

“Although Mr. Lee pleaded guilty to conspiring with Chinese agents, lawyers on both sides conceded that there was no direct evidence that Mr. Lee ever provided any of the classified information in his possession to the Chinese government.” [NYT]

“Some intelligence officials still suspect Lee is responsible for the collapse of the CIA’s spy network in China, when assets began dying or defecting to the Chinese en masse. But there are some who think there may be another explanation for how the CIA’s covert communication system was breached, and law enforcement was unable to prove otherwise.” [WP]

Judge T. S. Ellis III argued that the lengthy sentence was necessary to deter others from jeopardizing American intelligence.

In May 2019, CIA officer Kevin Patrick Mallory was sentenced to 20 years in prison for selling classified documents to a Chinese intelligence officer for $25,000.

In September 2019, Ron Rockwell Hansen, a former Defense Intelligence Agency officer, received 10 years in prison for attempting to pass along defense secrets to a Chinese intelligence officer.

The US Department of Justice issued a statement on Friday: Former CIA Officer Sentenced for Conspiracy to Commit Espionage.

“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.

This prosecution and sentence should serve as a clear warning to others who are contemplating selling out to the highest bidder and capitalizing on their position of trust.

My thanks to the prosecutors, agents and our intelligence community partners for their terrific work on this important case.”  [G. Zachary Terwilliger, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia]

Last December, Judge Emmet Sullivan spoke the same words when he addressed Michael Flynn: “Arguably, you sold your country out,” Sullivan told Flynn.


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.

May 2 2019 — Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 54, entered the guilty plea to the most serious of the three charges he was facing.

November 23 2019 — Jerry Lee was sentenced to 19 years in prison for conspiring to deliver classified information to China.

UPDATE (May 2 2019) — Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 54, entered the guilty plea to the most serious of the three charges he was facing.

“I conspired to gather and send secret information to the PRC (People’s Republic of China),” Lee said when asked by Judge T.S. Ellis to describe his actions.

The plea agreement calls for a minimum sentence of about 21 years. Lee will be sentenced on August 23 2019. The charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.

Lee was a leading suspect in the CIA’s hunt for a mole, while others have suggested that the Chinese may have broken into a CIA communications system, which led them to the spies.

Lee’s attorney, Edward MacMahon said the government’s court filings never accused Lee of actually delivering information to the Chinese and did not blame him for any deaths.

“Those were stories leaked to the media,” said MacMahon.

“There’s no allegation in the indictment or the government’s statement of facts that Mr. Lee had anything to do with anybody getting killed.”

PS: I would like to point out that the BBC journalists are still reporting a false story.

“Prosecutors say the naturalised US citizen was then paid to divulge information on US covert assets.

This led China to bring down a network of informants between 2010 and 2012.” [BBC]

As I have explained since the beginning of this affair, there is no such allegation in the indictment.

Various media have jumped erroneously to that conclusion. The reason for the debacle of the CIA in China is understood to have been caused by a weak covert communication system. The CIA has never commented on this case.


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)


Former CIA Jerry Chun Shing Lee — The Plot Thickens

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

Former CIA Jerry Chun Shing Lee — The Plot Thickens [UPDATE : Lee Pleads Guilty To Spying For China]

Former CIA Jerry Chun Shing Lee — The Plot Thickens [UPDATE : Lee is sentenced to 19 years in prison.]

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