In addition to passing secret information to the People’s Republic of China, a naval flight officer held on espionage charges is also suspected of passing secrets to Taiwan, a U.S. official with information on the case told USNI News on Monday.
Lt. Cmdr. Edward Chieh-Liang Lin — who emigrated from Taiwan to the U.S. — is currently being held in a Navy brig in Virginia on several charges that allege he spied for both countries, the official told USNI News.
The service has released few details about the case beyond the heavily redacted charge sheet. From the document, it appears Lin had mishandled secret information and traveled to a foreign country without authorization and lied about it to superiors later. In addition to the espionage accusation, Lin is also charged with patronizing prostitutes and committing adultery – violations of military law.
“These issues are always clouded in obscurity without the whole story,” a former U.S. defense official told USNI News on Monday.
“[But] it would be unusual for a person to consciously be feeding stuff to both sides.”
He’s been held quietly in pre-trial confinement for about eight months, sources familiar with the investigation told USNI News on Sunday.
Lin’s case – which came to light on Friday during his Article 32 hearing – would be the first time in decades that a uniformed member of the Navy willingly passed secrets to a foreign government. He served as a signals intelligence expert on the Navy’s sensitive EP-3E Aries II surveillance aircraft and as a nuclear-trained enlisted sailor.
As to Taiwan’s involvement, while the island nation shares a close relationship with the U.S., there have been instances in the past where U.S. officials have passed classified information to Taipei or Chinese agents posing to forward Taipei’s interests.
“Taiwan is like Israel, it’s a close relationship — we have a security relationship with them — but they also collect on us,” Randy Schriver, with the Armitage International consultancy and a former U.S. Navy officer, told USNI News on Monday.
In 2005, U.S. State Department official Donald Keyser pled guilty to federal charges of lying to the FBI about a sexual relationship with a Taiwanese intelligence agent and unauthorized handling of classified information.
In 2009, retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. James Wilbur Fondren Jr. was convicted of writing white papers that contained classified information for a naturalized U.S. citizen from Taiwan for about four years who was working for Chinese intelligence services. The relationship included a trip to China where Fondren met with a People’s Republic of China official.
The former U.S. defense official told USNI News that if Taiwan had indeed cultivated Lin as a source of classified information the revelation could damage the relationship between Taipei and Washington.
“They are usually careful not to avoid that [type of intelligence collection] and play within in the lines,” the official said.
Following Lin’s Article 32 hearing this past Friday – loosely equivalent to a civilian grand jury – adjudication of the case rests with U.S. Fleet Forces commander Adm. Phil Davidson. He will decide if the case is to proceed to court martial.