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With a plea deal in hand, disgraced Navy flight officer Edward Lin expresses remorse in court

NAVAL STATION NORFOLK, Va. — After striking a deal with government prosecutors that withdrew the most serious spying charges against him, Lt. Cmdr. Edward Lin spoke publicly Thursday for the first time about his misdeeds and the circumstances that kept him behind bars for more than a year and a half.

During five hours of testimony in open court, Lin confessed to being arrogant in thinking he didn't need to report his foreign contacts and playing fast and loose with sensitive information in conversations with his friend, Janice Chen and an undercover FBI agent. Lin also pleaded guilty to mishandling classified information and to lying about his destination on his leave chits.

But while the charges he pleaded guilty to were serious enough, the story of Edward Lin that emerged in the courtroom was far more nuanced and complicated than sensational headlines suggested when the story broke last April. Lin testified to a baffling series of increasingly bizarre decisions that began with maintaining questionable contacts and misrepresenting his leave plans, and culminated in relationships with a Chinese massage therapist in Honolulu and an unreported trip to China to meet a female prison guard he met online while in the midst of a divorce. 

Lin faces a sentencing hearing in June.

In a statement to Navy Times, Lin's attorney Larry Youngner said he feels vindicated by the plea deal, which was signed off on by the court-martial's convening authority, Fleet Forces Commander Adm. Phil Davidson.

"As I said in 2015, Lt. Cmdr. Eddy Lin never spied on his country," Youngner said. "Lt. Cmdr. Lin loves the United States of America and his greatest personal triumph was becoming a U.S. citizen and serving for over 17 years in the U.S. Navy."

Youngner thanked Davidson on behalf of Lin for accepting the deal.

"On behalf of our client, Lt. Cmdr. Eddy Lin, we are grateful that Admiral Davidson accepted his plea agreement."

Lin was interviewed by the presiding judge about the charges he pleaded guilty to in an effort to ensure he was telling the truth, during which Lin offered explanations for each of the charges.

Lin pleaded guilty to communicating defense information, a much less serious charge that carries 10 years maximum per specification. He told the judge he passed classified information to a friend of his over email and to an undercover FBI agent operating under the alias of Katherine Wu, with a cover story tailor-made to generate empathy in Lin.

Over emails with Janice Chen, a friend of Lin's who he met at Tufts University and a U.S.-based lobbyist for a major Taiwanese political party, Lin said he disclosed information that was about four years out of date about contingency operation plans in the Asia-Pacific region. Chen, he said, would often email him open source articles and seek his opinion on them.

Over several coffee meetings at Starbucks, Lin told Wu information about the mission and capabilities of his covert special aerial surveillance squadron. Wu was sent by the FBI with a cover story that closely matched the details of Lin's life: A Taiwanese native, recent divorcee who lost her mother when she was young, just as Lin had. The judge told Lin that entrapment — when law enforcement induces an otherwise innocent person to commit a crime — was a potential defense in the case of the undercover FBI agent, and made Lin and his attorneys disavow the defense before he accepted the plea deal.

For failing to report contacts, Lin told the judged he let his ego run away from him, maintaining a number of contacts with Taiwanese and Taiwanese-American foreign agents. Lin said he did not report them to his security clearance manager because he didn't think anyone needed to know.

"I was arrogant, your honor," Lin said.

Lin also failed to disclose his relationship with a Chinese national working as a masseuse in Honolulu, and his online relationship with a Chinese security guard, because he didn't want the command to think less of him.

"I was in a highly coveted and sought-after billet," he said. "Divorce is shameful in my culture and I didn't want my command to think less of me for socializing with a woman who was not my wife."

Lin was separated from his wife at the time of the relationships.

Lin confessed to mishandling classified information in connection with a classified flight manifest stuffed in his flight suit and discovered in a targeted security screening by Homeland Security agents while disembarking from an international flight at San Francisco International Airport. Lin turned the manifest over to an agent who said he'd destroy it instead of notifying his command that he'd failed to destroy the document after the mission.

"When I turned it over I was more concerned about what transporting it would do to my career and future than about properly disposing it."

Lin was also discovered with notes he took while studying for qualifications that were classified and stored in a notebook at his apartment.

When it came to lying on his leave chits, Lin told the judge he simply wanted to skip the administrative burdens that go along with filing an out-of-country leave chit. Lin put his home address in Alexandria as his destination but instead traveled to Taiwan and was intending to travel to China, but was arrested boarding the flight by federal agents.

Lin will be back in court June 1 and 2, when the prosecution and defense will spar over specific circumstances and mitigating factors before the judge renders his final sentence. Lin faces a maximum of 36 years in prison, but it's unlikely he will see anything close to that as his attorneys would have had a good idea of how long he was facing before agreeing to the deal.

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