A Christie’s Security Staffer Has Been Accused of Being a Deadly Chinese Spy

Jerry Chun Shing Lee was arrested at JFK airport this week.

A former CIA officer suspected of revealing classified information to China has an unlikely day job: He is an employee of Christie’s Hong Kong. A Christie’s spokesperson confirmed to artnet News that the auction house has “suspended a Hong Kong employee pending a criminal investigation.”

A statement from the US Department of Justice identifies the former CIA officer as Jerry Chun Shing Lee (aka Zheng Cheng Li). He was arrested at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York on January 15 and has been charged with the unlawful retention of classified information. He faces a maximum of 10 years in jail if convicted.

A Christie’s spokesperson told artnet News via email:

• This employee, who has been with the company for the last 20 months, was focused on physical security for Christie’s facilities and staff. His role was not linked to data security or IT functions at the company.
• The allegations significantly pre-date his employment with the company.
• Christie’s has no involvement in this matter, and has no additional comment on the ongoing investigation.

A Hong Kong website posted pictures of a man it identifies as Lee standing in a Christie’s salesroom with an earpiece in his ear. Christie’s confirmed that Lee leads a small team focused on physical security for the auction house’s facilities and staff.

According to a statement from the Department of Justice, Lee began working for the CIA as a case officer in 1994, maintained a top secret clearance, and signed numerous non-disclosure agreements during his tenure at the agency. The department believes he played a role in compromising a network of US spies in China, a years-long deterioration that the New York Times describes as “one of the American government’s worst intelligence failures in recent years.”

Lee left the CIA in 2007, after becoming frustrated that he was unable to advance in the agency, according to the Times. Before his arrest, he was living in Hong Kong.

The investigation into Lee stretches back to 2012, when he and his family were temporarily living in northern Virginia, according to court documents. During that time, Lee and his family stayed in hotels in Hawaii and Virginia, where FBI agents conducted court-authorized searches of his room and luggage.

They discovered Lee was in unauthorized possession of two small books with handwritten notes containing classified information about meetings with CIA informants, the real names and phone numbers of undercover agents, and the locations of covert facilities.

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