ALEXANDRIA, Va. – The lawyer for a former CIA officer accused of illegally retaining classified records is defending his client against accusations he was a Chinese spy.
Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 53, a resident of Hong Kong, made an initial appearance Tuesday in federal court in Alexandria after his arrest last month at JFK International Airport.
“Mr. Lee is not a Chinese spy,” his lawyer, Edward MacMahon, said after Tuesday’s brief court hearing. “He’s a loyal American who loves his country” and served in the military and CIA.
Lee is charged with illegally retaining classified documents, including names and numbers of covert CIA employees and locations of covert facilities. But some news reports, citing anonymous sources, have suggested Lee’s actions went much deeper, and that he was in fact was a mole responsible for exposing a network of U.S. assets working in China.
Asked about those reports, MacMahon said, “You’d have to ask the people who make those claims and then don’t put their names behind them.”
Court records indicate Lee had been under investigation for more than five years. He served in the CIA from 1994 to 2007 as a case officer. He worked in a variety of overseas offices and was trained in surveillance detection, recruiting and handling assets and handling classified material, among other duties.
A court affidavit states that in 2012, after Lee had left the CIA, he travelled from Hong Kong with his family to northern Virginia, where he lived from 2012 to 2013. When he flew to Virginia, the FBI obtained a warrant to search Lee’s luggage and hotel room. Agents found two small books with handwritten notes containing names and numbers of covert CIA employees and locations of covert facilities, according to the affidavit.
At Tuesday’s hearing, which lasted only a few minutes, a judge ordered Lee remain jailed pending a preliminary hearing scheduled for March 19. The preliminary hearing was delayed at MacMahon’s request, who said he needs time to review classified evidence in the case. MacMahon said he may seek to have Lee released pending trial once he can find an appropriate living situation in the U.S. for his client.
Prosecutor Neil Hammerstrom said Lee faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison.