U.S. Navy Sailors Arrested for Spying on Behalf of China
In a shocking revelation, two U.S. Navy sailors have been arrested for their involvement in espionage activities, passing highly sensitive military information to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). These cases highlight the persistent threat posed by Chinese intelligence operations and underscore the need for robust measures to protect national security. The accused sailors, Jinchao Wei and Wenheng Zhao, are facing severe charges for their alleged betrayal of their country and breach of trust.
The Arrest of Jinchao Wei
Jinchao Wei, also known as Patrick Wei, is a 22-year-old sailor assigned to the USS Essex, an amphibious assault ship stationed at Naval Base San Diego. Wei was arrested on espionage charges as he arrived for work on the ship. According to the indictment, Wei had access to sensitive national defense information about the USS Essex’s weapons, propulsion, and desalination systems due to his role as a machinist’s mate.
In February 2022, Wei allegedly began communicating with a Chinese intelligence officer who requested information about U.S. Navy ships. The indictment reveals that Wei willingly provided photographs, videos, and documents concerning the USS Essex and other Navy ships. The communication between Wei and the intelligence officer was carried out covertly, with records of their conversations deleted and encrypted methods employed.
The indictment further alleges that Wei sent the intelligence officer approximately 30 technical and mechanical manuals, including critical information about the power structure and operation of the USS Essex and similar ships. These manuals contained export-controlled data that could not be transmitted without a license from the U.S. government. In exchange for this information, Wei received thousands of dollars.
The Case of Wenheng Zhao
Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, also known as Thomas Zhao, was arrested on charges of conspiring to collect bribes from a Chinese intelligence officer in exchange for sensitive U.S. military information. Zhao, who worked at Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, had an active U.S. security clearance and access to classified information.
According to the indictment, Zhao received bribes from the Chinese intelligence officer between August 2021 and May 2023. He allegedly provided operational plans for a large-scale U.S. military exercise in the Indo-Pacific region, as well as photographs, videos, and blueprints of electrical systems at Navy facilities. The information Zhao shared with the intelligence officer included details of naval force movements, amphibious landings, and maritime operations.
In addition, Zhao reportedly photographed electrical diagrams and blueprints for a radar system located on a U.S. military base in Okinawa, Japan. The indictment states that Zhao surreptitiously recorded information and handed it over to the Chinese intelligence officer, following the officer’s instructions to conceal their relationship and destroy evidence.
— Reuters (@Reuters) August 4, 2023
The charges against Wei and Zhao reflect the gravity of their alleged crimes and the potential harm caused to national security. Wei, in particular, has been charged under the Espionage Act, a rarely-used statute that makes it a crime to gather or deliver information to aid a foreign government. If convicted, Wei could face a sentence of 20 years to life in prison.
The U.S. attorneys prosecuting these cases have emphasized the significance of safeguarding sensitive military information and holding those who betray their country accountable. U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman stated that Wei’s alleged conduct was an “ultimate act of betrayal,” while U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada described Zhao as having “sold out his colleagues and his country.”
These arrests highlight the relentless efforts of the Chinese government to undermine U.S. national security through espionage activities. The U.S. officials involved in the cases have emphasized China’s audacity and determination to obtain critical information by any means necessary. They warn of the ongoing threat posed by Chinese intelligence operations and the need for continued vigilance to protect sensitive military information.
China has been a prominent player in the realm of espionage, with numerous cases involving Chinese intelligence operatives stealing sensitive government and commercial information. These cases serve as a reminder of the dangers posed by state-sponsored espionage and the need for robust measures to counteract such threats.