On Wednesday, a former Central Intelligence Agency officer admitted to conspiring to spy for the Chinese government in federal court.
Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 54, was an officer in the CIA from 1994 to 2007, reports The New York Times. Lee is a naturalized American citizen and U.S. Army veteran who grew up in Hawaii but later moved to Hong Kong after leaving the CIA.
Between 2010 and 2012, the CIA’s informant network in China collapsed, which some speculate may have been a result of Lee providing names to the Chinese. According to BBC, 20 informants were killed or jailed during that time. The FBI reportedly found Lee’s notebooks that had the names of CIA assets, operational meeting locations, phone numbers, and information about covert facilities.
While in Hong Kong, Lee started a cigarette import business with a man that had ties to Hong Kong intelligence. Lee later met with Chinese intelligence and reported the meeting to the CIA without mentioning he had been offered $100,000 to disclose sensitive information. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were deposited into Lee’s bank between 2010 and 2013, according to the BBC.
Lee moved back to the U.S. in 2012 after the CIA made him a fake offer to return to the CIA, The Washington Post reports. During that same year, Lee failed to disclose all the details of his meetings with Chinese intelligence while being interviewed by the CIA.
Lee’s formal charge is conspiracy to deliver national defense information to aid a foreign government.
According to John Brown, the FBI’s assistant director for counterintelligence, Lee put the country’s national security at risk.
“By knowingly aiding a foreign government, Mr. Lee put our country’s national security at serious risk and also threatened the safety and personal security of innocent people, namely his former intelligence colleagues,” Brown said.
“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, reports NPR.
In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors dropped two charges related to retaining classified information.
Lee’s lawyer, Edward B. MacMahon Jr., maintains that although Lee pleaded guilty to conspiring to provide information, “There is no allegation that Mr. Lee delivered any information to the Chinese.” McMahon also stressed that “there was never any claim that Mr.Lee was responsible for getting anyone killed.”
Lee is expected to be sentenced at the end of August and could face life in prison. Prosecutors, however, plan to seek a sentence of 17 to 27 years, reports the Times.
In February, a former Air Force intelligence officer was charged with espionage for defecting to Iran and giving information about her former colleagues, The Daily Wire reported:
CBS News reports that Witt is accused of defecting to Iran in 2013 and sharing highly-classified U.S. intelligence about a classified Department of Defense program. Authorities claim Witt collaborated with the elite Iranian military unit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.
The FBI’s wanted listing says that Witt was indicted by a grand jury on February 8, and charged with “Conspiracy to Deliver National Defense Information to Representatives of a Foreign Government and Delivering National Defense Information to Representatives of a Foreign Government.”
“Monica Witt is charged with revealing to the Iranian regime a highly classified intelligence program and the identity of a U.S. Intelligence Officer, all in violation of the law, her solemn oath to protect and defend our country, and the bounds of human decency,” assistant attorney general John Demers wrote in a statement.
Witt, 39, had high-level security clearances and was in the Air Force from 1997 to 2008, then became a Defense Department contractor until 2010. She also reportedly went abroad several times on counterintelligence missions.