Lee, 53, was charged with one count of conspiracy to gather or deliver national defence information to aid a foreign government and two counts of unlawfully retaining documents related to national defence, according to a statement from the department of justice. If convicted he faces life in prison.
Lee, a naturalised US citizen and former CIA case officer, is suspected of revealing the names of CIA assets and undercover operatives in China, enabling Chinese authorities to cripple American intelligence operations. Between 2010 and 2012, more than a dozen US sources in China were killed or imprisoned, the New York Times reported last year.
Lee was arrested in January after arriving at New York’s JFK airport. At the time, he was charged with unlawful retention of national defence information but not espionage.
Lee, who grew up in the US and served in the army, kept a low profile in Hong Kong where he lived with his family after leaving the CIA in 2007. According to the indictment, two Chinese agents approached Lee in 2010, offering to pay him for information. The agents gave Lee email addresses to communicate with them and gave him tasks until at least 2011.
Lee and his family returned to the US in 2012, where during hotel stays in Hawaii and Virginia, the FBI searched his room and found an address book and a pocket calendar with handwritten notes from his time at the CIA. The books included the true names of US agents in China, and their phone numbers. The notes detailed asset meetings and the locations of covert facilities, according to court documents.
Lee made unexplained cash deposits and lied during voluntary interviews with US authorities about his travel to China and elsewhere overseas, according to the department.
“When government officials violate their oath to defend our nation and protect its secrets, [we] will hold them accountable,” US assistant attorney for national security general John Demers said.
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