The arrest of former CIA case officer Jerry Chun Shing Lee sheds light on a shadowy counterintelligence drama that has been playing out for nearly eight years. Starting around 2010, the Central Intelligence Agency saw some of its most valuable spies inside China go down. And I don’t mean “going down” in a perp-walk-to-the-courthouse sort of way. This is China: They were executed. One was reportedly shot right outside the government building where he worked, just to make sure his coworkers got the message. The lucky ones were imprisoned. According to The New York Times, 18 to 20 CIA sources were blown, making it one of the most damaging counterintelligence losses in agency history.
The story of Lee’s arrest is still developing, but much is already clear. First of all, Jerry Chun Shing Lee wasn’t some back-room paper-pushing bureaucrat at Langley. He was a “case officer” whose job was helping to recruit foreign spies to spill secrets to the United States. He was supposed to create moles, not become one.
It also appears the Chinese government probably gained access to highly classified information about U.S. assets through electronic means, a mole, or both. According to press reports, intelligence officials have been sharply divided about how exactly all of this valuable intelligence got into Beijing’s hands. News of Lee’s arrest suggests that a mole was involved but certainly does not rule out other possibilities or people.