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Topic Summary - Displaying 1 post(s).
Posted by: George W. Maschke
Posted on: Nov 6th, 2003 at 9:54am
  Mark & Quote
The 10 November 2003 issue of U.S. News & World Report includes a short article about CIA employee Larry Wu-tai Chin, a confessed double agent who spied for the People's Republic of China during a career that spanned nearly 40 years. Chitra Ragavan's article, "A Spy Who Changed History," is cited here in full:

A Spy Who Changed History 

All he ever wanted was for U.S. and Chinese leaders to get along; that's what Chinese spymaster Larry Wu-Tai Chin claimed was his raison d'Ítre for almost 40 years of spying for China. Chin, a CIA translator, analyst, and document control officer, may have been the most damaging anti-U.S. spy ever; he sold bushels of U.S. secrets to China, altering the course of history. The Chinese government knew about President Richard Nixon's secret decision to re-establish diplomatic relations two years before Nixon's historic visit to China, and it leveraged key concessions. The North Vietnamese likely benefited from the secrets that China forwarded from Chin during the Vietnam War. 

Chin's spying career began in 1948 when he joined the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai as an interpreter, after a stint at a U.S. military mission in southern China. A former mission roommate introduced Chin to a Communist official, who recruited him. In 1952, the State Department asked Chin to help interrogate Chinese prisoners for the U.S.-allied forces in Korea. Chin promptly sold the Chinese government the names of Chinese prisoners who were anti-Communists. China responded by demanding the forced repatriation of all Chinese prisoners as part of negotiations to halt the fighting. Experts believe Chin's treachery delayed the end of the Korean War for more than a year.

Also in 1952, Chin joined the CIA's Foreign Broadcast Information Service office in Okinawa and soon hopscotched to the FBIS in California and then in Virginia as a case officer, with access to CIA headquarters in nearby Langley. Chin sold supersensitive National Intelligence Estimates and analyses on China and Southeast Asia to his handlers in London, Hong Kong, and Toronto. Since Chin also translated all the documents stolen by CIA spies in China, he helped the Chinese plug those leaks. "He was extraordinarily devastating," says former FBI Special Agent I. C. Smith. "More people lost their lives because of his treachery than [because of] Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen." 

A gambler and womanizer, Chin made a fortune by putting some of the $1 million China paid him into real estate. The CIA honored him for distinguished service, kept him on as a consultant after he retired in 1981 at age 63, and pestered him to return full time.

Chin was arrested in 1985, after U.S. intelligence received sketchy information from a Chinese source, who later defected to the States, that there was a spy so prolific it took the Chinese two months to translate each batch of secrets.

To prepare for Chin's trial, prosecutor Joseph Aronica asked the CIA to prepare a color-coded chart of every major development in U.S.-Sino relations between 1945 and 1985, onto which he transposed Chin's movements and access to classified documents. "He admitted doing it, was proud of it," says Aronica, now an attorney with Duane Morris. Chin committed suicide in his jail cell in February 1986--just two weeks after his conviction on 17 counts of espionage, conspiracy, and tax evasion--while awaiting sentencing. Chin slid a clean brown trash bag over his head, tied it with a shoelace from newly ordered high-tops, crossed his arms over his chest, lay down, and quietly asphyxiated himself. The U.S. government had no apparent desire to pursue Chin's legacy further. "As soon as [Chin] suffocated himself," says Smith, "it closed the door on the scandal." -Chitra Ragavan

Ragavan doesn't mention another aspect of this case that the U.S. government prefers to sweep under the rug: Chin's espionage was facilitated by his having presumably passed every CIA polygraph screening examination to which he was subjected during the course of his career.