NAVAL STATION NORFOLK, Va. — The Navy has dropped espionage charges against Lt. Cmdr. Edward Lin, part of a plea bargain agreement with the government that will result in the accused spy pleading guilty to a slate of lesser charges.
Lin, who initially faced more than 30 years in the brig for allegations of spying for Taiwan and other misconduct, will plead guilty to lesser charges of communicating defense information, as well as multiple counts of disobeying lawful orders for mishandling classified information, lying on his leave chits about his travel and not reporting foreign contacts.
Lin will be sentenced during a hearing in June. The plea agreement was revealed publicly for the first time Thursday at a court-martial hearing at Naval Station Norfolk.
Lin was arrested in September 2015 boarding a flight to China. Investigators feared Lin, who was a member of an elite and covert aerial surveillance squadron in Hawaii and had access to some of the Navy's deepest secrets, was traveling to meet a contact. Indeed, after two days of intense interrogation, Lin gave what amounted to a confession to telling secrets to contacts in Taiwanese diplomatic circles. But when prosecutors began peeling back the onion on Lin's confession, it became clear that Lin may have given a false admission.
A Navy Times investigation in January found a chasm between the evidence against Lin and the sensational headlines that broke early in 2016 suggesting Lin was a spy for China and was trading sex for secrets.
The NCIS investigation did not reveal any substantial connections between Lin and China. The flight to China that Lin was arrested while boarding was a pleasure trip to meet a Chinese woman he met online, the Navy Times investigation revealed.
The Navy originally intended his court-martial to run for two weeks, but on Wednesday, convening authority Fleet Forces Command announced it had been curtailed to just two days. That suggested a major development, which came to fruition in the form of the plea deal.
The Navy Times investigation uncovered a deposition of one of Lin's primary contacts — a Taiwanese naval officer who is now retired and living in the U.S. — which cast significant doubt on whether Lin had actually told him anything classified. Justin Kao described a cordial relationship between he and Lin, where Lin would occasionally share open source information with him over email, but Lin didn't share any of the secrets he had access to.
Furthermore, an NCIS investigation known as the Rogue Archer report — also obtained by Navy Times — showed that Lin at one point suggested Kao go through official Pentagon information-sharing channels when Kao asked about potentially sensitive submarine-launched torpedo test results.
In fact, there was stronger evidence the Lin was — or had been — a spy for the United States. The investigation revealed that Lin was an operative in a joint FBI/NCIS task force at some point in his career, but was read out of the program during the period of the accusations for spying and not reporting travel and foreign contacts.
Read the full Navy Times investigation here:
David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.