A previous version of the post erroneously deleted a quote from former military lawyer Rob “Butch” Bracknell. The quote has been restored, USNI News apologizes for the error.
NAVAL STATION NORFOLK, Va. — A Navy officer who pleaded guilty to mishandling classified information and not reporting foreign contacts will serve 6 years of confinement and will be dismissed from the Navy, a military judge ruled in a Friday sentencing hearing.
Lt. Cmdr. Edward Lin, 40, was sentenced to a nine-year sentence with the last three years suspended as part of a pre-trial agreement with the government. Along with a 646-day credit for time served in pre-trial confinement, Lin could be released from the brig in about four years.
He pleaded guilty last month to mishandling classified information, not reporting foreign contacts and putting U.S. destinations on leave requests when he had planned to leave the country.
The admission of guilt was part of a plea arrangement reached in April between the defense team and prosecutors.
In exchange for admitting to the lesser charges, Lin did not face two instances of espionage and three instances of attempted espionage, which were the most serious charges the government preferred last April.
Instead, the government charged Lin under Federal law in communicating secret information with a U.S. citizen who worked for Taiwanese political party and an undercover FBI agent.
“While this case didn’t turn out to be related to foreign intelligence — not really a ‘spy’ case — the sentence sends a strong message to the force about taking care to safeguard classified and sensitive information,” Rob “Butch” Bracknell, a former Marine and military lawyer, told USNI News on Friday.”It also invites comparison to other more high profile classified and sensitive information cases in Washington, and it may be fair criticism that senior folks are handled with kid gloves compared to rank and file personnel.”
Lin, by his own admission before a military judge, was sloppy with handling classified information and arrogantly attempting to impress women with information he knew.
“I get physically ill when I think about the damage I could have caused from my actions,” Lin said on Friday.
“I’m exhausted and broken in spirit. The best thing I can do is serve as a cautionary tale to others.”
Federal officials began investigating Lin in early 2014 based on an FBI tip that he may have been sharing sensitive information with foreign agents, NCIS Special Agent Chris Mitchum told the court on Thursday.
The Navy and the Department of Justice then mounted a joint NCIS/FBI investigation into Lin’s foreign contacts with a focus on the year he worked in Washington, D.C. Lin served on the staff of Vice Adm. Joseph Mulloy, then the Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Financial Management and Comptroller. Lin had previously served as Mulloy’s aide during a tour at U.S. Pacific Fleet in from mid-2007 to early 2009.
During the investigation, the FBI and NCIS had combed through Lin’s personal and Navy emails and found he had developed a close relationship with Cmdr. Justin Kao of the Taiwanese Navy, a military officer attached to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) in the United States – Taiwan’s embassy equivalent in the U.S.
Lin did not report his relationship with Kao or another TECRO military attaché Cmdr. Victor Hsu, required by his position.
Lin had also developed a relationship with Janice Chen, an American who worked for the Taiwanese Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and was a registered foreign agent.
As part of his plea, Lin admitted to sending Chen emails on his takes on international news stories that included analysis based on classified operational plans he learned of while serving on the carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69).
“This is something you would probably never see in the published literature, but it’s pretty close to ground truth,” Lin wrote Chen in a July 22, 2017 email according to prosecutors.
In 2013 Lin arranged a meeting with the head of the Taiwanese Navy, Vice Adm. Richard Chen Yeong-kang, through his TECRO contacts, lied about his destination on his leave request and did not report the encounter.
The start of Lin’s investigation began shortly after he reported to one of the Navy’s most secretive units – the Special Projects Squadron Two “Wizards” (VPU-2) – based at Marine Corps Air Base Kaneohe, Hawaii. The Wizards fly specialized versions of the service’s P-3C Orion and P-8A Poseidon aircraft used for signals and electronic intelligence gathering.
Retired Cmdr. Paul Crawford, Lin’s commander at VPU-2, said Lin deployed several times with the unit while he was under investigation.
While he was in Hawaii, Lin developed relationships with two Chinese nationals he did not report to security officials – one was an employee at the China Doll massage parlor in Honolulu and another was a prison official Lin met online.
Lin had given both women several thousand dollars but prosecutors said there was no evidence they were agents of the People’s Republic of China.
“This never was a case of spying or trading secrets for sex,” government prosecutor Capt. Michael Luken said.
“I don’t know who the sources were, but from convening authority or the trail counsel, we’ve never asserted that.”
Much of the case against Lin came from an FBI agent who’s back story shared similarities to Lin’s mother who died from cancer. The FBI agent assumed the alias of Katerine Wu and over a period of five meetings from August to September in 2015, Lin told the agent secret information about his unit.
“I felt like I was talking to my mother, even though I knew she wasn’t,” Lin said in his unsworn statement.
While Lin admitted he told the agent information she wasn’t authorized to hear, he said his intent was to communicate a military career was an honorable pursuit in the U.S.
Shortly after Lin’s last meeting with the undercover agent, Lin was arrested in the Honolulu airport intending to fly to mainland China to meet with the prison official he met online on Sept. 11, 2015.
In a statement, Lin’s attorney said that now that the trial is over Lin is committed to cooperate
“Lt. Cmdr. Eddy Lin never spied on his country. He served faithfully in the United States Navy for over 17 years, becoming a highly regarded and decorated officer,” Lin’s lawyer Larry Youngner told USNI News. “He accepted responsibility for the offenses he was actually guilty of and he agreed to debrief and further assist the FBI and NCIS.”