Retired CIA analyst and convicted spy Larry Wu-tai Chin, who said he sold secrets to China for more than 30 years to improve Sino-U.S. relations, committed suicide today, officials said.
Justice Department spokesman John Russell said Chin, 63, put a plastic bag over his head and suffocated while in his cell at the Prince William County Jail in Virginia, about 25 miles southwest of Washington. He was pronounced dead at 9:35 a.m.
Russell said it was not known if Chin left any note.
His suicide came two weeks to the day after his Feb. 7 conviction in U.S. District Court in Alexandria, Va., of 17 counts of espionage and tax evasion.
Chin accepted the verdict meekly and without emotion but his wife, Cathy, broke into sobs.
Long Sentence Possible
He faced up to two life sentences, plus 83 additional years in prison, as well as $3.3 million in fines for his conviction on all 17 counts. He was to have been sentenced March 17.
Chin's body was taken to the Prince William Hospital, hospital spokeswoman Donna Ballou said, and was expected to be transferred to the Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church for an autopsy Saturday.
Chin admitted passing classified information to China for more than 30 years but insisted he had done it to promote better relations between Peking and Washington.
He said the more than $180,000 he received from Chinese intelligence agents was "only a byproduct" of his personal "mission" to "bring about (improved) Chinese and American relationships." He said he took the money only because the Chinese were paranoid and would not believe his information if it "came free."
Appeal Was Planned
Defense attorneys were preparing an appeal of his verdict when Chin killed himself.
A native of China but a naturalized American, the frail, slender Chin was living a professorial life in the river city of Alexandria just outside Washington when he was arrested Nov. 23--one of three spies collared in five days.
In 1948, he began work for the United States as an interpreter in the U.S. Consulate in Shanghai. He worked for the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong before coming to the United States in 1952 and joining the CIA's Foreign Broadcast Information Service.
The FBI and prosecutors charged upon Chin's arrest and through his trial that it was while Chin was still in China that he was recruited as a mole into the CIA.
After Korean War
An FBI affidavit filed after Chin's arrest said that he started spying for the Chinese shortly after the Korean War--when he supplied information to Chinese agents about Chinese prisoners of war being held by U.S. forces.
FBI affidavits said from that time on, Chin routinely took secret information from his CIA offices and passed them on to his Chinese contacts.
He retired in 1981 but continued to serve as a CIA consultant. Authorities said he had access to many of the government's top secrets involving Asian affairs.