A Hong Kong-born former CIA officer has pleaded guilty at a federal court in Virginia to unlawfully retaining classified information and spying for China. Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a US citizen, may be jailed for up to 21 years after his guilty plea.

He was arrested last year upon his return to the US and indicted for delivering top-secret national defense intelligence as well as sensitive information about the Central Intelligence Agency’s operations to China.

After he left the CIA in 2007, Lee lived in Hong Kong, where he was the head of security at the office of the British auction house Christie’s.

Lee acknowledged lying to CIA officials during an investigation into contacts with Chinese state security agents in Hong Kong and the neighboring mainland city of Shenzhen.

He reportedly divulged top-secret intelligence to Beijing. Before long, the then CIA director John Brennan and the administration of then president Barack Obama were shocked by executions or imprisonment of “18 to 20 informants” Washington had in China, one of the biggest setbacks for the CIA’s operations there.

The New York Times reported in 2017 that the first signs of trouble that led to the dismantling of the US spy network in China had surfaced as early as in 2010. However, media reports say Lee’s case documents did not connect him to the loss of these intelligence sources.

China is alleged to have given Lee a cash gift of US$100,000 and promised it would “take care of him for life,” according to the indictment against him.

The probe links payments made to an HSBC account that Lee opened in Hong Kong to classified information he intended to give to the Chinese agents, including a cash deposit of HK$138,000 (US$17,600) made soon after Lee started his contacts with them, according to the South China Morning Post.

Lee’s case is adjourned until August, when the court is expected to hand down a sentence.

Read more:

Case of CIA ‘mole’ sheds new light on Hong Kong as spy hub

Details emerge on HK biz partner of CIA mole recruited by Beijing