Lt. Cmdr. Edward Lin was once celebrated by the American military for his personal journey, from his native Taiwan to service in the U.S. Navy, where he became an officer and eventually an American citizen.
“I always dreamt about coming to America, the ‘promised land,’” Lin said in 2008, when he became a U.S. citizen. “I grew up believing that all the roads in America lead to Disneyland.”
But now Lin, 39, stands accused of providing military secrets to his birth country—possibly in exchange for sexual favors, defense officials told The Daily Beast. His job, working in and around military reconnaissance aircraft, gave him access to information about sensitive equipment that the U.S. uses to spy on its adversaries.
U.S. defense officials first became suspicious of Lin when the Navy commander took personal leave and lied about where he said he was going, which under military law is considered absence without official leave, a defense official told The Daily Beast.
Navy officials suspected that during one personal trip, Lin met with a Taiwanese national and provided that person information. Navy officials then asked questions of Lin’s colleagues, many of whom said they found Lin’s behavior suspicious, the official said.
Lin is also charged with adultery and procuring prostitutes. One defense official said that it’s possible Lin was compensated for his alleged spying with sexual favors.
Lin was a world traveler who didn’t hide his personal disdain for China, Taiwan’s geopolitical rival. Since 2008, he has traveled to Dubai, China, Taiwan, Jordan, and the United Kingdom, according to photos and posts on his personal Facebook page.
He extensively documented at a 2011 trip to Taiwan with a group of friends. Most photos from the trip are touristy, with Lin posing in front of historic sites.
One of Lin’s companions on the 2011 trip said it was sponsored by the Taiwanese government. “They invited us on a cultural trip over to Taiwan,” Daniel Velez told The Daily Beast. “It was something the Taiwanese government themselves had set up, in the sense that we were traveling as a group in the day, meeting with different agencies.”
Velez said he was invited on the six-day trip for his work with the Connecticut legislature. The other guests on the trip were American academics and experts on China.
And Lin just seemed like one of the group—“a nice guy, personable.” Velez said he was floored when he realized the CNN report he’d just heard on a Navy spy was about his travel buddy.
“Whoa! I did not know that,” he said after being informed by The Daily Beast. “I’m like in shock right now.”
A charging document released by the Navy on Monday doesn’t specify to which country Lin is suspected of divulging classified information, but officials told The Daily Beast that it was Tawain and not China, as had been previously suggested in reports. Where that information traveled after Lin is accused of handing it over remains unclear.
But in online postings, Lin seemed to hardly be a fan of China’s revolutionary hero Mao Zedong.
“Fierce?! I thought we straight man don’t use that word in a sentence,” he commented on a photo of Chinese soldiers. “BTW, there is a little Mao’s fist in their ass so that’s why they look like that.”
On the website Goodreads, Lin said he recently read Mao: The Unknown Story, a highly critical book by Jung Chang and historian Jon Halliday. He also read the Hunger Games series.
Lin’s sister, Jenny Lin, told The Daily Beast in a brief phone conversation that her brother was innocent of the charges. “The only thing I can say is that he’s a proud and patriotic American who would never harm his country,” Lin said. “Eddy would never do this thing they accused him of doing.”
Lin said her brother was represented by an attorney but that she would not disclose that person’s name until her brother was “prepared to speak to the media.” A Navy spokesperson also confirmed that Lin is represented by counsel but wouldn’t say who.
Reached by phone, Lin’s brother-in-law declined to comment on the case.
In an interview with an official military publication, Lin said that he left Taiwan when he was 14 and upon arriving at an American school, his 20-letter Chinese name was too long, so he gave himself the only American name he knew: Eddy.
“Whether it is economical, political, social, or religious reasons,” Lin said at the time, “I do know that by becoming a citizen of the United States of America, you did it to better your life and the life of your family.”
Throughout his military career, Lin held a number of jobs that gave him access to insights about aircraft signals intelligence. He worked on the Navy’s intelligence gathering aircraft, the EP-3E.
It was not immediately clear whether Lin was accused of providing technical information about that aircraft or another. In addition to two counts of espionage and three counts of attempted espionage, he is charged with three counts of making false official statements, and five counts of communicating defense information “to a person not entitled to receive said information.”
A spokesperson for the Commander Patrol and Reconnaissance Group, based in Norfolk, Virginia, told The Daily Beast that Lin is assigned there. For the past eight months, he has been held in Chesapeake, Virginia, at a military brig, awaiting a decision by the U.S. military about whether he should face a court-martial.
Lin was formally charged at an Article 32 hearing on Friday, the military equivalent of a grand jury indictment. A military tribunal now has 10 days to make a recommendation to the commander of the U.S. Fleet Forces, Adm. Phil Davis, on whether to pursue a court-martial against Lin.
The decision is ultimately up to Davis, who could recommend a form of so-called non-judicial punishment, the equivalent of administrative discipline. But two defense officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was all but certain given the severity of the allegations that Lin would face a court-martial.