A former CIA case officer has been charged with illegally possessing government secrets.
Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 53, was arrested Monday night at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport and stands charged with unlawful retention of classified information.
After learning that Lee was returning the U.S., the FBI obtained an arrest warrant. Lee entered the country on Monday at JFK Airport, arriving at 12:13 p.m. on Cathay Pacific flight 830 from Hong Kong, according to an affidavit. Upon deplaning, Lee presented his U.S. passport to a customs officer.
FBI case agent Kellie O’Brien was watching him as he cleared customs. She approached him, visually confirming he was the man the FBI was looking for. She called his name and he responded.
Later that day, according to the affidavit, she placed him under arrest. O’Brien told the court Lee “poses a serious flight risk.”
Court records state Lee works for “Cristys (sic) International Auction House.”
In response to questions about Lee, a Christie’s spokesperson said in a statement that the company has “suspended a Hong Kong employee pending a criminal investigation.” The employee, the spokesperson said, worked for the company for the last 20 months “focused on physical security for Christie’s facilities and staff,” and was not involved in data security of IT functions. The statement went on to say that the “allegations significantly pre-date his employment with the company” and “Christie’s has no involvement in this matter, and has no additional comment on the ongoing investigation.
While Lee was entering the country from Hong Kong Monday night when he was arrested, newly unsealed court documents reveal the FBI has been investigating him for years, at least as far back as 2012.
According to an affidavit filed in federal court in the Eastern District of Virginia, in August 2012, FBI agents were watching Lee while he was in Honolulu, Hawaii on a layover while on a trip from Hong Kong to northern Virginia. Armed with a court-authorized search warrant, agents searched his room and photographed items in Lee’s possession.
As Lee’s trip continued to northern Virginia, FBI agents again searched his hotel room, photographing pages in a date book and an address book they found in Lee’s luggage. Both items had been with him in Hawaii as well.
The government alleges the books contained Secret and Top Secret information “the disclosure of which could cause exceptionally grave damage to the United States.”
The information, according to court records, included operational notes from asset meetings, true names of assets, covert facility locations, names and phone numbers of assets and covert CIA employees, and addresses of CIA facilities.
Lee, 53, has been living in Hong Kong and is employed overseas. He is a naturalized U.S. citizen and served in the U.S. Army from 1982 to 1986. He began working fro the CIA in 1994 as a case officer trained in covert communications, surveillance detection, recruitment and handling of assets, and maintained a Top Secret security clearance until he left government service in 2007.
A financial affidavit states Lee earns $128,000 per year. He gets rental income from a home he owns in Virginia. He is married and has two adult children, ages 18 and 22.
Lee was interviewed by the FBI on five occasions in 2013, but was apparently at some point allowed to leave the country. It is unclear why Lee was not arrested when investigators first searched his belongings and found the books in 2012.
The the FBI and CIA both declined to comment on the matter. It is unclear if Lee has an attorney.
Lee is not charged with spying. Lee waived his right to a preliminary hearing and his detention hearing will be held when he is transferred from New York to Alexandria, Virginia. He faces up to 10 years in prison.
Lee’s court appointed attorney declined to comment.