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Former CIA agent’s arrest follows US spying debacle in China

US arrests third official said to have offered Beijing intelligence

WASHINGTON: The third arrest in one year of a US official suspected of helping Chinese spies has bared the tense battle between the two superpowers' intelligence agencies.

The arrest late Monday by US authorities of former Central Intelligence Agency agent Jerry Chun Shing Lee was reportedly linked to Beijing's brutal dismantling five years ago of the CIA's network of undercover operatives and informants inside China.

That followed the June 2017 arrest of a former State Department security officer, reportedly also an ex-CIA official, Kevin Mallory, on allegations that he handed over US secrets to Chinese agents for $25,000.

Three months before that, a China-based US diplomat, Candace Claiborne, was charged for taking tens of thousands of dollars in cash and gifts from Chinese intelligence.

According to The New York Times, US counter-intelligence has been working overtime since at least 2012 to uncover a possible pro-Beijing mole within the ranks of America's espionage services.

The Times reported last year that starting in 2010 to the end of 2012, the Chinese uncovered and killed "at least a dozen" sources the CIA had inside China and imprisoned six or more others.

One of them was shot in front of his colleagues to send a message, the Times reported.

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That debacle severely damaged the US government's ability to collect secret information on its Asian rival.

It also implied that the huge Chinese Ministry of State Security and the espionage arms of the People's Liberation Army had been able to penetrate US intelligence.

Lee, 53, was arrested late Monday after he landed in New York. A naturalised US citizen who had lived for the past several years in Hong Kong, he served in the US Army in the 1980s and spent 13 years from 1994 at the CIA, where he had top secret clearance.

The charge against him was limited to one count of unlawful retention of national defence information.

But the details of an investigation spanning at least five years suggested much more.

Citing intelligence community sources, the Times reported that Lee was one of those eyed for years by investigators as a possible mole.

US officials would not comment on the newest case, but the government has been increasingly worried about Beijing's spying. - AFP

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