Two U.S. Navy Sailors indicted for selling military information to a Chinese intelligence officer.
Two U.S. Navy sailors stationed in California were arrested on Aug. 3 and charged with selling sensitive national security information to a Chinese intelligence officer. The Washington Post reported that the sensitive information included a blueprint for a radar system, information on defensive weapons, technical manuals for vessels, and operational plans for military exercises in the Pacific. Naval analysts told USNI News that the information targeted by the Chinese intelligence officer (including blueprints and information concerning upgrades to the Wasp Class Amphibious Assault Ship USS Essex (LHD 2), details on numerous shipboard systems, information on large-scale amphibious exercises in the Pacific, and the locations of air defense radars on Okinawa) indicates the Chinese military’s “sustained interest” in amphibious warfare as tensions around Taiwan remain high.
Jinchao “Patrick” Wei, a machinist’s mate stationed aboard the USS Essex out of Naval Base San Diego, California, has been indicted by a grand jury in the Southern District of California on four counts, including conspiracy to communicate, deliver, and transmit information relating to the national defense of the U.S. to a foreign government in violation of 22 U.S.C. § 2778 (the Arms Export Control Act), violation of 18 U.S.C. § 794 (gathering or delivering defense information to aid foreign government), conspiracy to export technical data related to defense articles in violation of 22 U.S.C. § 2778 and Title 22, Code of Federal Regulations, and willful exportation of export-controlled technical data related to defense articles in violation of 22 U.S.C. § 2778 (the Arms Export Control Act) and Title 22, Code of Federal Regulations. Wei, 22, who was born in China, allegedly began the illicit conduct in February 2022 and collected between $10,000 and $15,000 from a Chinese intelligence officer.
Wenheng “Thomas” Zhao, a petty officer second class stationed at Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, California, has been indicted by a grand jury in the Central District of California on two counts, including conspiracy to collect and transmit sensitive U.S. military information in exchange for money in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 201(b)(2)(C) (bribery of public officials), and corruptly accepting and receiving payment in exchange for gathering and providing sensitive information, also in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 201(b)(2)(C). Zhao, 26, collected almost $15,000 in bribes from a Chinese intelligence officer.
At a press conference in San Diego, Department of Justice Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew Olsen stated that the defendants’ alleged crimes resulted in sensitive military information ending up in the hands of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Olsen claimed that the charges “demonstrate [China’s] determination to obtain information that is critical to our national defense by any means so it can be used to their advantage.” According to the indictments, at the time of the alleged offenses, both indicted sailors maintained a secret level U.S. security clearance.
Both sailors pleaded not guilty in federal courts in San Diego and Los Angeles. If convicted, Wei and Zhao could face up to 20 years in federal prison.