Two California-based Navy sailors have been arrested and charged for releasing sensitive U.S. military information to Chinese intelligence officers.
Jinchao Wei: Jinchao Wei, a 22-year-old sailor assigned to the USS Essex, was arrested on Wednesday when he arrived for work at Naval Base San Diego. Wei had allegedly been in an arrangement with a Chinese intelligence officer since February 2022 in which he would send photos and videos of American aircrafts and warships, as well as technical manuals about the USS Essex’s weapons systems and power structure, in exchange for money.
Wei, who was born in China, received his U.S. citizenship on May 18, 2022. According to attorney Fred Sheppard, Wei made between $10,000 and $15,000 from the arrangement with the Chinese intelligence officer, who instructed Wei to destroy evidence. Wei was charged under a rarely used Espionage Act statute by the Justice Department. He could face up to life in prison if he is convicted.
Wenheng Zhao: The other arrested sailor, Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, was based at Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme. Zhao, 26, allegedly collected nearly $15,000 between August 2021 through at least this May in exchange for information on the U.S. military’s exercise plans in the Indo-Pacific region. He is also accused of providing electrical diagrams and blueprints for U.S. radar systems in Okinawa, Japan, as well as security details at naval facilities in California.
Zhao, who was responsible for repairing electrical equipment on military installations, was allegedly told by a Chinese officer that the information was for maritime economic research to help with investment decisions. Zhao was charged with espionage and could face up to 20 years in federal prison.
“Aggressively prosecute”: Both men reportedly pleaded not guilty in federal courts in San Diego and Los Angeles. Their separate detention hearings will take place on Aug. 8. Federal officials have not said whether there are any ties between the cases.
“We have entrusted members of our military with tremendous responsibility and great faith,” said U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman of the Southern District of California, according to CNN. “When a soldier or sailor chooses cash over country, and hands over national defense information in an ultimate act of betrayal, the United States will aggressively investigate and prosecute.”