US Naval Officer with 'secret' clearance held on espionage charges

Lieutenant Commander Edward Lin has been charged with espionage, falsifying records, and patronizing prostitutes. 

REUTERS via U.S. Navy/ Mass Communication Specialist 1st class Sarah Murphy
U.S. Navy Lt. Edward Lin, a native of Taiwan, speaks about his path to American citizenship at a naturalization ceremony in Honolulu, Hawaii, in this U.S. Navy handout photo taken December 3, 2008. Lin, a U.S. Navy officer with access to sensitive U.S. intelligence, faces espionage charges over accusations he passed state secrets, possibly to China and Taiwan, a U.S. official told Reuters on Sunday.

A United States Naval Officer has been accused of espionage, falsifying records, and patronizing prostitutes, among other charges that became public following a preliminary hearing last Friday.

The US Naval Institute identified the suspect as Taiwanese-born, naturalized American citizen Lieutenant Commander Edward Lin, who was arrested eight months ago, although details have only just emerged following Friday's hearing.

Lt. Cmdr. Lin, who was profiled in a US Navy public relations article in 2008 following his naturalization ceremony, allegedly had access to materials classified at the "secret" level – one level below the well-known "top secret" classification.

A redacted Navy charge sheet shows multiple accusations of communicating secret information as well as further charges of attempting to do so to a foreign government "with intent or reason to believe it would be used to the advantage of a foreign nation."

While the exact foreign government in question went unmentioned, Lin's fluency in Mandarin has led to speculation that China or Taiwan could be involved. At present, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense in Taipei has declined to comment, stating only that, "The case does not involve the Republic of China [Taiwan's official name], and the ministry has no comment on related reports." The Ministry included, "it is also not appropriate to comment on the national defense affairs of other countries."

According to the United States Naval Institute – a private, non-profit, professional military association – sources familiar with the case named China as the country to which Lin passed secrets.

The preliminary hearing last Friday follows a recently-developing pattern of espionage claims and accusations by the US government against China, most recently seen mere weeks ago when a Chinese businessman pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy to steal sensitive military information. The man in question, Su Bin, admitted to collaborating with two co-conspirators to gather and sell military secrets attained from Boeing and other defense contractors over a six-year period.

In September, China's President Xi Jinping denied any wrongdoing and agreed to a pact with American President Obama to abstain from hacking each other's countries. The pact followed reports from last June that China had breached the US Office of Personnel Management's computer network in what is now known to be a wide-scale act of cyber espionage.

Following the Personnel Management breach, Joel Brenner, a former top official for the US Government in counterintelligence, stated, "these forums contain decades of personal information about people with clearances…which makes them easier to recruit for foreign espionage on behalf of a foreign country."

No connection has been made between that data hack and the current charges against Lt. Cmdr. Lin.

Lin held a high level of clearance, thanks to his work as a signals-intelligence specialist on some of the Navy's most sensitive intelligence-gathering aircraft, according to the original report from the US Naval Institute. He previously worked as a department head for a Special Projects Patrol Squadron based out of Hawaii, which flew highly specialized signals-intelligence aircraft.

Lin is being held in a navy brig in Chesapeake, Va. If convicted, he could face the death penalty.

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