If there is an organization in the United States that takes its top secret and other classified materials seriously, it is the United States military, where mishandling materials doesn’t mean that someone gets to go and run for president, but rather that they spend years in a military prison. For one officer in the United States Navy, this reality has been hammered home after the ruling in his case was announced.
This officer, who had spent years in the Navy and had risen a fair amount in rank, is now looking at around four years in prison, as well as dismissal from his position in the Navy after his release. The sentence was handed down on Friday, and it is devastating for anyone, but particularly a career Naval officer who, though he may have avoided “espionage” charges, plead guilty to “sloppy” handling of sensitive information, bringing his career to a crashing halt.
Lieutenant Commander Edward Lin, 40, plead guilty to mishandling classified information and not reporting foreign contacts to the Navy.
Lieutenant Commander Lin (whose rank is O-4, equivalent to a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army) pleaded guilty last month to charges concerning mishandling classified information, as well as not reporting foreign contacts and falsifying leave paperwork by putting U.S. destinations when he planned to go abroad and leave the country.
In exchange for his guilty plea on those charges, the USN dropped a number of more serious charges, including two charges of espionage and three charges of attempted espionage, the most serious charges that Lin faced when the process began last April.
The government chose, instead, to charge Lin under federal law for communicating information classified ‘secret’ with a U.S. citizen who worked for a Taiwanese political party, as well as an undercover agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Rob “Butch” Bracknell said that while the case didn’t turn out to be related to foreign intelligence, and thus wasn’t really a ‘spy’ case in the technical sense of the phrase, the sentence, nine years with three years suspended due to plea bargaining, sent a strong message concerning the safeguarding and handling of classified and secret information.
The former Marine and military lawyer said that the case also invited a comparison to other, more high-profile cases concerning classified and sensitive information in Washington D.C.
Bracknell even went so far as to say that it may be a fair criticism that senior personnel are treated with kid gloves, compared to the way that rank and file military personnel are treated when they mishandle classified information.
That scathing criticism seems like it could certainly be applied to Hillary Clinton and the lack of punishment for her personal email server and the classified information illegally stored therein.
According to Naval Criminal Investigative Service Special Agent Chris Mitchum, the investigation has been ongoing since 2014, and was prompted based on a tip from the FBI that Lin might be sharing sensitive information with foreign agents.
At some point, the Navy and NCIS began a joint investigation into Lin’s foreign contacts, with a focus on the year that he spent working in D.C., when he was on the staff of Vice Admiral Joseph Mulloy, who was then serving as the Assistant Secretary for Financial Management and Comptroller.
During the course of the investigation, the FBI and NCIS searched through his emails, both professional and personal, and found that Lin had developed a close relationship with Commander Justin Kao of the Taiwanese Navy, a man who was attached to the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in America.
The TECRO is essentially Taiwan’s answer to an embassy on American soil.
Lin also developed a relationship with Janice Chen, an American who worked as a registered foreign agent for the Taiwanese Democratic Progressive Party, meaning she was essentially a lobbyist for the party.
As part of his plea deal, he even admitted that he sent Chen emails concerning his take on news stories, which included analysis based on classified operational plans that the Lt. Cmdr. Was privy to when he served on the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower, an American carrier.
In 2013, the officer arranged a meeting with the head of the Taiwanese Navy, Vice Admiral Richard Chen Yeong-Kang, through his contacts at TECRO.
Then he lied about his destination when he made a leave request, and never reported the encounter.
Perhaps most horrific was the fact that the investigation into Lin began shortly after he was assigned to the Special Projects Squadron Two “Wizards,” based in Hawaii.
The purpose of this squadron was to utilize specialized versions of the Navy’s P-3C Orion and P-8A Poseidon aircraft to collect and intercept signals for intelligence gathering.
While operating in this highly-secretive and sensitive unit, the Lt. Cmdr. Developed relationships with two Chinese nationals, one a masseuse and the other a prison official, and never reported them.
Lin was arrested in Honolulu airport, where he was intending to catch a flight to mainland to meet with the prison official he had met online.
This marks a rather inglorious end to a 17-year military career for a career officer, who will now spend the next four years in prison (and possibly as many as seven, as his entire sentence consisted of 9 years in prison, including time served, with 3 years suspended).
The Navy has been rocked by a number of scandals recently, and this prosecution continues to show that they will not handle such matters lightly, unlike some government agencies.