WASHINGTON — A former C.I.A. officer suspected of helping China unravel the agency’s spy network in that country was indicted on Tuesday on a charge of conspiring to commit espionage.
The officer, Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 53, was arrested by F.B.I. agents in January after federal prosecutors accused him of illegally possessing classified information. But the new charge reflected a willingness of prosecutors to disclose sensitive details they might have been reluctant to acknowledge publicly.
According to prosecutors, two Chinese intelligence officers approached Mr. Lee in April 2010 and offered to pay him for information. The intelligence officers “provided Lee with a series of email addresses so that he could communicate covertly with them,” court papers said, and he received instructions from Chinese intelligence officers until at least 2011.
“I can’t comment on the indictment because the government hasn’t filed anything but a press release,” Mr. Lee’s lawyer, Edward MacMahon, said on Tuesday.
Mr. Lee was at the center of an intensive F.B.I. and C.I.A. investigation into how the Chinese determined the identities of agency informants. The dismantling of the C.I.A.’s spy network in China was one of the worst American intelligence failures in years.
Mr. Lee joined the C.I.A. in 1994 and left in 2007, moving his family to Hong Kong. According to court documents, the F.B.I. lured Mr. Lee back to the United States in 2012 as part of a sensitive intelligence operation.
While he was in Virginia and Hawaii, agents secretly searched his belongings and found a pair of notebooks containing sensitive details about C.I.A. operations and the identities of undercover officers and informants.
The F.B.I. interviewed Mr. Lee five times but never directly asked him whether he had worked for the Chinese government. Investigators let Mr. Lee leave the country in 2013 in hopes of gathering more evidence and proving he had committed espionage.
Prosecutors said Mr. Lee made “unexplained cash deposits, and repeatedly lied to the U.S. government during voluntary interviews when asked about travel to China and his actions overseas.”