Taiwan-born Navy officer pleading guilty, but not to spying

A courtroom sketch of the trial of Edward Lin.

NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY/AP) — A Taiwan-born Navy officer accused of espionage struck a deal with the U.S. government and agreed Thursday to plead guilty to several charges, but not to spying involving China or Taiwan.

40-year-old Lt. Cmdr. Edward C. Lin is pleading guilty to mishandling classified information, communicating national defense information, failing to report foreign contacts and lying about where he was going to while on leave.

Lin and his attorneys were hashing out the deal in a Navy court in Norfolk.

Lin told the judge he communicated defense information about his unit to a woman he knew as “Catherine Wu.” He told the judge they would meet at Starbucks and would also go to dinner. Lin explained in court he gave Wu information pertaining to the general capabilities and operational activity of his unit. He befriended Wu, he said, because they had similar backgrounds. Wu told Lin she was Taiwanese-born, that she had lost a parent and had a failed marriage. Wu was actually an undercover FBI agent.

Lin said to the judge that he knew it was unlawful at the time to give Wu that information and that he knew he was breaking the law. That information was described in court as being “closely held, not been made available to the general public,” but it was unclear if the information was specifically categorized as “secret” or “classified.” The judge explained it’s not necessary that Lin “intended to harm the United States, but that he needed to have reason to believe the information could cause such harm.”

In another instance, Lin told the judge he intentionally gave information to a woman identified as Janice Chen. Chen, an American citizen of Chinese descent, was a registered foreign agent working for the country of Taiwan.

Lin also told the judge he knew he was wrong when in 2013 when he listed Alexandria, Virginia, as the destination on his leave request when the true destination was Taiwan, to visit family. He admits also visiting with a high ranking Taiwanese Naval officer while there. Lin said he lied on leave documents again in 2015 when he claimed to once again be going to Alexandria, when he actually had plans to go to China to see a girl he met online.

Lin said the mishandling of classified information occurred in February 2015, when he was stopped at the San Francisco International Airport by a Homeland Security officer. The officer searched Lin’s checked baggage and found a Naval flight suit containing two classified documents. The documents contained secret search and rescue codes that Lin was supposed to destroy immediately after the flights, which occurred months earlier. Lin told the judge he knew he was supposed to destroy them. He also let the Homeland Security officer handle the documents, knowing that officer did not have a “need to know” required to view them, and had no knowledge as to if that officer had the proper security clearance.

Lin told the judge in that moment, he was “shocked” and was “more concerned about his career” than about the security of those documents.

Lin’s attorney, Larry D. Youngner, spoke to 10 On Your Side about the case on Friday.

“We’ve maintained he was never a spy. I was quite concerned when the case started that someone attributed to government sources that Lt. Cmdr. Lin had been spying for China or had allegedly traded sex for secrets. That was never the case,” Youngner said. “What this did was set the record straight. Eddie Lin had never spied against the United States, he had no intention ever to harm the United States or to help a foreign country.”

Lin’s sister, Jenny Lin, wrote to members of Congress last year and said the Navy lacks evidence to support the charges against her brother.

An official list of Lin’s Navy assignments said he joined the service in December 1999 as an enlisted sailor and attended Navy nuclear training at Charleston, South Carolina, from 2000 to 2002. He then attended Officer Candidate School and gained his commission in May 2002.

He attended the Navy War College at Newport, Rhode Island, and served for nearly two years in Washington on the staff of the assistant secretary of the Navy for financial management and comptroller.

His official Navy biography says he was assigned to the Special Projects Patrol Squadron at Kaneohe, Hawaii, from Feb. 15, 2014, to March 25, 2016.

A Navy press release about Lin’s attendance at his naturalization ceremony in Hawaii in December 2008 said he was 14 when he and his family left Taiwan.

“I always dreamt about coming to America, the ‘promised land,'” Lin was quoted as saying. “I grew up believing that all the roads in America lead to Disneyland.”

A judge is expected to sentence Lin next month. He could get up to 36 years in confinement and the equivalent of a dishonorable discharge, which means he would lose all benefits from his 17-and-a-half-year career.

Lin will be sentenced on June 1 and 2.

This sketch shows Edward Lin, center, in court May 4, 2017.

Associated Press reporter Ben Finley contributed to this report.