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The fall of Edward Lin, the Navy officer accused of espionage and patronizing a prostitute

Then-Lt. Edward Lin, a native of Taiwan, discusses his journey to American citizenship at a naturalization ceremony in 2008. (Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st class Sarah Murphy/ Navy)

When Edward C. Lin was a Navy lieutenant, he was selected to speak to a group of people who were about to be naturalized as U.S. citizens along with him at a ceremony in Honolulu. He and his family left Taiwan for the United States when he was 14, he recalled, and he needed a translator to help him register for school when he arrived.

“I always dreamt about coming to America, the ‘promised land,’” Lin said, according to a Navy account of the December 2008 ceremony. “I grew up believing that all the roads in America lead to Disneyland.”

More than seven years later, Lin faces charges of espionage, attempted espionage and patronizing a prostitute in a rare spying case involving an active-duty member of the U.S. military. It’s a steep fall for a lieutenant commander who has served on some of the Navy’s most advanced maritime surveillance aircraft.  An espionage conviction can carry the death penalty, although no American has been executed for spying since 1953, when the married couple Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were put to death in a case that originated with atomic bomb secrets being sent to the Soviet Union.

Navy officer accused of passing secrets faces espionage and prostitution charges

A layer of secrecy shrouds Lin’s case: The Navy examined charges against him Friday during a preliminary hearing in Norfolk, Va., but provided little advance notice about it — aside from notice on a docket temporarily posted on a Navy website. The proceeding, known as an “Article 32” hearing, examines the facts of the case and is open to the public, but Navy officials have declined to comment on the case or identify Lin before or afterward, citing concerns about his privacy, said Lt. Cmdr. Timothy Hawkins, a service spokesman.

A heavily redacted three-page charge sheet released by the Navy states that the officer faces two specifications of espionage and three specifications of attempted espionage. He is accused of communicating secret information “with intent or reason to believe it would be used to the advantage of a foreign nation,” hiring a prostitute for sex, committing adultery by having sex with a woman who was not his wife, and falsifying federal records about where he traveled abroad.

A U.S. official confirmed Lin’s identity to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the case. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the FBI are investigating whether Lin passed classified information to both China and Taiwan, the official said. Lin’s identity was first reported Sunday by USNI News, a website overseen by the U.S. Naval Institute. His legal representation was not disclosed in charging documents.

The convening authority for Lin’s case is the four-star commander of U.S. Fleet Forces Command, Adm. Philip S. Davidson, underscoring the seriousness with which the Navy is treating the matter. He could elect to send Lin to court-martial for some or all of the charges he faces.

Lin’s service record states that he enlisted in the Navy in late 1999 and was commissioned in May 2002 as a naval flight officer, a position that specializes in operating airborne weapons and sensors. His last duty station before being arrested was with Special Projects Patrol Squadron 2 in Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, from February 2014 to March 2016. The unit flies the P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, searching for enemy submarines and performing reconnaissance and intelligence-gathering operations in the Pacific.

A U.S. Navy officer is in custody at a military prison under charges of espionage, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said on Monday. The officer is being held at the Navy Consolidated Brig in Chesapeake, Va., Earnest said. (Video: Reuters)

Lin is now assigned to the headquarters unit of the Navy’s Patrol and Reconnaissance Group, a holding position while he is confined at the Naval Consolidated Brig in Chesapeake, Va. Newsweek reported that he was secretly arrested about eight months ago, but his service record states only that he has been held in Chesapeake for an “unknown” period of time.

Prior to his assignment with Special Projects Patrol Squadron 2 in Hawaii, Lin filled a Navy staff job in Washington from February 2012 to November 2013 and was a student at the Naval War College in Newport, R.I., from December 2010 to February 2012.

Only a handful of active-duty service members have faced espionage charges in the past few decades. One of the most significant cases, prosecuted in the 1980s, involved a spy ring in which Navy Chief Warrant Officer John A. Walker Jr. and other members of his family provided information to the Soviet Union. Prosecution resulted in the convictions of Walker, his son Michael, his brother Arthur and former Navy radioman Jerry A. Whitworth.

John A. Walker Jr., who led Navy family spy ring, dies at 77

More recently, Pvt. Chelsea Manning, then known as Bradley Manning, was sentenced in 2013 to 35 years of confinement for leaking military secrets to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks.

Also in 2013, an Army military police officer, Spec. William Colton Millay, 24, was sentenced to 16 years of confinement after trying to sell military secrets two years earlier to an FBI agent he met in Alaska. He thought the agent worked for the Russian government.

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