A 2014 sale at Christie’s Hong Kong. Photo: manhhai via Flickr.

FBI Arrests Christie’s Employee Accused of Betraying CIA Informants

The head of security for Christie’s salesroom in Hong Kong, Jerry Chun Shing Lee, was arrested at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York on January 15 and suspended from the auction house due to an ongoing criminal investigation, reports Benjamin Sutton for Hyperallergic. Lee is a former CIA officer who is suspected of sharing the identities of the agency’s informants in China with the Chinese authorities.

Information provided by Lee may have potentially resulted in the death or imprisonment of dozens of informants. According to the New York Times, the collapse of the United States’ spy operations in China is one of the biggest intelligence failures since former CIA and FBI agents Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen leaked intelligence to Moscow during the Cold War.

FBI agents previously discovered that Lee had classified information in his possession when they searched his luggage during stays in Hawaii and Virginia in 2012, after he went to stay with family in the US. According to an affidavit, officials found a datebook and an address book containing the names of assets and covert facilities, but it is unclear why he was not arrested at the time.

Lee worked for the CIA from 1994 to 2007, during which time he maintained a top-secret security clearance. A court in northern Virginia charged Lee with unlawful retention of national defense information. He appeared in federal court in Brooklyn on January 16 and will be held there while he awaits transfer to Virginia.

A Christie’s spokesperson confirmed that Lee had been employed by the company for the past twenty months. According to a statement shared with Hyperallergic via e-mail, Lee was responsible for the physical security of the auction house’s facilities and staff and was “not linked to data security or IT functions at the company.” “The allegations significantly predate his employment with the company. Christie’s has no involvement in this matter, and has no additional comment on the ongoing investigation,” the spokesperson noted.