May 1 (UPI) -- A former CIA agent pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiring to spy for China though there is no evidence to show that he shared information with the Asian nation, the Department of Justice said.
Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a 13-year veteran of the CIA who was long suspected of espionage, was charged in 2018 with conspiring to communicate, deliver and transmit national defense information to the People's Republic of China.
"Lee sold out his country, conspired to become a spy for a foreign government and then repeatedly lied to investigators about his conduct," U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia G. Zachary Terwilliger said in a statement. "This prosecution should serve as a warning to others who would compromise our nation's secrets and betray our country's trust."
Lee, whose trial was set for this week, faces up to life in prison, though sentencing for federal crimes is typically less than the maximin penalty, the United States Attorney's Office of the Eastern District of Virginia said.
Court documents show that Lee, 54, began residing in Hong Kong after leaving the CIA in 2007 and was approached by two Chinese intelligence officers there in April 2010 for national defense information. The Chinese agents "prepared for him a gift of $100,000 cash, and they offered to take care of him 'for life' in exchange for his cooperation."
From May of that year through to at least May 2011, Lee received "taskings," or requests for information, from the Chinese agents.
"The majority of the taskings asked Lee to reveal sensitive information about the CIA, including national defense information," the attorney's office said.
That month, Lee created a document containing U.S. national defense information that he transferred to a thumb drive.
In August 2012, a court-ordered FBI search of a hotel room in Honolulu, Hawaii, registered to Lee produced the thumb drive and a day planner that contained handwritten notes that included intelligence provided by CIA assets, true names of assets, meeting locations and phone numbers as well as information on covert facilities, the attorney's office said.
The FBI also uncovered hundreds of thousands of dollars transferred to his personal HSBC account from May 2010 to December 2013.
During interviews with agents, he repeatedly lied about his finances and the information he was collecting, but he eventually admitted to creating the document on the thumb drive and then deleting it.
"He told FBI agents that he had created the document in response to two taskings" from the Chinese agents, the attorney's office said.
Lee said he considered handing it over to them but never did.
His arrest was met with cheers from U.S. spies, but they doubted he would be found guilty for the collapse of the United States' asset network in China following the deaths of several CIA sources there, The Washington Post reported.
"Today, Mr. Lee accepts responsibility not only for his crimes but also for their dangerous ramifications," said FBI Assistant Director for Counterintelligence John Brown. "By knowingly aiding a foreign government, Mr. Lee put our country's national security at serious risk and also threatened the safety and personal security of innocent people, namely his former intelligence colleagues."
Assistant Attorney General John C. Demers said this is the third case of a former U.S. intelligence officer having plead guilty to spying for Chinese intelligence less than a year.
"Every one of these cases is a tragic betrayal of country and colleagues," he said. "The National Security Division will continue to prosecute individuals like Lee who abuse their former access to classified information for financial gain while threatening the security of America."
Lee was to be sentenced Aug. 23.