In Brief

Christie’s Employee and Former CIA Officer Is Accused of Betraying Informants in China [UPDATED]

Jerry Chun Shing Lee, who was arrested as he arrived at New York’s JFK airport on January 15, had been working as the head of security at Christie’s Hong Kong auction house.

A 2014 sale at Christie's Hong Kong auction house, where former CIA officer Jerry Chun Shing Lee was head of security. (photo by manhhai/Flickr)
A 2014 sale at Christie’s Hong Kong auction house, where former CIA officer Jerry Chun Shing Lee was head of security. (photo by manhhai/Flickr)

Jerry Chun Shing Lee, the former CIA officer who was arrested on Monday for allegedly helping China pick apart the US’s spy operations there, has been working as the head of security for Christie’s Hong Kong auction house. According to reports in the South China Morning Post and the Wall Street Journal, it is unclear when Lee started working at the auction house’s main Asian salesroom. An unnamed source cited by the WSJ confirmed that he had been suspended by Christie’s in light of the ongoing criminal investigation.

Lee, who appeared in federal court in Brooklyn yesterday, is suspected of sharing the identities of CIA informants with Chinese authorities and helping them to neutralize the US spy network in China, the New York Times reported. The information he provided would have been instrumental in the collapse, beginning in 2010, of the CIA’s surveillance operations in China, which resulted in the killing or imprisonment of more than a dozen informants. For now, Lee has been charged with unlawful retention of national defense information, according to CNN, and could be sentenced to up to 10 years in prison if convicted.

Lee began working as a CIA case officer in 1994, and left the agency in 2007. He benefited from Top Secret clearance throughout his time with the agency. In 2012, FBI agents searched his hotel rooms in Virginia and Hawaii, finding an address book and a datebook that contained classified information. The affidavit outlining the charges against Lee describes the contents of his books in some detail:

The datebook contained handwritten information pertaining to, but not limited to, operational notes from asset meetings, operational meeting locations, operational phone numbers, true names of assets, and covert facilities. The address book contained approximately twenty-one pages. The address book contained true names and phone numbers of assets and covert CIA employees, as well as the addresses of CIA facilities.

It’s unclear why the FBI didn’t arrest Lee at the time the notebooks were discovered in 2012.

When Lee began working for Christie’s or what the extent of his role at its Hong Kong facility was remain unknown. “We can confirm we have suspended an employee pending a criminal investigation,” said a spokesperson for Christie’s, according to the WSJ. “The allegations predate his employment with the company. Due to the ongoing nature of the investigation we have no additional comments.”

According to the New York Times, the losses suffered by US intelligence agents and interests in China since 2010 — in part, allegedly, due to information provided by Lee — were as severe as the most high-profile leaks by CIA and FBI agents to the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

Update, 1/17/2018, 5:30pm: A Christie’s spokesperson told Hyperallergic that the auction house has “suspended a Hong Kong employee pending a criminal investigation,” though the spokesperson would not confirm the employee’s identity.

“This employee, who has been with the company for the last 20 months, was focused on physical security for Christie’s facilities and staff,” the spokesperson added. “His role was not linked to data security or IT functions at the company. The allegations significantly pre-date his employment with the company. Christie’s has no involvement in this matter, and has no additional comment on the ongoing investigation.”

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