A former CIA officer arrested last month on charges of acting as a Chinese spy made his first federal court appearance on Feb. 6 in Alexandria, Virginia.
Jerry Chun Shing Lee’s attorney said he is not a spy.
Federal agents arrested Lee, 53, on Jan. 15 and charged him with “unlawful retention of national defense information,” according to the Department of Justice. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years in prison.
He is charged with having illegal possession of classified documents, including two small books with handwritten notes of the names and numbers of covert CIA employees, as well as the locations of covert facilities. These documents were found in 2012 after the FBI obtained a warrant to search Lee’s belongings when his family traveled from Hong Kong to Virginia.
Officials suspect that Lee provided this information to the Chinese, which led to the deaths of “at least a dozen” sources the CIA had inside China, as well as the imprisonment of another six or more between 2010 and 2012, The New York Times reported in 2017.
American officials described the intelligence breach as one of the worst in decades, The Times reported.
Officials interviewed for the Times story compared the number of American sources lost in China between 2010 and 2012 to those lost in the “Soviet Union and Russia during the betrayals of Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, formerly of the CIA and the FBI, who divulged intelligence operations to Moscow for years.”
Lee, also known as Zhen Cheng Li, is a naturalized citizen who lives in Hong Kong. He began working for the CIA as a case officer in 1994, according to the DOJ press release. He held a top-secret clearance, which was terminated when he left the CIA in 2007.
As a case officer, Lee worked in several overseas offices and was trained in surveillance detection, recruiting and handling assets and handling classified material, among other duties, according to the Austin Statesman.
After leaving the CIA, Lee worked for Japan Tobacco International in Hong Kong, where he investigated counterfeit cigarettes. At the time of his arrest, he was employed as a security guard at Christie’s Auction House in Hong Kong, according to Art Daily.
Lee remains behind bars pending a preliminary hearing on March 19.
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