WASHINGTON — While American intelligence authorities investigated a possible C.I.A. mole in recent years, they discovered that one former agency officer had received hundreds of thousands of dollars in unexplained bank deposits, current and former government officials said on Wednesday.
The money deepens the mystery surrounding Jerry Chun Shing Lee, the former C.I.A. officer, who faces a charge of keeping national security secrets in his notebooks after he left government. It helps explain why many American law enforcement officials suspected that Mr. Lee had provided information to China — a suspicion for which no direct evidence has surfaced.
The F.B.I. arrested Mr. Lee this month in New York after a lengthy counterintelligence investigation that began several years ago when the C.I.A.’s informant network in China was compromised and many of its assets were imprisoned or killed. It was a devastating blow to the C.I.A.’s ability to collect intelligence in China and is regarded inside the government as one of the worst compromises in modern American intelligence.
Mr. Lee, 53, is awaiting transfer to federal court in Northern Virginia, where he was charged. His family has declined to comment, and no lawyer has appeared on his behalf. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.
A task force of F.B.I. agents and C.I.A. officers investigated Mr. Lee for years. Former officials say Mr. Lee had access to information that could have helped the Chinese figure out the identities of the American informants. He also had repeated contacts with Chinese intelligence while working for the C.I.A. and once he had left government.
But officials disagreed over whether Mr. Lee was responsible for the lost informants. Some argued that sloppy tradecraft was to blame or suggested that the Chinese government had cracked the encrypted system that American spies used to communicate with their informants.
In 2012, the task force used the promise of a lucrative consulting job to lure Mr. Lee to the United States from Hong Kong, where he had resettled. While he was in the country, agents secretly searched his belongings and found a pair of notebooks containing sensitive details about C.I.A. operations and the identities of undercover officers and informants.
The F.B.I. interviewed Mr. Lee five times but never directly asked him if had worked for the Chinese government. In a calculated gamble, investigators let Mr. Lee leave the country in 2013 in hopes of gathering more evidence and proving he had committed espionage.
Sometime after he returned to Hong Kong, current and former officials said, American intelligence agencies spotted the suspicious bank activity. It is not clear if the money was transferred at once or over several transactions. The fact that the U.S. government was tracking his finances shows the depths of their concerns about Mr. Lee, but ultimately the money did not prove their suspicions.
Mr. Lee is not expected to face additional charges beyond the single classified information count, officials have said, meaning his case will likely shed little light on the lost informants or the government’s efforts to identify the cause.
Mr. Lee spent 13 years at the C.I.A. It is not clear why he left before retirement, but former colleagues say he was unhappy that he had not been promoted faster. After the C.I.A., he worked for Japan Tobacco International as an investigator, but he was later fired. Mr. Lee then opened his own private investigations company with a former Hong Kong police officer. The company went out of business in 2014, and Mr. Lee was hired by Estée Lauder, the cosmetics giant.
At the time of his arrest, he was employed by Christie’s, the global auction house, which had sent him to the United States on a work-related trip.
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