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Lieutenant Commander Edward Lin, A US Navy flight officer, faces charges of leaking top-secret information to the Taiwanese government, and allegedly to China. Lin was arrested back in September before boarding a flight to China, but the details of the case were not made public until after the preliminary hearing last Friday. Other charges against him in the case include the hiring of a prostitute, committing adultery and the failure to disclose foreign travel to the US government. He is currently being held at the Navy Consolidated Brig in Chesapeake, Virginia.
The investigation is ongoing, but the charges have been deemed a national security case.
Lin, who was born in Taiwan but became a naturalized US citizen, had previously worked for the Navy’s Special Projects Patrol Squadron 2 where he worked with Navy spy planes. Information about these spy planes was among that which was likely exposed, of which Lin would’ve had a comprehensive understanding. Knowledge of his line of work would have been seen as extremely valuable to foreign governments and militaries. Investigators believe that Lin had passed on confidential information about his work to a Chinese girlfriend, although it is not known how that information was eventually passed on to Taiwanese and Chinese government officials.
Lin had expressed criticism of the Chinese government in the past, so it is unclear whether he purposefully gave the information to government officials.
There is little indication that Taiwan would have any motives to actively seek out intelligence on the US Navy. Taiwan has explicitly denied any military involvement in the case, and the Taiwanese Ministry of Defense stated that it would not involve itself in any sort of espionage against the United States. Historically the relationship between the US and Taiwan has been a cordial one, although the US does not expressly support Taiwanese independence. Under the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979, The US is required to provide “weapons of defensive character” to Taiwan. It is not, however, required to directly come to Taiwan’s aid, should it need military assistance against China, for example. Furthermore, it is limited in which defensive weapons it can receive.
Could this limitation be motivation for Taiwan to spy on the US to gain insight on its intentions regarding the relationship between the two nations? Surely betraying its biggest ally would not be a strategic move for the tiny island nation.
The more likely scenario is one that involves the Chinese government, which has much more apparent motives for spying on the US. With growing concerns regarding lax Taiwanese security, there has been speculation that “Taiwan’s military is the focus of intense Chinese spying efforts.” Chinese espionage could very well be channeled through Taiwan. In fact, there have been several high-profile cases in the past of Taiwanese officers providing intelligence to China. Knowing the capabilities of the American spy planes is critical information for China, which is in the process of building a system of runways and harbors intended for military aircraft in the South China Sea. The surveillance aircraft would be able to provide the US with intelligence on which areas the US is still weak against the Chinese, should there ever be an open Chinese-American confrontation.
Edward Lin may not have intended to provide China with any intelligence on the US, but due to China’s puppet-like treatment of Taiwan, the Chinese government got everything it needed.
Photo courtesy of the Washington Post