The United States Department of Justice has arrested a former officer of the Central Intelligence Agency for reportedly helping China dismantle the country’s spying operations and leaking the details of US informants.

Jerry Chun Shing Lee was arrested on Monday night when he arrived at the John F Kennedy International Airport in New York. He was charged in a federal court in Northern Virginia for unlawfully retaining national defence information.

The 53-year-old naturalised US citizen had left the agency in 2007 and lives in Hong Kong currently. It is not yet known why he came back to the US.

Lee’s arrest was the result of an intense inquiry by the Federal Bureau of Investigation that started in 2012, two years after the agency began losing its informants in China, The New York Times reported.

During a visit to the US in 2012, FBI agents had searched his luggage and found two small books that contained handwritten notes full of classified information. It reportedly contained the real names and phone numbers of the agency’s assets and covert CIA employees, operational notes from meetings and details from locations of meeting places and covert facilities.

More than a dozen CIA informants have been either killed or imprisoned by the Chinese government since 2010. The number of informants who were lost were close to the losses of informants in the Soviet Union and Russia due to the betrayals of both Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, The New York Times reported.