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Two Decades of Deception Revealed

Katrina Leung hid two affairs, her role as FBI informant and, accusers say, her work for China.

May 12, 2003|K. Connie Kang and Megan Garvey | Times Staff Writers

When Chinese warships made their first visit to the U.S. mainland six years ago, alleged double agent Katrina Leung hosted a special banquet welcoming the naval power.

It was a familiar role for Leung, who stood between Chinese and American flags. For two decades, the gracious mistress of ceremonies successfully cast herself as a grateful emigre, a woman committed to building ties between her native China and the U.S.

Today, her closest friends say they are shocked to learn she was on the FBI payroll, but federal prosecutors say she was keeping an even deeper secret.

They allege Leung was working for China during the two decades that she collected $1.7 million to spy for the United States. For nearly as long, Leung, who is married, had an affair with the FBI agent who recruited her in the early 1980s, James J. Smith. Leung also acknowledged to authorities an affair with an FBI agent in San Francisco.

She was indicted Thursday on charges of obtaining, copying and keeping national security documents, federal crimes punishable by up to 50 years in prison. She has remained in custody since her arrest April 9.

Leung, who was not charged with espionage, denied betraying the United States in a statement issued last month by her family and friends. For 20 years, it said, Leung did exactly what the FBI asked, "giving up her career and personal life" out of loyalty to the United States. "Two agents embarrassed the FBI by taking advantage of Katrina," it said.

Throughout this time, Leung introduced Smith at numerous social events as "my good friend from the FBI." Leung's friends said they did not suspect a romantic entanglement.

Smith, 59, is accused in a federal indictment of gross negligence for allowing Leung access to classified documents and depriving the FBI of "his honest services."

The two are scheduled to be arraigned today.

Smith is free on bail. Also married, he retired from the bureau in November 2000, but allegedly continued the affair until late last year.

Prosecutors say the liaisons gave Leung access to government information. The bureau's yearlong investigation included audio surveillance, evidence the FBI says includes tapes of the couple having sex at a Los Angeles-area hotel in November.

The surprise, said Leung's acquaintances, was not that she may have worked for China, but that she was working for the FBI.

Leung was unwavering in her public support for the People's Republic of China -- touting the progress made by the Communist government and downplaying human rights concerns. She organized the local celebration of China's founding day, Oct. 1, almost every year since China's L.A. consulate opened in 1988.

After Deng Xiao-ping, China's "paramount leader," died in 1997, Leung greeted dignitaries and visitors who paid respects at a memorial at the Chinese consulate in Los Angeles. She organized the welcoming banquet when Premier Zhu Rongji visited Los Angeles in 1999.

Chinese American leaders who traveled to Beijing as special delegations said Leung enjoyed a vice minister's level of treatment by Chinese officials. She helped arrange a face-to-face meeting in 1998 between then-Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan and Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

The FBI had recruited her in the early 1980s, before she became well-known locally. She was approached, according to a statement by her family and friends, because of her "contacts in China." The FBI convinced her that covert work would be for the "good of America and the Chinese people."

Her last trip overseas began with a business conference in Hong Kong, where Leung attended a cocktail hour for the finance minister of the regional Chinese government.

On her way to the conference, federal officials secretly searched her luggage at LAX, finding photographs of Los Angeles-area FBI agents.

Those who saw her at the conference said she gave no hint, if she was aware, that the U.S. government that had employed her for 20 years now suspected her of double-dealing.

From Hong Kong, she traveled to China, where she surprised members of Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn's delegation by turning up unexpectedly at the Beijing hotel where they were staying.

On her way home, the FBI again searched her luggage.

The photos of the agents were gone.

Federal prosecutors suspect the photographs may have been the last of Leung's efforts to provide information to China's intelligence agency.

A Private Life

The barest skeleton of Leung's life -- one characterized by her attorneys as an immigrant's American dream and by federal prosecutors as an elaborate ruse -- is laid out in court papers and a statement released by her husband. Interviews with dozens of her business associates, friends and acquaintances, as well as her past remarks, reveal a woman who pursued the limelight while sharing little about herself.

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