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Ex-CIA Officer Arrested for Keeping Classified Intel — Including Spy Names and Numbers

CIA floor seal.

A former CIA officer was arrested Monday night for holding on to classified information after his employment in the U.S. intelligence agency, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced in a press release Tuesday.

Jerry Chun Shing Lee, also known as Zhen Cheng Li, was arrested at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. A naturalized U.S. citizen, Lee faces up to 10 years in prison on charges of "unlawful retention of national defense information."

According to the DOJ release, FBI agents found classified information in Lee's luggage while he was staying in hotels in Hawaii and Virginia in August 2012. Lee and his family were moving from Hong Kong to northern Virginia.

"During each of the hotel stays, FBI agents conducted court-authorized searches of Lee’s room and luggage, and found that Lee was in unauthorized possession of materials relating to the national defense," the DOJ release reported. "Specifically, agents found two small books containing handwritten notes that contained classified information, including but not limited to, true names and phone numbers of assets and covert CIA employees, operational notes from asset meetings, operational meeting locations and locations of covert facilities" (emphasis added).

Lee was traveling with information about CIA spies, hidden facilities, and notes from meetings with sources working for the CIA. The true names and phone numbers of assets might be most damning, as CIA informants would not have the same diplomatic cover afforded to CIA employees. The release of their names would likely get them killed.

This information would have been particularly useful — and valuable — to foreign powers, especially China. The DOJ has not revealed whether or not Lee is charged with having shared it with anyone, which would be an even greater crime.

According to an FBI affidavit, Lee served in the U.S. Army from 1982 to 1986, and worked for the CIA from 1994 to 2007. He maintained a Top Secret clearance and signed numerous non-disclosure agreements while working for the CIA.

Lee faces a maximum of 10 years in prison, if convicted. The DOJ release insisted that he is innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.