Authorities hunting the suspected mole who brought down the CIA's spy network in China lured him back to America by creating a job for the former CIA officer, officials say. Federal officials tell NBC that when Jerry Chun Shing Lee returned to the US from Hong Kong with his family in 2012 to take up the job in the Washington, DC, area, FBI agents secretly searched his hotel rooms and found evidence including a notebook with the real names of covert CIA informants in China and details of meetings with undercover agents—information he was supposed to have surrendered when he left the agency in 2007. Lee was interviewed by agents repeatedly over the next few months but was allowed to return to Hong Kong in 2013. He is blamed for the killing or capture of around 20 agents.
Lee was not immediately a suspect when CIA agents in China began disappearing in 2010, but a task force eventually identified him as somebody who knew the identities of many of the agents who had been killed or jailed, the New York Times reports. Some investigators, however, thought China had cracked the CIA's code, or that agents had been too sloppy. Officials say the disappearances ended in 2012, meaning the decision to let him leave the US in 2013 did not cost more lives. Lee kept a low profile in Hong Kong, where he worked providing security for Christie's auction house, the South China Morning Post reports. He was arrested after arriving at New York's JFK Airport on Monday. Officials say prosecutors moved quickly to file charges after he surprised them by booking a trip to the US.