Around 2010, the CIA learned there was a mole that was sharing gravely damaging information with China. Unfortunately, it took years to figure out who it was.
Jerry Lee is a naturalized American citizen, also known as Zhen Cheng Li in China. He served in the U.S. Army from 1982 to 1986 and then joined the CIA in 1994, working in China.
He left the CIA in 2007 because he was allegedly unhappy that his career had stalled.
After leaving the CIA, he lived in Hong Kong with his family, where he worked as a security chief for a prominent auction house.
For the CIA, things starting unraveling in 2010 when a high-level U.S. spy ring in China began disappearing, one by one.
The collapse of this espionage operation was a disaster for U.S. intelligence.
It was also a human disaster in that the Chinese government killed or imprisoned between 18 to 20 assets within a few years.
“There was a period of time when reporting to the U.S. intelligence community out of China dried up almost completely, and you don’t rebuild that base of information overnight,” said Frank Figliuzzi, who was an FBI assistant director in 2011 and 2012.
In 2012, U.S. authorities began to suspect Lee was the traitor, so they came up with a plan to lure him to American soil by creating a job for him in Washington, D.C.
This job offer resulted in Lee flying back with his family to the U.S., stopping in Honolulu, Hawaii, for a few days.
During this stop, FBI surveillance teams secretly searched his hotel room and luggage, taking photographs of his possessions.
Shortly after this, the FBI first interviewed him for unknown reasons, but he was not arrested following the discovery of the two notebooks hidden in his luggage.
Both books were full of secrets including operational notes and meeting locations for CIA assets, along with the true names and phone numbers of several CIA employees and the addresses of CIA facilities.
These two books were the key components when charges were eventually brought against Lee.
The books reflected classified cables that Lee wrote when he was a case officer, which describe his interaction with assets and information he learned from those meetings.
At the time of the CIA losing assets, Lee was a retiree, a category China has targeted in the U.S. for defectors.
The reason is retired officials are not subject to further background checks or the other security measures that countries often put in place to monitor officials with sensitive access.
Even though U.S. officials had reason to arrest Lee in 2012, they chose to allow him to return to China, while they attempted to build their case that Lee was indeed the mole.
In 2018, Lee flew back to the U.S. and was arrested after landing at JFK airport in New York and charged with illegal possession of classified information.
In 2019, the traitor Lee pled guilty to conspiracy to commit espionage.
While you may not be trying to lure an agent back to the U.S., you may find yourself in situations where you may be dealing with similar issues at your own job.
What I mean is, perhaps you have an employee who you think is stealing from the company or you have an employee that might be sharing company secrets with competitors.
Heck, it could be a friend or a loved one. In either case, I want to share with you a few ways to approach these people to get them to come clean.
Forgiveness, to a degree. If an employee is stealing, you probably don’t want to just let it go. However, you can use this possible offer has a chance to get them to be honest and come clean.
What I mean is, you have to offer them something that really would make a difference in their lives.
Many people begin to feel guilt or regret and if they know you might “let it go,” they are more likely to admit to what they have done.
For example, this is where you could say, “If the money is returned, the company may just let it go and not get police involved.”
Believe me, I know this is easier said than done and it certainly depends on the amount of money or goods that have been stolen.
Focus on the positive. Ideally, you want to give them clear feedback in order to improve. The positives, as well as the negatives, provide the complete picture.
For instance, this is where you could make a statement such as, “You’ve been with the company for 20 years, this one mistake won’t define your career as long as we can fix this.”
My point is if they are given a chance at redemption, or fixing the mistake, they might admit to what they did. Again, this depends on how big the mistake is and if it is forgivable.
Enlist a double agent. Obviously, this sounds like something out of a movie. But, the fact is, if you suspect an employee may be stealing, or sharing company information, there might be other employees who are considering the same.
After you’ve tried the two methods above and still think an employee is up to no good, you may want to have another supposedly “disgruntled” employee try to get in their good graces.
Misery loves company. If an employee is always grumpy, they may share their mistakes or lies with another employee in the same boat.
The reality is, many of the same methods the CIA uses to lure bad actors can be applied to your work or everyday life.
Even though you aren’t a government operative, these tips can help you to protect your company and flush out anyone who has bad intentions.