China Doll: Was a Chinese-American Temptress Really a Secret Agent?

Katrina Leung was a temptress, but was she also an agent of influence for Beijing?

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Prompted by questions raised by the CIA man, FBI officials interviewed J. J. Smith about Leung. He assured his inquisitors Leung was sound. FBI officials won't say why, but in December 2001, the bureau obtained a surveillance warrant on Leung. By April 2002, the inquiry had expanded to include Smith. Months later, FBI agents obtained a trove of classified documents from Leung. They also interviewed Smith, Leung, and Cleveland. All three lied repeatedly during the interviews, Special Agent Thomas alleged in court documents.

Eventually, however, they cracked. Leung, Thomas said, admitted that she had "withheld information from both the FBI and the MSS over the years, deceiving both intelligence services." Smith, according to Thomas, acknowledged that he "probably told Leung too much in the course of operating her as an asset." He and his wife of more than 30 years, Gail, live with their son, Kelly, 24, just north of Los Angeles. A burly, handsome man, Smith served as an Army intelligence officer in Vietnam. Like Cleveland, who speaks fluent Mandarin and Cantonese, Smith was fascinated by China, so steeped in the country's culture and history that he was nominated by FBI brass for the prestigious National Intelligence Medal of Achievement. He received it shortly before he retired--for his handling of Leung. During one of several interviews by FBI agents, Smith denied having a sexual affair with Leung, unaware that FBI surveillance cameras had captured the two having sex in a Los Angeles hotel room.

Leung's double life appears to have begun and ended with the most mundane of events--a baggage search. Traveling to China in April 1990 as a "controlled" asset of the FBI, she was met by her MSS handler, "Mao." He covertly searched Leung's bags and turned up notes from Smith describing a Chinese individual who had defected to the United States. Mao found the notes to be far more comprehensive than the information Leung had given him on the individual. Leung, according to court papers, admitted that she was working for the FBI. She even had an FBI code name, she said--"Parlor Maid." Nonplused, Mao demanded that Leung switch loyalties. She agreed, according to court papers, and was promptly given another code name, "Luo Zhongshan." If Leung had truly begun her secret life in the employ of the MSS, she had now, if the allegations in the court documents are to be believed, completed the triple cross--working first for the MSS, then the FBI and, finally, for the MSS again.

In November 2002, when Leung traveled to China, it was the FBI's turn to search her bags, as part of a surveillance. They found a faxed cover page from J. J. Smith and six photographs of current and retired FBI agents. Smith, the court papers say, gave Leung the photographs after he retired. When FBI agents searched her bags on her return to the United States, the photographs were gone.

Circumstantial evidence? Perhaps, but in videotaped interviews, Special Agent Thomas wrote in court papers, Leung has "generally admitted to surreptitiously taking and copying documents from Smith." Leung allegedly stole the documents from Smith's briefcase after he "debriefed" her in her home, then stepped away to use the restroom or to smoke outside. Leung told the FBI, according to Thomas, that "although Smith sometimes allowed her to review classified documents, he never permitted her to retain them."

Smith recruited Leung in 1982, when she was just 28, the same year she filed papers to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. U.S. News has learned that the FBI helped Leung get her citizenship. Sources say Leung attracted the FBI's "distant eyes" in the late 1970s, when the bureau was trying to track and recruit Chinese students who came to the United States after normalization. When Leung moved to Los Angeles, sources say, Smith interviewed her as part of an investigation into whether a Lawrence Livermore lab physicist sold neutron bomb secrets to China. Smith passed Leung on to Cleveland, who was leading the inquiry.