A federal judge in Alexandria yesterday refused to block prosecutors from using statements accused spy Larry Wu-Tai Chin made to FBI agents shortly before his arrest on espionage charges.
U.S. District Judge Albert V. Bryan Jr. said Chin's statements to the agents, in which he allegedly admitted spying for the Chinese, were made voluntarily and before he was taken into custody, meaning that agents did not have to advise Chin of his constitutional rights to seek counsel and to remain silent.
At the hearing, Chin also entered a plea of not guilty to a 17-count indictment on espionage, tax and financial reporting charges issued against him Thursday by a federal grand jury. Bryan postponed Chin's trial from later this month until Feb. 4.
Chin, 63, a retired analyst for the CIA's Foreign Broadcast Information Service, is charged with spying for the Chinese from 1952 until his arrest Nov. 22.
Defense lawyer Jacob A. Stein argued that agents violated Chin's constitutional rights by misleading him into thinking that if he cooperated with them, "leniency is a reasonable possibility." He said the situation was exacerbated when one of the agents told Chin that he was a lawyer after Chin suggested he might need legal counsel.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph J. Aronica said, however, that Chin knew he "had a choice and chose not to ask the agents to leave."
Bryan agreed, saying that the agents' actions, "while importuning" Chin to answer their questions, "were not such that you could say they were coercive."
FBI Agent Mark R. Johnson testified that three agents who questioned Chin at his Alexandria office on the evening of Nov. 22 told him repeatedly he was free to ask the agents to leave or to call an attorney, but that if he did, the agents would "go straight to the Department of Justice and present our case."
But Chin testified that when "I said maybe I need legal counsel . . . I don't remember if they did reply to my request." When Johnson disclosed that he was a lawyer, Chin said, "I thought . . . if he was [a] lawyer I did not have the need" to call an attorney. "Because of his advice I did not call a laywer."
Under cross-examination by Aronica, Chin denied that agents had told him he was not compelled to answer their questions, saying, "I was not advised at all, not in that respect."
He said he owned 31 properties in the Washington area, Baltimore, Las Vegas and elsewhere in the United States. Chin is believed to have received more than $1 million for his alleged espionage, according to sources familiar with the case.
Amplifying on a document filed by prosecutors Tuesday, Johnson testified that when Chin asked the agents what evidence they had against him, they related the details of a September 1983 meeting in Hong Kong between Chin and his alleged "handler" in the Chinese intelligence service. At the meeting, Johnson said, Chin informed the Chinese agent, Ou Qiming, about a "rare opportunity" to try to recruit a fellow CIA employe who was going to be traveling to Hong Kong and gave Ou the name of a sibling of the employe who was still in China to be used as leverage.
Johnson said Chin also "hinted" at the Hong Kong meeting that if the Chinese would pay him $150,000, "he would pay off his wife, get a divorce, and get rehired by the CIA." Chin retired from the agency in 1981 but was employed as a contractor until his arrest.
Confronted with this information, Chin "was basically stunned," Johnson said.
He said Chin then told the agents they had information that "only Ou knew," and speculated that Ou had defected. Johnson did not say whether this speculation was correct, but when asked in court to identify Ou, he testified, using the past tense, that Ou "was a [Chinese] intelligence oficer."
Chin then agreed to give the agents an outline of his espionage activities, Johnson said, but balked at providing certain details, authorizing a search of his home and office and signing a written statement.
Another agent, Terry Roth, testified that when he asked Chin why he would not sign a written statement, Chin replied: "That would be evidence coming from the horse's mouth, and I would be the horse."