Analysis: How serious is the Edward Lin spy case?

Edward LinFor the first time since 1985, when the Federal Bureau of Investigation broke the John Walker spy ring, an active United States Navy officer has been charged with espionage. On Sunday, the US Navy reported the arrest Lt. Cmdr. Edward C. Lin, who faces two counts of espionage and three counts of attempted espionage, among other charges. Aside from a three-page, heavily redacted charge sheet released by the US Navy, almost nothing is known about this case. However, there are several clues that point to the seriousness of the charges against Lin, and their potential ramifications for US national security, which are likely to be extensive.

Lin was a signals intelligence (SIGINT) specialist with the Navy, focusing on the airborne collection of maritime intelligence, mostly in the Pacific Ocean. Given that he is a naturalized citizen from Taiwan and speaks fluent Mandarin, it is almost certain that he was tasked with collecting SIGINT from targets in China and Taiwan. If that is so, then the prospect that Lin may have given classified information to Chinese or Taiwanese intelligence officers will be especially unsettling for Washington. Moreover, Lin is believed to have worked with some of the most advanced airborne intelligence-gathering platforms in the Pentagon’s arsenal, including the MQ-4C Triton, the P-3C Orion, the P-8A Poseidon, and the EP-3 Aries II, which is arguably the most advanced maritime surveillance aircraft ever used by the US Navy.

It also appears that Lin had a relatively senior position in the US Navy’s chain of command. He was a departmental head in the Navy’s Patrol and Reconnaissance Group, overseeing the work of over 7,000 sailors. Prior to that post, he served as the Congressional Liaison for the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Financial Management and Comptroller. Lin’s critical positions in the chain of command may explain why US authorities arrested him nearly eight months ago in absolute secrecy and been holding him in pre-trial confinement without releasing any information to the media until last weekend. This level of secrecy in a national security investigation is rare and possibly points to the extent of damage assessment that needed to be completed following Lin’s arrest.

Authorities have charged Lin with two counts of espionage, which allegedly occurred abroad. It was there that Lin probably met with his foreign intelligence handlers, away from the prying eyes of US counterintelligence. It appears that Lin notified his superiors about his trips abroad, but provided false addresses of residence during those trips, which is illegal for holders of high-level security clearances. He also failed to report unauthorized contacts with foreign subjects, which he was required to do as a holder of a high-level security clearance. What is worth noting here, however, is that Lin appears to have been instructed by his handlers to meet them abroad. That is a financially costly and thus relatively rare measure taken by case officers to protect high-value agents, and may point to the seriousness of Lin’s spying on the US.

There is no official confirmation of the foreign intelligence agency that is believed to have recruited Lin. However, there are some reports in the media that he may have spied for both China and Taiwan, which could imply a non-ideological motive, possibly related to money or sex. Indeed, it may be no accident that Lin is also facing charges of marital infidelity and employing prostitutes while traveling abroad.

Espionage cases involving active-duty members of the US military are extremely rare, which is why they usually make lasting headlines. They include the John Walker spy case during the Cold War, which revealed massive damage done to US national security over nearly 20 years. A more recent case is that of Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning, which also implicated the international whistleblower website WikiLeaks. Technically, under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, members of the US Armed Forces that are found guilty of espionage can face the death penalty. That, however, is unlikely to be the outcome of this most recent case, unless Lin chooses not to cooperate with US authorities.

Will we ever conclusively know details about this case, including the identity or identities of the foreign intelligence agencies that are believed to have recruited Lin? That will happen only if the US Navy decides that his case warrants a court martial. If that does not happen, we will have to settle for educated conjectures and —often unreliable— media leaks on the subject.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 12 April 2016 | Permalink

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2 Responses to Analysis: How serious is the Edward Lin spy case?

  1. AlbertE. says:

    The characteristic signature of the Chinese intelligence services. They recruit from only their own kind. Ethnic Chinese. They don’t trust others.

  2. IHO007 says:

    How is it that the us navy still keeps fast-tracking the careers of the nation’s worst traitors? This guy is just like Pollard was: despite obvious questions, systematically promoted right into the middle of sensitive departments. It seems this kind of aiding and abetting the enemy is specific to the us navy, never heard of similarly expensive traitors from the other services. How did that navy “culture” come about?

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