CLEANING HOUSE: The CIA has problems.

Ex-CIA officer charged over loss of 20 agents

A FORMER CIA officer has been arrested and charged as part of an alleged espionage scandal that investigators say led to the collapse of the US spy network in China and the death or imprisonment of up to 20 CIA informants.

Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 53, a naturalised US citizen, was arrested this week on landing in New York.

Mr Lee, a Hong Kong resident, appeared in court and was charged with illegally retaining classified records, including names and phone numbers of covert CIA "assets” (agents or informants).

Mr Lee served in the US Army from 1982-86 and the CIA from 1994-2007. For the CIA, he worked as a case officer trained in covert communications, surveillance detection and the recruitment and handling of assets. He had Top Secret clearance.

Mr Lee has not offered a plea. His arrest follows an intense counter-espionage FBI operation.

That investigation was established in 2012, two years after the CIA started losing assets in China.

US media said investigators were initially unsure whether China had hacked the CIA or the losses were the result of a mole.

Court documents say a search by FBI agents of Mr Lee's room in a Virginia hotel found handwritten notes containing names and numbers of covert CIA employees and locations of covert facilities.

Mr Lee left the US in 2013 after being questioned on five occasions by FBI agents.

He never mentioned his possession of the books containing classified information, according to court documents.

The FBI affidavit makes no allegations of espionage, only alleging illegal retention of documents - an offence that carries up to 10 years' jail.

Last May, The New York Times reported that as many as 20 US intelligence assets had been killed by China since 2010, destroying years of intelligence efforts in the country.

One operative was allegedly shot and killed in front of his colleagues and his body left in the carpark of a government building as a warning to others.

US officials described the losses as "one of the worst” intelligence breaches in decades, comparing it to the number of assets lost in the Soviet Union in the 1980s and 1990s, when two prominent US assets worked as double agents for the Soviets. Officials said the breach has destroyed years of network-building within the country.

- Andrew Buncombe, The Independent

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