Chin’s Lawyers Admit He Gave Secrets : But Say His Motive Was to Improve Sino-American Relations

Times Staff Writer

Lawyers for retired CIA analyst Larry Wu-tai Chin acknowledged Tuesday that he regularly passed classified U.S. documents to Chinese intelligence agents over a period of 30 years but asserted that he did so only to improve Sino-American relations, not to harm U.S. security.

As Chin’s espionage trial opened in federal district court, defense attorney Jacob Stein admitted that one of the documents was President Richard M. Nixon’s secret communique to Congress on the eve of the U.S. rapprochement with China.

Stein declared that he would not dispute the government’s allegations that his client gave documents to Chinese agents and was paid for doing so.

But “what is in dispute is the purpose,” Stein said, declaring that Chin’s aim was to bring an end to the U.S.-Chinese hostility that had followed the installation in 1949 of a Communist regime in Peking.


No Data on Armaments

“What you will not see is that Mr. Chin conveyed anything to the Chinese about armaments, military movements--anything that a spy would normally transmit,” Stein said.

Indicating that Peking may in fact have cooperated in the investigation, the defense counsel said that the U.S. government has “complete knowledge” of what Oh Qiming, Chin’s Peking contact, received but “Oh will not testify.”

Assistant U.S. Atty. Joseph Aronica, in his opening statement to the jury, argued that Chin had betrayed his adopted country, beginning when he received an initial payment of $400 for information he delivered about Chinese prisoners he had interrogated during the Korean War.


Chin’s duplicity was highlighted in July, 1981, Aronica said, after he was honored on his retirement from the CIA by an award bestowed by Adm. Bobby R. Inman, then director of the agency.

Paid $40,000 by Chinese

“Two weeks later, in Hong Kong and Macao, Chin met with Vice Minister Li Kwan Qiang (of the Chinese Ministry of Public Security) and was paid at least $40,000,” Aronica said.

He asked the jury to find Chin guilty of espionage, which carries a potential life sentence, and numerous other charges. Chin himself has estimated that he paid no income tax on a total of $140,000 to $150,000 paid to him by Peking, according to the FBI.


At one point, Stein contended that Chin was not alone in failing to tell the truth about his actions in attempting to bring about a better relationship with China. He recalled that former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger also concealed his secret meetings with Chinese officials before Nixon visited Peking.

As for payments, the attorney said, “if he hadn’t received money, he would have had no credibility.”

Important Documents

Speaking of the most important documents passed by his client, Stein said: “In the 1970s, President Nixon made a secret communication to Congress, which played a part in opening up relations (with China). That communication was transmitted to Mr. Oh by Mr. Chin.”


An FBI agent who arrested Chin last November testified that the Chinese-born defendant had sought $150,000 from Oh to buy the silence of Chin’s wife, who had learned that Chin had a mistress.

Agent Mark R. Johnson gave no source for a series of detailed reports that were read on Chin’s meetings in Toronto, Hong Kong and Peking with Oh and other Chinese agents or officials. The defendant listened with a completely impassive expression.