A Caution About That CIA Arrest

Jerry Chun Shing Lee, a former CIA agent, has been charged with possession of classified information in the form of notebooks containing the names and other information about undercover agents. The notebooks were found in searches carried out in 2012.

Most of the stories connect Lee to the loss of American agents in China around 2010. The CIA seemed to have a mole, and the search for that mole has been intensive. The New York Times makes the connection more closely than the Washington Post, but both mention it.

It’s not an unreasonable surmise, but a surmise is all it is right now. Lee is accused of keeping notebooks with information that he shouldn’t have taken outside of properly protected areas. That is all. There may be more to come.

Jeffrey Lewis reminds us of Wen Ho Lee, who was accused of more than the evidence could bear – and part of what he was accused of was definitively refuted by another Los Alamos weapons scientist. The Times eventually had to run an explanation of their coverage.

This review showed how, in constructing a narrative to fit their unnerving suspicions, investigators took fragmentary, often ambiguous evidence about Dr. Lee’s behavior and Chinese atomic espionage and wove it into a grander case that eventually collapsed of its own light weight.

Keep this in mind when reading about Jerry Lee, and keep asking yourself if the evidence being presented by reporters is adequate to sustain their stories.

53 replies
  1. 1
    NotMax says:

    Made mention of this earlier but repeating because interested in any insight or comment you might have about it (as it is sometimes described as a (presumably not vessel-dependent) drone and other times specifically as a torpedo, confusing).

    Russia has developed an underwater nuclear drone with the ability to hold a 100-megaton nuclear warhead, according to a leaked draft of the Pentagon’s nuclear posture review.
    “Russia is developing and deploying new nuclear warheads and launchers. Russia is also developing at least two new intercontinental range systems, a hypersonic glide vehicle and a new intercontinental, nuclear-armed undersea autonomous torpedo.”
    Hans Kristensen, a nuclear weapons specialist at the Federation of American Scientists, questions whether the administration is overstating the Russian threat and responding with the right solution.… . Source

    In any case, the pairing of the words “autonomous” and “nuclear-armed” is enough to make one blanch.

  2. 2
    NotMax says:

    Comment seeking nuclear insight from Cheryl FYWP’d. Please to release.

  3. 3
    Adam L Silverman says:

    There’s also a long rumored mole at NSA that they’ve allegedly not been able to run to ground.

  4. 4
    Mnemosyne says:

    Given the New York Times’ track record with this stuff, I am skeptical.

  5. 5
    NotMax says:

    From the WaPo story linked in the front page post:

    Lee, a naturalized U.S. citizen and Army veteran, joined the CIA as a case officer in 1994, according to an affidavit from an FBI agent. He had a top secret security clearance and had been given access to sensitive intelligence information. He lost that clearance when he left the agency in 2007.

    Something in the reputed timelines doesn’t track.

  6. 6
    🌎 🇺🇸 Goku (aka The Hope of the Universe) 🗳 🌷 says:

    @Adam L Silverman:
    Edwin Snowjob?

  7. 7
    gwangung says:

    I seem to recall US counter-intelligence has a habit of pouncing on Chinese and Chinese Americans for espionage with too little evidence to sustain the charge. E.g., Xiaoxing Xi…there is now something from the Committee of 100 discussing this.

    And there’s this post from the Huffington Post…

  8. 8
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @NotMax: Most likely a contractor. Often unremarked dirty little secret is that abut 60% of the US intel community is currently contractors. Many of who are doing the same jobs as contractors that they did when working directly for the government.

  9. 9
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @🌎 🇺🇸 Goku (aka The Hope of the Universe) 🗳 🌷: No, someone else. But it would help explain how Snowden knew what to target in terms of substantial information. It is RUMINT that there is one, but it is informed RUMINT.

  10. 10

    @NotMax: Notice the bolded words:

    Russia is developing and deploying new nuclear warheads and launchers. Russia is also developing at least two new intercontinental range systems, a hypersonic glide vehicle and a new intercontinental, nuclear-armed undersea autonomous torpedo.

    Hans Kristensen is a very reliable person. You can believe what he says. I agree with him that the administration may be overreacting. I am working on a post on the Nuclear Posture Review, but I am not at all sure what it will eventually look like.

  11. 11
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @gwangung: US counterintelligence capabilities have been neglected, hence over committing to certain folks who have broken the clearance/security rules and not actually getting who they’re really looking for. Or missing Russian infiltration. There is, however, a concerted effort by the PRC and its intel agencies to pressure and influence Chinese Americans into becoming witting and/or unwitting assets.

  12. 12
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Also, most of this was reported a while back.

  13. 13
    🌎 🇺🇸 Goku (aka The Hope of the Universe) 🗳 🌷 says:

    @Adam L Silverman:
    I don’t run in the same circles as you do so this is news to me.

  14. 14

    @Adam L Silverman: The US government, for the first time, seems to confirm those rumors. The Russians put out some photos that included posters of their autonomous undersea nuke, figuring that the folks who look at such things carefully would see it. The open-source folks saw it and talked about it, but nothing from the gummint. I actually read the NPR (yes, I know, I get the wrong acronym reference too) today and find it worse than the commentary has portrayed it – inflammatory and overreading a lot of things. I may change that judgment on my next reading, though. I like to read things a couple of times before I write about them. But a lot of the commentary seems right on, as in this article.

  15. 15
    Ladyraxterin says:

    @Adam L Silverman:Isn’t this practice a danger to US security?

  16. 16
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @🌎 🇺🇸 Goku (aka The Hope of the Universe) 🗳 🌷: I know you were kidding, but it was appropriate to give a proper answer. These are, unfortunately, important matters.

  17. 17
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: I haven’t given it a read, but my understanding of what is in the draft they’re staffing through the Interagency is the same as yours. They’ve overwritten it, overargued it, and are overdoing it. My guess is it is to sound tough because that’s how the President likes to sound on the topic.

  18. 18
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Ladyraxterin: In my professional opinion? Yes. But everyone has bought into it being cheaper to have folks as contractors instead of civil servants. Some of this is lying to oneself about the size of government. If they’re contractors then they’re not civil service, which means we’re not growing the government. In fact we’re shrinking it. The problem is that for every company, such as the one I’m affiliated with now, that makes it clear we are to conduct ourselves as if we’re directly on the government payroll, far more to most place loyalty to the company over the client, which is the US government agency, department, office, and/or bureau that one is working at.

  19. 19
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Adam L Silverman: Let soldiers do it. Then they can do it during a war. And they can be converted to 11Bs, 13Bs, or whatever….

  20. 20
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    The Wenn Ho Lee case is illustrative because it was promulgated by the same shitty excuse for a journalist named Jeff Gerth who perpetrated the White Water hoax.

  21. 21
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: A lot of these folks are retired NCOs, Warrants, and officers. Or O3s who have served out their requirements. Some are pure civilians who had worked in the IC. Some have done both.

  22. 22
    Mike J says:

    @NotMax: The US has a long history of overestimating (or at least overstating) Russian nuclear capability, because that’s how you get money out of congress.

  23. 23
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Adam L Silverman: My bad, I was primarily thinking of logistical and supply folk.

  24. 24
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Okay. No worries.

  25. 25
    frosty says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    But everyone has bought into it being cheaper to have folks as contractors instead of civil servants.

    There’s no possible way this is true. As a County employee my compensation (salary + benefits and burdens) was a 1.3 multiplier. As a consultant it’s in the 2.75 range. You could hire 2 of us in the government and have 1 do no work at all and still come out cheaper.

    You hire consultants and contractors to manage the peaks, because you don’t have to deal with being overstaffed when the workload drops. You don’t hire them for the base; although I see this all the time. It’s wasted money.

  26. 26
    Roger Moore says:

    Color me extremely skeptical of the claims for an intercontinental torpedo capable of delivering a 100MT nuke. It sounds like the kind of thing a teenager would dream up, but there are so many practical objections it’s hard to imagine anyone thinking about building one for real.

  27. 27
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @frosty: No shit.

  28. 28
  29. 29
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @frosty: @Omnes Omnibus: I’m not saying it is accurate, I’m saying a lot of senior level people have bought into it regardless of accuracy. Usually the cost to have me as a contractor is enough to allow the government hire at least 3 of me, and in some case 5 of me, as civil servants. The only advantage is I can be fired easily as a contractor as all the contracts are at will.

  30. 30
    MattF says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: There was also good ol’ Bill Safire, who pretended that he had some level of technical competence– allowing him to make insinuations against Lee in his columns. He didn’t.

  31. 31
    Adria McDowell says:

    @Adam L Silverman: And they don’t have to pay you benefits or a pension later on. That’s what they are really trying to avoid doing.

  32. 32
    Ruckus says:

    @Mike J:
    Like all those power generating nuclear power plants, like the one in Ukraine?

  33. 33
    Roger Moore says:

    @Adam L Silverman:
    My general feeling is that the real advantage of contractors is that they’re easier to hire and fire than government employees. If you need more people, you request bids and get a bunch of people on-board quickly. When whatever you need them for is over, you let the contract expire and they’re gone. But that mostly makes sense for temporary projects where you don’t want to hire people permanently. If you’re doing things long-term, it makes far more sense to hire permanent employees and skip the profit margin of the contractor.

  34. 34

    @Adria McDowell: It’s not just the NYT saying that the NPR lowers some of the barriers to nuclear war.

    I think that what is going on with the NPR is that Trump and some of the people he has empowered, believe that bluster and uncertainty are important elements of deterrence. The chimp-like belief that if you puff yourself up and jump around waving tree branches, the other guy is less likely to attack.

    The thing about nuclear deterrence, though, is that when you make all that too literal, you get closer to actually having a nuclear war. If you bluster that North Korea’s nuclear threats might be met with nuclear bombing, as Trump has, then at some point you have to make good on that or be seen as an empty threat. That increases uncertainty, which the other party has to take into consideration. So it’s rational for Kim to see any action, including the US-South Korean military exercises he already hates, as a potential strike. Since he’s got a limited number of nukes, it makes sense for him to shoot them off before they are destroyed.

    That blustering approach is part of the NPR. At the same time, there is a LOT in it that depends on deterrence, which they may be using to include that bluster. I need to read it at least one more time to be sure of that, though.

    I’ve also seen comments that the Obama NPR also included a number of non-nuclear provocations as possibly justifying a nuclear response. The difference may be in the degree of bluster employed.

  35. 35
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Adria McDowell: Just 401K. I’ve been fortunate, with Dave’s help, to get an excellent exchange PPO that is actually cheaper than if I was on my company’s health plan.

    That said, right now the environment is very bad for the contractors. The sequester, even though it has largely been waved for the DOD and the IC, has been used to so depress the contracts that expert work that would’ve required a masters with a preference for a PhD now only require high school diplomas. And they pay accordingly. So placing someone like me is very, very difficult. I’ve been doing consulting work for the better part of three years as finding a full time equivalent assignment is like pulling teeth. A lot of companies are just trying to survive.

    It isn’t that the work doesn’t have to be done. Rather it has been decided that the work doesn’t have to actually be done at a high level or by people who are properly qualified if there is a way to save money.

  36. 36
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Roger Moore: You are correct. Unfortunately it has been decided that contractors can be used for long term full time equivalent assignments as well. This is very costly, even if the contracts are still at will and can be terminated for any reason at any time.

  37. 37
    trollhattan says:

    Didn’t we (humans) get XX-megaton devices out of our systems back in the ’60s? IIUC nobody has or needs anything remotely that large in their inventories and the assertion casts a dubious light on the story.

  38. 38
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    if there is a way to save money.

    Or a way to transfer that money to executives or the 1%. Getting work done is not the priority. Looting the treasury is the priority.

  39. 39
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Villago Delenda Est: I have no doubt.

  40. 40
    Roger Moore says:

    My impression is that MIRVs (and to a lesser extent missiles like SRAM) made really huge nukes obsolete. If you could only deliver one warhead per missile, it made sense to make it as big as possible so you could wipe out a whole city with one shot. Similar logic applied to bombers; there was always a realistic question of whether they’d actually manage to deliver more than one bomb, so it made sense to make that bomb a big one.

    Once it became realistic for one missile or bomber to deliver multiple nukes, the logic shifted. You get more bang for your buck by building more, smaller bombs rather than fewer, bigger ones. The only place big bombs made sense was launching a first strike against the enemy’s missiles, where you want a big bomb to crack their hardened silos. Even there, improved accuracy made smaller, MIRVed warheads a practical option.

  41. 41
    Adria McDowell says:

    @Adam L Silverman: I’m almost positive I live near a site that works with the DIA (or a similar agency) or might actually BE a DIA worksite, and I mentioned it to my husband and he said “You should try and get a job there!” i just laughed, since I only have a bachelor’s, washed out of my master’s program, and it would take me for-EVER to get a security clearance again. So if employment prospects are scary for you, imagine how it is for the rest of us!

    In reality, you and people like you should be career civil servants, with all the benefits it comes with. I hate it when they cheat the taxpayer and the worker.

  42. 42
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @Adria McDowell: Right now if you don’t have a clearance you’re not going to get hired. No one is going to spend the time or money getting you cleared. Hell I have a clearance and I lost out on a supervisory (contract) social scientist position because the Special Security Officer decided he wanted my clearance renewal done even though it didn’t need to be and his requesting it violated the official governmental guidance that as long as one is listed in the system (I was and am), then one can be read on. I was lucky it only took 12 months for my renewal to be done. Unfortunately the Prime contractor wouldn’t hold the position open for me past six months. So I lost out. Another time I got hosed on another contract supervisory position because we were lurching from continuing resolution to continuing resolution like we are now. And as a result the contracting officer refused to authorize any hires. Ultimately he or she just decided to pocket the money allocated because since the position hadn’t been filled for 9 months it obviously didn’t need to be filled.

  43. 43
    frosty says:

    @Adam L Silverman:

    The only advantage is I can be fired easily as a contractor as all the contracts are at will.

    That’s my point exactly. You hire contractors to cover the peak demand and let ’em go when it’s over. What I’m seeing in my business right now is a lot of consultants hired for a peak, then a realization that it’s not a peak, but a new floor, and over time convincing the County Board to add FTEs.

    Also, too, sometimes you need a consultant with special skillz that you can’t keep a full-timer busy at. At least I hope so, ’cause that’s been my niche.

  44. 44
    frosty says:

    @Adria McDowell: But they’re paying it to the contract employer. That’s part of the 2.75 multiplier (or Adam’s 3.0 or 5.0?!?!!?) It was part of my 1.3 at the County. It might not be an underfunded defined benefit pension, but there’s some retirement money somewhere.

  45. 45
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @frosty: If you need someone who does what I do, please let me know.

  46. 46
    Adam L Silverman says:

    Before anyone asks, I’ve deleted my post from earlier this evening. I’m tired of the abuse. I’m going to bed.

  47. 47
    frosty says:

    @Roger Moore:

    they’re easier to hire and fire than government employees.

    Then you get the situation where they really like the consultant and they win the contract every 3 to 5 years when it gets renewed, at which point there’s an outside institutional memory and they’re harder to fire. I’ve been on both sides of that line.

  48. 48
    frosty says:

    @Adam L Silverman: I wish I could. I’m in watersheds, stormwater, hydrology, water quality, TMDLs, Chesapeake Bay cleanup. No security clearances needed, unfortunately. A lot of GIS and aquatic ecology though.

  49. 49
    Adam L Silverman says:

    @frosty: No worries. Always be selling!

    And with that a good night to you all.

  50. 50
    Adria McDowell says:

    @frosty: My master’s thesis was about the CRS program run by FEMA. I like GIS, but not good enough at it to justify anyone hiring me.

  51. 51
    Another Scott says:

    @trollhattan: The “100-megaton” bit caught my eye as well.

    It’s so over-the-top big that it makes me think that it’s a made up number, or they messed up the units, or both.

    Tsar Bomba had a 50 MT yield and weighed 60,000 pounds.

    We’re not going to see submarine-launched 30 ton “drones” any time soon.

    My $0.02. (It’s just my supposition – I have no inside information.)


  52. 52
    Adria McDowell says:

    “Right now if you don’t have a clearance you’re not going to get hired. No one is going to spend the time or money getting you cleared.”

    Exactly why I laughed at my husband when he suggested it.

    At this point, county or state level jobs are my only option.

  53. 53
    frosty says:

    @Adria McDowell: I like GIS, I like maps, I was sort of in on the ground floor when it took off in the late 80s … and I’ve stayed on the ground floor. A knowledgeable user but I sure as hell don’t want to write scripts or program anything. :::shudders:::

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