ANALYSIS: Navy Spy Case Fraught With Intrigue and Risk to US Security

U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Edward Lin is accused of spying for China and Taiwan.

April 12, 2016, 12:10 PM

— -- There are more questions than answers coming from the news that U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Edward Lin stands accused of spying for China and Taiwan.

While the extent of his alleged espionage is not yet public, he has the potential to become the most damaging U.S. naval spy since the John Walker case of the 1980s in which highly classified information was passed to the Soviet Union for more than 18 years without detection.

Lin, a Taiwanese-born flight officer assigned to a Navy squadron that conducted highly sensitive “signals intelligence” gathering, was arrested eight months ago and has been confined ever since, as he now awaits the decision on whether he'll be court-martialed. That his arrest is just now being made public indicates that the United States has spent significant time assessing the damage he may have caused, and suggests this is no ordinary spy case.

Although the facts are few, there are several particularly disturbing aspects to the case. The first is the kind of intelligence he might have compromised.

Lin was part of a squadron that flies the EP-3, a highly modified U.S. Navy spy plane that detects and records electronic signals and communications such as radio transmissions. Lin would have been in charge of onboard collection management of signals intelligence missions that likely included the targeting of Chinese electronic emissions and communications.

While Lin, a naturalized U.S. citizen, would likely have had knowledge and access to the most sensitive U.S. signals intelligence capabilities and operations, he would also have known about U.S. submarine technologies, operations and abilities to detect and track Chinese submarines. Undersea warfare involves some of the most sensitive and closely guarded secrets the U.S. military holds.

Also disturbing is that Lin, who was apprehended in Hawaii as he prepared to travel to another country, recently spent two years as a Navy legislative liaison on Capitol Hill. This work would have involved regular contact with not only congressional staffers, but congressmen and senators themselves. No doubt the FBI is investigating what kinds of relationships he formed there, whom he worked with regularly, and whether that was any part of what he might have compromised to China and Taiwan.

Neither Lin nor any representative has made public comments about his arrest.

Given his budget work on Capitol Hill, he also may have had insight into the Navy's "black" programs, the most secret, cutting-edge technologies being developed by the Pentagon. If any of these capabilities were compromised, it would be extraordinarily damaging and costly to the United States.

The story that could very well come to light appears to have all the elements of a thriller: a "spy in paradise,” a double life, deep military secrets, technology, foreign governments, prostitutes, skulduggery, mystery and exotic international destinations.

Unfortunately, it may also include irreparable harm to U.S. national security.

ABC News contributor Steve Ganyard is a former deputy assistant secretary for the Department of State and a retired Marine Corps colonel.

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