Ex-CIA Employee Held as 33-Year China Spy : Arrest of Retired Intelligence Officer, 63, Is Fourth Involving Agency Within Past Year

Times Staff Writer

A retired CIA employee was formally accused Saturday of selling U.S. secrets to China over more than three decades--the latest case in a wave of espionage disclosures rocking American intelligence operations in what has become known as the “year of the spy.”

Larry Wu-tai Chin, 63, who retired in 1981 as an intelligence officer in the CIA’s Foreign Broadcast Information Service, was arrested Friday night and, in a brief court appearance Saturday, was ordered held without bail on espionage and conspiracy charges.

A government complaint and affidavit made public at the proceeding said Chin had been paid more than $140,000 by the People’s Republic of China intelligence service since 1952, when he allegedly began his spying by selling information on the location and interrogation of Chinese prisoners of war in Korea.

Eclipses Walker Record

In terms of duration, the newest spy case eclipses the record of the Walker family spy ring, which, the government alleged, supplied Navy secrets to the Soviet Union as far back as the 1960s. Chin’s arrest came the day after a Naval Investigative Service analyst, Jonathan Jay Pollard, was charged with supplying defense secrets to a foreign government, identified by federal sources as Israel. Pollard’s wife was arrested Friday night and charged with unauthorized possession of classified documents.

While Chin’s case is the first in memory involving the Chinese, it is the fourth involving past or present CIA employees during the past year. And it comes on the heels of the CIA’s embarrassment over the case of Vitaly S. Yurchenko, the Soviet KGB official who slipped from the agency’s grasp and returned to Moscow three months after purportedly defecting to the West.


Even before Chin’s arrest, a spokesman for the Senate Intelligence Committee said the panel’s ranking members, Chairman David F. Durenberger (R-Minn.) and Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), are “extremely unhappy” over disclosures of the apparent vulnerability of U.S. intelligence operations to penetration by spies. “They know there’s a problem,” the spokesman said.

Leahy also predicted Saturday that “we’ll see more cases.”

“That doesn’t mean that there are suddenly more spies,” Leahy told reporters. “What it means is now we’re finally catching them.”

He cited increased cooperation between the CIA and FBI and “the national debate . . . about spies,” and he added:

“The United States is going to be an active target of a lot of very good intelligence services around the world, and they’re only going to get caught if there is real cooperation and real effort made by the CIA and FBI. Efforts will be made to penetrate our government. It will go on this year and next year and for the years afterward. But as we get better, it’s going to make it more difficult for those who act against us, and it’s also going to make it easier for us to catch the people who do.”

Arrested at Home

In the latest espionage case, Chin appeared before a U.S. magistrate in suburban Alexandria, Va., where he was arrested at his home Friday night, and was ordered held without bail pending a detention hearing next Wednesday. Chin responded, “I do” when Magistrate W. Curtis Sewell asked if he understood the charges against him. While no formal plea was required, his attorney told the magistrate that “for the purpose of the record, my client pleads not guilty to this charge.”

According to Justice Department documents made public Saturday, Chin was “indoctrinated” by the Chinese Communists when he was a civilian employee of a U.S. Army liaison office in China in 1943 and 1944. In 1948, when Chin became an interpreter for the American Consulate in Shanghai, a Chinese agent “encouraged” him to “serve the interests of Communist China,” the documents said.

Information on POWs

In 1952, while he was helping interview Chinese prisoners of war in Korea, Chin was paid $2,000 by the Chinese intelligence agency “for information concerning the location of Chinese POWs in Korea and the type of intelligence information that American and Korean intelligence services were seeking from the POWs,” according to an affidavit filed by FBI agent Mark R. Johnson, who said he had been investigating Chin for two years.

In 1952, the document said, Chin joined the CIA’s Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS), which monitors and transcribes foreign government broadcasts from around the world. He served first in Okinawa, then in Santa Rosa, Calif., and, beginning in 1970, at the CIA’s headquarters in Virginia, the affidavit said, adding that “during this period, Chin had access to various levels of classified information.”

Chin, described by the FBI as a naturalized U.S. citizen, would “remove classified documents . . . either in a briefcase or a coat jacket, photograph them and return the documents to the FBIS premises,” the affidavit said. On four occasions between 1976 and 1982, the document continued, Lee went to Toronto to deliver the undeveloped film to a Chinese agent, meeting him at a shopping mall.

Trips to Peking, Hong Kong

After his retirement from the CIA division in 1981, Chin “continued providing information” and “offered his services . . . on a continuing basis” to the Chinese, the affidavit said. In 1982 he made a trip to Peking and was paid $50,000, it said, and in 1983 traveled to Hong Kong, where “he discussed the visit of an FBIS employee and identified the employee as being susceptible to recruitment” by the Chinese intelligence service. Last February, the document said, Chin made another trip to Hong Kong and met with a Chinese agent.

A law enforcement source said the Chin case in some ways “parallels the Walker case, except it goes back farther, all the way to the 1940s.” He was referring to the case of John A. Walker Jr., a retired Navy communications specialist who pleaded guilty last month to spying for the Soviet Union for 18 years in a ring that also included his son, who was a U.S. Navy sailor, and his brother, a retired lieutenant commander. Walker’s son, Michael, also pleaded guilty, and his brother, Arthur, was convicted of espionage.

In another case involving Navy secrets, the wife of an intelligence analyst appeared in court Saturday and was ordered held without bail on charges of unauthorized possession of classified information.

Anne Henderson-Pollard, 25, was arrested Friday night, the day after her 31-year-old husband was accused under the espionage act. In an affidavit made public Saturday, the FBI said Henderson-Pollard spirited a suitcase filled with classified documents out of their apartment after receiving a call from her husband Monday, when he was being questioned by agents. She gave the suitcase to an unidentified third party and asked that the contents be destroyed, the document said.

Arrested Outside Embassy

Pollard, who was arrested outside the Israeli Embassy on Thursday, admitted delivering “highly classified U.S. government documents” to agents for a foreign government, according to the affidavit, which did not identify the country.

Meanwhile, a California man said Pollard had boasted during his student days at Stanford University that he worked for the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service.

Jonathan Marshall, 30, an editor with Oakland Tribune, said in a telephone interview that he met Pollard through a mutual friend in 1975 or 1976. Marshall said Pollard told him that the Mossad had paid part of his university costs and that he spent his summers working for the Israelis, usually in Europe.

Times staff writers Michael Wines and John Brownell contributed to this article.