A career U.S. naval officer with an extensive background in signals intelligence has been accused of mishandling and passing on sensitive information to the Chinese and Taiwanese governments.

charge sheet released Friday revealed that Lt. Cmdr. Edward C. Lin, 39, faces several counts of espionage and attempted espionage “with intent or reason to believe it would be used to the advantage of a foreign nation.”

A native of Taiwan, Lin moved to the United States with his parents at age 14. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1999 after being naturalized as a citizen that same year.

While the nature of the information compromised was not disclosed, documents indicate Lin is facing two counts of espionage, three counts of attempted espionage, and charges relating to prostitution and adultery. A preliminary hearing was held Friday in Norfolk, VA and will be followed by a decision on whether there is enough evidence to bring the case before a court marshall.

Unbeknownst to the public, Lin was arrested in Hawaii in September of last year while attempting to board a flight to mainland China. He has since been held in pre-trial confinement at the Naval Consolidated Brig in Chesapeake, VA.

As Fox News explains, Lin’s career in the Navy was extensive:

“An official list of Lin’s Navy assignments says he joined the service in December 1999 as an enlisted sailor and attended Navy nuclear training at Charleston, South Carolina, from 2000 to 2002. He then attended Officer Candidate School and gained his commission in May 2002.

He served with Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron 1, based at Whidbey Island, Washington, from 2004 to 2007. Among his other assignments, he attended the Navy War College at Newport, Rhode Island, and served for nearly two years in Washington on the staff of the assistant secretary of the Navy for financial management and comptroller.”

At Whidbey Island, Lin was part of squadron that flew and supported Lockheed Martin EP3-E Aires II, a reconnaissance aircraft gathers information on the intelligence gathering capabilities of America’s adversaries.

Lin would eventually go on to Hawaii to head a more sensitive signals intelligence program. USNI reports:

“In 2014, Lin reported to the Special Projects Patrol Squadron Two ‘Wizards’ (VPU-2) at Marine Corps Air Base Kaneohe, Hawaii as a department head. The Wizards fly signals intelligence aircraft based on the EP3-E Aries II that for decades were classified as part of a so-called “black” or secret program.”

Why Lin’s case is significant

This patrol and reconnaissance group operates and gathers intelligence from aircraft with extremely guarded technological capabilities, particularly in submarine detection. Although Lin wasn’t a pilot, he was, as a department head, intimately involved with the coordination of the information detected by the aircraft.

The Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) and Navy have been physically and technologically expanding at an alarming rate. Despite its rapid efforts in building and militarizing islands across South China Sea, the PLA Navy’s submarine warfare program is arguably its fastest growing program. Because Chinese submarine technology is about a generation behind that of its enemies, detailed information on the submarine detection capabilities of its enemies is crucial. If someone like Lt. Cmdr. Lin passed on technical specification of sensors on the U.S. surveillance aircraft he was familiar with, the Chinese are surely working on developing a countermeasure as we speak.

A Lockheed EP-3 Aries of fleet air reconnaissance squadron one (VQ-1) World Watchers - WIKIPEDIA

A Lockheed EP-3 Aries of fleet air reconnaissance squadron – WIKIPEDIA

How Lin was recruited

Exactly how Lin initiated contact with the Chinese and Taiwanese is unknown. As a native of Taiwan, Lin could have been contacted by Chinese operatives while visiting family members in Taiwan. In 2011, Lin is documented in photos on social media while on a trip with friends to Taiwan.

The presence of Chinese spies in Taiwan is not at all unheard of and neither is the infiltration of Chinese operatives in the Taiwanese military. In light of the OPM hack, the capability of an adversary like China to seek out native born Taiwanese or Chinese within the U.S. military no longer seems far fetched.

On Tuesday, Taiwan denied any involvement in Lin’s case, saying, “We have absolutely never used or exploited current or former U.S. military personnel to help with any intelligence gathering.”

John Schindler, strategist and former intel analyst for the NSA, said that Lin could face the death penalty if convicted.

“Although the indictment was heavily redacted, it was obvious that the accused has done serious damage to our national security, not least because the charges—including communicating secret information “relating to the national defense to representatives of a foreign government”—could carry the death penalty.”

The case of Lt. Cmdr. Edward Lin is the first major case of espionage by an active duty member of the military since John Walker, a Navy warrant officer and submariner who passed military secrets to the Soviets before being caught in 1985.

The U.S. Navy, however, is no stranger to espionage. As Schindler explains, Lin’s case is just the latest in what is a systemic crisis that must be addressed. This February, naval engineer James Robert Baker was accused of having concealed a double life as an Iranian citizen. Federal prosecutors have accused the 30-year-engineer, naturalized U.S. citizen born in Iran, of lying in order to obtain his security clearance, lying about his possession of an Iranian passport, and using several differing security numbers to open bank accounts.

Featured image via YouTube

[UPDATE: Post originally stated Lin was naturalized in 2008; that error has since been corrected.]