Larry Wu-tai Chin had a long career of service in the U.S. government. His excellent command of English got him his first job with the U.S. Army in World War II, working at the Chinese liaison’s office in Fuzhou. He was good at his work, and was moved up to the Consulate in Shanghai, then in Hong Kong.
When the Korean War broke out, he debriefed Chinese prisoners of war captured by the Americans. That earned him a spot with the CIA, where he worked as an analyst, linguist, and even a covert case officer. He was even awarded a CIA medal in 1980, at the end of his career. The agency had no idea he’d been working for the Chinese government the whole time.
Larry Wu-tai Chin was born Chin Wu-tai in 1922. He was recruited by the Chinese communists during World War II, after he’d graduated from university. His mission was to infiltrate an American government agency inside China and work his way up in the ranks. He started with the Army because China and the U.S. were World War II allies.
After the war, he began working at American consulates in China, then onto British-controlled Hong Kong. During this time, China won the Civil War and took control of the mainland. Chin continued serving as an intelligence operative, passing classified information on to Chinese intelligence agents.
During the Korean War, Chin again served with the Army. His role as a translator interviewing POWs allowed him to gather information on Chinese troops who were trying to defect to the U.S. or South Korea, and pass their names onto the Chinese government. The Chinese would refuse to hold peace talks until those troops were returned to China, where they were likely killed.
Chin also mistranslated the intelligence collected from those prisoners. He provided bad information to the Army that could have ended with the death of American troops. American military leaders never caught onto the misinformation, and Chin was allowed to keep serving as a translator.
When the Korean War ended, he applied to work at the newly-formed CIA, where his primary duties involved analyzing the Chinese Communist news media. Working from Japan and cities in the United States, he also sometimes served as a case officer for defectors.
While at the CIA, he provided China with a lot of information, including what the U.S. knew about China, American operatives inside China, and biographical information and identities of CIA officers on covert missions. The agents he was able to reveal were subsequently captured and executed. He even informed the Chinese government about Nixon’s strategy to align the U.S. with China against the Soviet Union.
Chin was suspected of espionage at times, but he covered up the massive payments from China through property holdings and gambling wins. He passed himself off as a high-rolling gambler, and won large sums of money in front of colleagues, who would then attest that his gambling allowed him to live a more lavish lifestyle.
He retired from the CIA without anyone ever finding out. It wasn’t until 1985 that a high-ranking Chinese official who worked in Chinese intelligence defected to the United States and revealed Chin as a spy. He had earned upwards of $1 million over the course of his career from China. In 1986, he was sentenced to two life sentences and a fine of $3.3 million for espionage and tax evasion.
Before he could go to prison, officials found him dead in his cell of an apparent suicide. He was 63 years old.