Ex-CIA officer Jerry Lee expected to plead guilty to spying for China

Lee was accused of preparing documents in response to Chinese requests, making several unexplained cash deposits and repeatedly lying to the FBI.
Image: A man (right, wearing blue tie) identified by local Hong Kong media as former CIA agent Jerry Chun Shing Lee
A man (right, wearing blue tie) identified by local Hong Kong media as former CIA agent Jerry Chun Shing Lee stands in front of a member of security at the unveiling of Leonardo da Vinci's 'Salvator Mundi' painting at the Christie's showroom in Hong Kong on Oct. 13, 2017.Anthony Wallace / AFP - Getty Images file

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By Tom Winter and Adiel Kaplan

Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a former CIA officer charged with conspiring to give Chinese spies highly classified information about the CIA's covert operations in China, is expected to plead guilty Wednesday, court filings show.

Lee, a 53-year-old naturalized U.S. citizen who worked for the CIA for 13 years, was arrested in New York in January 2018 after arriving on a flight from his home in Hong Kong. He was initially charged with illegally possessing classified information — two handwritten notebooks containing names and phone numbers of covert CIA employees and informants.

Lee was indicted by a federal grand jury on an additional count of espionage last May. Prosecutors said two Chinese intelligence officers offered to pay Lee for information in 2010 and that he continued to receive instructions from them until at least the following year.

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Lee will appear at a federal court in Virginia Wednesday to likely plead guilty, according to court filings. His lawyer, Edward MacMahon, declined comment when asked to provide any details on the plea agreement.

Lee was accused of preparing documents in response to the Chinese requests, making several unexplained cash deposits and repeatedly lying to the FBI when he was questioned about his actions overseas.

The investigation into Lee was part of a secret FBI–CIA task force investigating the case concluded that the Chinese government penetrated the CIA's method of clandestine communication with its spies, NBC News exclusively reported last year. The Chinese used that knowledge to arrest and execute at least 20 CIA informants, according to multiple current and former U.S. government officials.

American officials suspect China then shared that information with Russia, which employed it to expose, arrest and possibly even kill American spies in that country, said the current and former officials, who declined to be named discussing a highly sensitive matter.

After making those conclusions, the CIA temporarily shut down human spying in China and overhauled the way it communicates with its assets around the world, according to former government officials familiar with the case.

Earlier this year court filings showed that Lee had an accomplice in his alleged espionage against the U.S.

The second individual, an unindicted co-conspirator, was disclosed in an order by the judge in January. The FBI made images of the contents of seven different devices belonging to the co-conspirator on April 28, 2013, according to the order.

The imaging — a form of copying of the device data — occurred almost a year after agents found the notebooks in 2012 in a hotel room where Lee was staying. The judge's order did not indicate if the co-conspirator is a Chinese national or an American or their alleged role in the spy scheme.