Suspenseful cloak-and-dagger reenactment of the FBI sting that exposed a Chinese-American double agent in 1985.
When the case of Larry Wu-tai Chin broke, revealing that the retired CIA employee had passed reams of documents to the People’s Republic of China over the course of more than 11 years, it came at a humiliating time for the Agency, writes Canadian author Hoffman (Le Carré’s Landscape, 2001, etc.). The so-called Year of the Spy found an unprecedented number of turncoats like John Walker and Jonathan Jay Pollard bleeding secrets to foreign governments. Chin’s treachery was first detected by an anonymous source codenamed Planesman; Hoffman “connects the dots” and links Planesman to a protégé of Kang Sheng, the notorious head of China’s secret services. During an extended interview conducted by three FBI agents at his apartment on November 22, 1985, Chin spilled his secrets. Born in 1922 in Beijing, he found that learning English was his ticket to ingratiating himself with the Americans during the turbulent communist revolution and beyond. The Cold War atmosphere of mutual distrust and paranoia allowed Chin to enjoy American protection on the one hand, living the high life in California and Virginia with his second wife, while passing documents to the Chinese via a handler in Hong Kong and Canada on the other. As Mao Zedong and President Nixon moved toward their historic rapprochement in 1971, both sides needed confirmation of the other’s intentions. “China trusted Nixon’s motives based on the information Chin passed them,” one agent commented. However, despite Chin’s claim to have acted only for the advancement of Sino-American relations, he also got rich in the process and was convicted in 1986 on 17 counts, including conspiracy and filing false tax returns. He committed suicide in prison shortly thereafter.
Hoffman possesses a solid command of his material and conveys the secretive nature of espionage agencies with a novelist’s panache.