WASHINGTON • A former CIA officer suspected by investigators of helping China dismantle United States spying operations and identify informants has been arrested, the Justice Department has said.
Jerry Lee Chun Shing, 53, was arrested at a JFK International Airport in New York on Monday night and accused of keeping notebooks filled with detailed information about undercover agents and assets after he left his job.
The collapse of the spy network in China was one of the US government's worst intelligence failures in recent years.
The Department of Justice said on Tuesday that Lee grew up in the US and served in the US Army before joining the Central Intelligence Agency as a case officer in 1994.
He served in unnamed overseas locations and left the agency in 2007, later apparently taking a job in Hong Kong. Those who knew him said he left the agency disgruntled after his career plateaued.
He appeared in Brooklyn federal court on Tuesday and is being held there while awaiting transfer to Virginia. He does not have a lawyer, a Justice Department official said.
In a complaint filed in a New York federal court, the Justice Department said that in 2012, FBI agents with court-ordered warrants secretly searched Lee's luggage while he was travelling in the US and found he was carrying top secret materials he was not authorised to have.
"Agents found 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," the Justice Department said.
Lee was charged with unlawful retention of national defence information, a charge that can bring up to 10 years in prison.
Officials did not say why it took so long to bring charges against Lee, or whether he had leaked any materials to foreign countries.
Lee was interviewed by FBI agents on five separate occasions in or around May and June 2013, according to the affidavit. He also maintained contact with former CIA colleagues and other government employees.
At no point did he reveal the existence of the notebooks. He left the US again in June 2013, according to the affidavit.
Since then, returning Lee to the US has been a top priority for the CIA, said people familiar with the matter. He was living in Hong Kong before his arrest.
Asked about the case at a regular press briefing in Beijing yesterday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said: "I'm not aware of the information you've mentioned."
NYTIMES, WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE