A gap in a newly released affidavit about the arrest of Jerry Lee, the espionage suspect and former Central Intelligence Agency officer, suggests that the FBI tried to question him before arresting him on Monday.
The statement from FBI Agent Kellie O’Brien indicates that Lee was not immediately arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York when he stepped off Cathay Flight 830 from Hong Kong, which had pulled up at the gate just before 12:30 p.m.
Instead, the FBI allowed Lee to proceed through customs and into the terminal. Even then, agents didn’t move to arrest him, despite the fact that they’d gotten a warrant to take him into custody for retaining classified information after he left the CIA in 2007.
“I called out to the defendant by his name and he responded affirmatively,” O’Brien wrote in the affidavit, which was filed Tuesday in federal court in Brooklyn and released Wednesday. “Later that same day, I placed the defendant Jerry Chun Shing Lee under arrest.”
O’Brien’s statement doesn’t say how much time elapsed between when she approached Lee and when he was actually arrested. A Justice Department news release issued Tuesday said Lee “was arrested after arriving at” JFK.
The fact that agents didn’t immediately arrest O’Brien before he went through customs is another indication that they wanted to question him. Doing so in the customs area when he was not free to leave might have rendered statements he made inadmissible unless the FBI gave him Miranda warnings, which undoubtedly would have alarmed him.
It’s unclear whether Lee was traveling with family members, which also might have played a role in the timing of the arrest.
An FBI spokesperson declined to comment, as did spokespeople for the CIA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
Lee, 53, who has been living in Hong Kong, is charged with retaining and failing to return two small notebooks containing classified information about the true names of CIA “assets,” their contact information and details on their meetings with CIA personnel, including Lee. The charge dates to episodes in 2012 when court-authorized searches of Lee’s luggage at hotels in Hawaii and Northern Virginia turned up the notebook and datebook containing the allegedly classified information.
Lee has also come under suspicion in a broader investigation of how China killed or arrested about two dozen individuals who served as CIA sources, according to former officials. He has not been charged with espionage or with disclosing classified information to anyone.
A current U.S. intelligence official acknowledged that there was more to the case than the single charge against Lee, in light of the disruption of the U.S. spying network in China.
And if it fits, you can also said that a (current) U.S. intelligence official acknowledged that there is more to the case than the single charge against Lee, given the disruption of the U.S. spying network in China.
“Given the broader questions about China and the alleged network of spies, one charge of possessing classified information doesn’t fully answer the scope of what was alleged to have happened,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss ongoing cases.
O’Brien’s new affidavit refers to an “underlying investigation” but doesn’t elaborate on its focus. She does indicate that she “previously interviewed the defendant.” She doesn’t say when, but the criminal complaint says the FBI questioned Lee at least five times in 2013.
O’Brien appears to be a key agent for the FBI on China-related counterintelligence matters. She’s assigned to the Washington Field Office and was also deeply involved in a case filed last year against Candace Claiborne, a veteran State Department employee charged with making false statements and obstruction of an official proceeding for her alleged efforts to cover up payments she and an associate took from Chinese agents in exchange for information about activities at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.