The department alleges that Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a 53-year-old former CIA case officer and US citizen, was asked to trade information for money by two Chinese intelligence officers in 2010 and 2011 while he lived in Hong Kong.
The former CIA officer is believed to have helped China dismantle a US spy network in the country and identify informants who were later killed or imprisoned. The New York Times reported in January that the imprisonment or execution of a dozen Chinese nationals working for the US was “one of the most devastating intelligence setbacks for the agency in recent decades.”
The grand jury indictment announced Tuesday came after Lee’s arrest in January, when he was charged with unlawful retention of national defense information but did not yet face a charge of espionage.
Tuesday’s announcement said Lee left Hong Kong with his family in 2012 and stopped at hotels in Hawaii and Virginia as he returned to the US to live in northern Virginia. During these hotel stays, the announcement said, federal agents searched his room and found he “was in unauthorized possession of materials related to the national defense,” including the handwritten notes of CIA covert employees and assets and a thumb drive with information classified as secret.
The Justice Department said Lee had admitted during interviews with the FBI to preparing the document containing classified information on the thumb drive for Chinese intelligence. The announcement also said Lee had “repeatedly lied” to the government during his interviews.
Lee’s charges were returned by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia.
CNN has reached out to Lee’s attorney for comment.
“Mr. Lee is not a Chinese spy,” Edward MacMahon, Lee’s attorney, told reporters during Lee’s court appearance in February. “He’s a loyal American who served his country in the military and in the CIA.”