The Hong Kong media identified the man on the right as former CIA agent Jerry Chun Shing Lee. He was security official at the unveiling of Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Salvator Mundi’ painting at the Christie’s showroom in Hong Kong on Oct. 13, 2017. Three months later, Lee was arrested at JFK airport in New York. He pleaded guilty in U.S. federal court Wednesday to spying for China.
Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images
Anthony Wallace/AFP/Getty Images
An ex-CIA officer pleaded guilty in federal court Wednesday to spying for China, the third separate espionage case in the past year linking a former U.S. intelligence officer to the Asian nation.
Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 54, entered the guilty plea to the most serious of the three charges he was facing.
“I conspired to gather and send secret information to the PRC (People’s Republic of China),” Lee said when asked by Judge T.S. Ellis to describe his actions.
In exchange for the guilty plea, prosecutors in the U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., agreed to drop two lesser charges of retaining secret information after he left the CIA.
The plea agreement calls for a minimum sentence of about 21 years. But Judge Ellis emphasized that this was only a recommendation and he was free to impose the sentence he saw fit when Lee is sentenced on Aug. 23. The charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Lee worked as a CIA officer in China and elsewhere from 1994 to 2007. After resigning from the agency, he settled in Hong Kong and became a private businessman.
Prosecutor Neil Hammerstrom said Lee met with Chinese intelligence officials in 2010 and subsequently made cash deposits in his Hong Kong bank accounts totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars over the next three years.
Former CIA officer Jerry Chun Shing Lee, 54, in this undated photo was provided by the Sheriff’s Office in Alexandria, Va.
From 2010 to 2012, a dozen or more Chinese citizens secretly cooperating with the CIA were arrested and either jailed or executed by the Chinese government, according to media reports and former CIA officials.
This was a major blow to CIA operations in China, and there’s been considerable speculation about whether Lee might have played a role. Some media reports said Lee was a leading suspect in the CIA’s hunt for a mole, while others have suggested that the Chinese may have broken into a CIA communications system, which led them to the spies.
However, Lee’s attorney, Edward MacMahon said the government’s court filings never accused Lee of actually delivering information to the Chinese and did not blame him for any deaths.
“Those were stories leaked to the media,” said MacMahon. “There’s no allegation in the indictment or the government’s statement of facts that Mr. Lee had anything to do with anybody getting killed.”
The CIA has not commented on the case.
Lee becomes the third former U.S. intelligence official tied to spying for China over the past year.
Kevin Mallory, a former officer with the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency, was convicted at a trial last year and is scheduled to be sentenced this month. Ron Hansen, a former DIA officer, pleaded guilty in March and is now serving a 15-year sentence.
Chinese espionage efforts
National security officials say these cases point to widespread Chinese espionage operations directed at U.S. targets.
They include traditional spy-vs.-spy efforts aimed at stealing U.S. government and military secrets, as well as an extensive Chinese program to pilfer high tech from private companies and universities.
“No country poses a broader, more severe intelligence-collection threat than China,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said last week. “They’re doing it through Chinese intelligence services, through state-owned enterprises, through ostensibly private companies, through graduate students and researchers, through a variety of actors all working on behalf of China.”
Lee was born in Hong Kong and is a naturalized U.S. citizen. He resigned from the CIA 12 years ago, reportedly frustrated that his career had stalled.
He had been the target of an FBI investigation since 2012, when he traveled from Hong Kong to the U.S., stopping in Hawaii and Virginia. FBI agents secretly searched his hotel rooms in both states and discovered Lee’s handwritten notes in two small address books that “contained true names and phone numbers of assets and covert CIA employees, as well as the addresses of CIA facilities” all related to China, according to the indictment.
Lee was interviewed by the FBI at the time, but was allowed to leave the U.S. and returned to Hong Kong. He was arrested in January 2018, when he returned to the U.S. on another visit and was picked up at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport.
An undated photo of Riley Howell who was killed after he tackled a gunman shooting people in a classroom at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. Police say Howell’s actions likely saved the lives of other students.
One of the victims in the mass shooting Tuesday at the University of North Carolina’s Charlotte campus is being praised as a hero who saved lives by charging and tackling the shooter, according to local police.
Riley Howell, 21, who was killed in the shooting, “took the suspect off his feet,” said Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Kerr Putney in a news conference. “Absolutely, Mr. Howell saved lives.”
Howell “did exactly what we train people to do—you’re either going to run, you’re going to hide and shield, or you’re going to take the fight to the assailant. Having no place to run and hide, he did the last,” said Putney.
“But for his work the assailant may not have been disarmed. Unfortunately, he gave his life in the process. But his sacrifice saved lives,” added the chief.
The father of Howell’s longtime girlfriend, Kevin Westmoreland, described him as someone who “would step in front of a train for her if he had to.”
Putney said Howell, of Waynesville, N.C., was probably the second fatality in the incident.
The other fatality was 19-year-old Ellis Parlier of Midland, N.C.
Howell, Parlier and the four injured victims were all students.
The four injured were identified by the university as Sean DeHart, 20, and Drew Pescaro, 19, both of Apex, N.C.; Emily Houpt, 23, of Charlotte; and Rami Alramadhan, 20, of Saihat, Saudi Arabia.
Police have identified the alleged shooter as Trystan Andrew Terrell, 22, a former student at UNC Charlottte. He has no prior criminal record and campus police chief Jeff Baker described Terrell as “not somebody on our radar.”
Terrell is charged with two counts of murder, four counts of attempted first-degree murder, four counts of assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill, discharging a firearm on educational property and possession of a gun on educational property, according to jail records cited by the Charlotte Observer.
Putney said that the handgun Terrell allegedly used in the attack was legally purchased and that he had a “lot of ammo.” Police have not determined a motive for the shooting, or the choice of Kennedy Hall, the campus administration building, to launch the attack.
Pete Seeger: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection is a six-CD collection of Seeger’s previously unreleased music, accompanied by a 200-page book.
Diana Davies/Courtesy of the artist
Diana Davies/Courtesy of the artist
Though Pete Seeger, the heralded folk singer, songwriter and social activist died in 2014, his voice has left a lasting impression on American music. May 3, 2019 would have been Seeger’s 100th birthday and to mark the centennial, Smithsonian Folkways is set to release a six-CD collection titled Pete Seeger: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection.
This expansive collection features 20 previously unreleased tracks that spotlight Seeger’s pacifist methods, environmental activism and straightforward, inquisitive songwriting style. The collection also comes with a 200-page book on Seeger, written by Smithsonian Folkways curator and archivist Jeff Place.
Place spoke with NPR’s Audie Cornish about Seeger’s exploration period while fighting in World War II, the timelessness of his records and his impact on American folk. Hear the radio version of their conversation at the audio link and read on for more that didn’t make the broadcast.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Audie Cornish: We know him as someone who borrows and brings to the mainstream certain things he finds in other cultures. What did you learn about Pete Seeger as a writer looking through his papers?
Jeff Place: He was a great writer. He had a column called “Appleseeds” and a magazine called Sing Out for many, many, many decades and a number of different books where he sort of wrote about the work that he was doing.
And, in a way, thought of his work as journalism.
Yeah, he was great on going and finding these little, like, quotes in political history books and other books. You know in literature and in kind of taking them out and using them in his columns. Like the song “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” came out of a Russian novel. He found a line in there which inspired him to do “Where Have All The Flowers Gone.”
I want to talk about some of the songs that were never released. One of them that’s featured here was recorded in the 1940s. Pete Seeger was sent to war, he was stationed in the Pacific and in the collection you have a series of his letters. What was he writing about? And what do we come to understand about this period?
Well, you know, Pete Seeger was in the service and in the Pacific and hanging out with folklorists a lot, you know. So, he kind of went over there and he used the opportunity to record indigenous people from that part of the world and he recorded a lot of other soldier songs. He had this sort of [what] looked like a mimeograph letter or something he’d sent home to all his friends reporting on his findings called “Reports from The Marianas.”
We think of Seeger as a pacifist. What do you learn from that period about how he came to that position?
I once heard an interview Pete you being asked by a member of the remembers the audience and he was saying, “Well, Mr. Seeger, you don’t believe in war ready for any cause?” And he said, “No, that’s not true. There was a time period in 1940s when there was a reason to fight for the cause. And I was there and I would do it again if it happened again.”
This song “Ballad of Dr. Dearjohn” was recorded in 1963. How did you find it in the collection?
The thing about Folkways Collection and Pete Seeger and he put out 70 albums for Folkways and he also put out three or four hundred extra tapes of additional material that was never used. So I started going through all those tapes and I found this song that had been written and published in a magazine called Broadside. And what was interesting about it, it was contemporaneous to 1962 and the Canadian health care law, the Saskatchewan Law, and the debates and the song were identical to the whole thing we’ve been hearing about Obamacare in the last few years.
Pete Seeger: The Smithsonian Folkways Collection is due out May 3, 2019 on the singer’s 100th birthday.
Courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways
Courtesy of Smithsonian Folkways
The thing was, you’ve got to go back many hundreds of years and before there was, you know, all this media and radio television and all this. What would happen is political events or satires would happen and someone would write a satirical song or a topical song about it and they’d publish it on pieces of paper, selling for like a nickel. They were called broadside ballads. So, this is all sort of out of that tradition of people who are trying to write broadside ballads in the 1960s.
Now, Pete Seeger was born in New York City and the Hudson River was important to him, especially as he lived further up the river and later years. Can you tell us the story behind the song “Of Time And Rivers Flowing”?
Yeah, Pete, he spent years and years traveling the country and all over the world, actually, in the ’60s. He was one of the first guys to sing multicultural songs and things like that. And somewhere along the line, apparently it dawned on him that he actually never paid any attention to where he actually lived [and] what was going on there. He says, “I’m a total stranger in my own hometown when I go home.”
He’d notice there was, like, sewage floating in the river. But he got to know the shad fishermen. the shad fishermen would take him out and show him all this like you know environmental damage and so, he wrote this song for the shad fisherman.
He really tried to build movements through his music, or at least connect to movements through his music. How does that connect to what you see going on on the landscape today?
He has like, what they call Pete’s children. It’s a lot of movements he was part of that he didn’t really start or you know he had lent his hand to, like Civil Rights Movement and things like that. But I think that the environmental thing on the river was really kind of Pete. He thought it was just like completely insane thought that he was gonna build this this boat, a sloop, and sail up and down the bay and, you know… playing music and stuff. But he did it and there’s still a festival up there every year and all these people who come and there’s still people who are going up and down the river in that boat, even after Pete’s gone.
Attorney General William Barr arrived to testify during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill. Some Democrats are calling on him to step down.
The Justice Department’s Russia investigation may be over, but the political war over it — who conducted it, how and why — has enough new fuel to rage for several more months.
Attorney General William Barr defended his handling of the final stages of the inquiry on Wednesday in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that underscored how much the focus of official Washington has shifted from Russian interference in the 2016 election to the lingering aftermath of the inquiry for Republicans and Democrats.
Here’s what you need to know.
There are are now two Russia stories
The tracks of the Russia imbroglio, if they ever ran side by side, have now split off after reaching what railroaders call a wye.
Many Republicans, led on Wednesday by Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., want the next phase to be about what they call the failures of President Barack Obama to prevent or investigate the 2016 interference and the alleged overreach or missteps by authorities in his administration and since.
“You want to know what’s really going on here?” asked Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo. “You want to know why we’re all really sitting here today? … It’s because an unelected bureaucrat, an unelected official in this government who clearly has open disdain if not outright hatred for Trump voters … then tried to overturn the results of the Democratic election. That’s what’s really going on here.”
Hawley was referring to Peter Strzok, the former FBI special agent who was fired after investigators found he had criticized then-candidate Donald Trump in text messages during the 2016 campaign. Republicans fault what they called bias by Strzok and others for the Russia probe.
Many Democrats say the story is now about what they call evidence that President Trump obstructed justice in trying to frustrate the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, even though it didn’t establish a conspiracy between his campaign and the Russians who attacked the election.
“The president ordered the White House counsel to have special counsel Mueller fired,” said Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del. “He fabricated evidence to cover it up and whether or not you can make a criminal charge of this, it is unacceptable and everyone who said we didn’t have to worry about President Trump firing the special counsel was flat out wrong.”
Democrats also zeroed in on Barr himself, arguing that he has shown he’s in the tank for Trump and not an attorney general who can act as an independent officer within the administration.
Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, excoriated Attorney General William Barr as he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. She charged him with lying to Congress and said he should resign.
A few Democrats called on Barr to resign and others on Wednesday questioned whether he can oversee more than a dozen cases that spun out of Mueller’s core investigation.
The attorney general bristled at the idea that he might have to recuse himself from those matters and said he stood by his vow to protect the exercise of justice from inappropriate political influence.
But Barr didn’t respond definitively when Sen. Kamala Harris, a California Democrat who is running for president, asked him whether the White House has asked him to initiate any new investigations.
One of the findings of Mueller’s office was that Trump leaned on former Attorney General Jeff Sessions to open investigations on political opponents.
Barr ultimately didn’t deny that he had discussed some things with White House officials but said he hadn’t been asked to open an investigation.
Other Democrats seized on what they called discrepancies between testimony Barr has previously given Congress about his discussions with Mueller and what was revealed in a letter released by the Justice Department on Wednesday.
In the letter, Mueller wrote that he was concerned about the perceptions created by Barr’s initial characterization of the special counsel report in a summary he sent to Congress on March 24. Barr had previously testified he didn’t know what Mueller thought about his messaging to the public and Congress.
Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, excoriated Barr and charged him with deliberately giving false information to Congress: “You knew you lied,” she said. And now, we know.” Hirono concluded: “You should resign.”
Barr retains support of Republicans, White House
Graham, the judiciary committee chairman, and others condemned the Democrats’ attacks.
“You have slandered this man every way you can slander,” Graham said.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, mocked the allegations that Barr had lied given that he has publicly released much of Mueller’s report — the very report he was being charged with withholding or mischaracterizing — and likened the tactics of Democrats to those used against Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
“You didn’t have to take this job,” Cruz said. “Yet you stepped forward and answered the call yet again knowing full well that you would be subjected to slanderous treatment — the Kavanaugh treatment — that we have seen of senators impugning your integrity.”
The White House also came to Barr’s defense via press secretary Sarah Sanders, reaffirming that Barr is in no practical danger of losing his job.
“Democrats only disgrace and humiliate themselves with their baseless attacks on such a fine public servant,” Sanders wrote in a tweet.
AG Bill Barr served President George H.W. Bush honorably as AG and has done the same for President Trump. Democrats only disgrace and humiliate themselves with their baseless attacks on such a fine public servant.
— Sarah Sanders (@PressSec) May 1, 2019
The next milestones
The ongoing matters referred by the special counsel’s office to other Justice Department officials aren’t the only unbalanced parts of the Mueller equation.
Barr said on Wednesday the department is running a number of ongoing investigations that also could pay off in the coming months with new revelations about the hows and wherefores of the Russia investigation.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz is looking into investigators’ use of their surveillance powers in 2016, Barr said, especially the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Republicans charge that the Justice Department and the FBI abused their authority in the case of at least one Trump aide, Carter Page, who was the subject of intelligence collection.
Barr said he is also looking into the other ways investigators conducted the initial phase of the 2016 investigation, including why the FBI apparently never briefed Trump himself about what it was learning about the contacts his aides were carrying on with Russians.
More broadly, Barr said he wants to know why the Obama administration didn’t do more to alert the public about the Russian election interference and take action to address it.
“It strikes me as a fairly anemic effort,” based on what is known today, Barr said.
Obama-era officials have since second-guessed some of their actions during the 2016 election but the administration did publicly attribute the interference to Russia in a joint statement from the bosses of the intelligence community and the Department of Homeland Security.
The question about what more they might have done continues to be debated, as Barr’s testimony reinforced on Wednesday.
Additionally, the Justice Department has “multiple” criminal leak investigations underway, Barr said. That suggests that FBI special agents or others are inquiring about how so many aspects of the Russia investigation found their way into the press, and also raises the possibility that people inside the bureau or the Justice Department could some day be charged.
One nearly immediate next question for Barr and Congress is whether he agrees to appear before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday.
Negotiations were underway between staffers and the Justice Department over the ground rules that would govern that prospective hearing. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., wants to be able to call staff lawyers to question Barr and potentially go into a closed session; Barr objects.
Although that hearing was still scheduled and members of Congress in both parties said they were looking forward to it, the prospect remained that talks could collapse at the last minute and Nadler might gavel into session with an empty witness chair.
Negotiations also continue between Nadler’s panel and the Justice Department over hearing, at some point down the line, from Mueller himself.