U.S. officials said Thursday that two U.S. Navy sailors have been arrested on charges accusing them of handing over sensitive national security material to China; — including details on wartime exercises, naval operations and critical technical material.
Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, 26, was charged with conspiracy and bribe-taking in connection with taking nearly $15,000 in exchange for photographs and videos of sensitive U.S. military information between August 2021 through at least this May; while U.S. Navy sailor Jinchao Wei, 22, was charged with conspiring to send national defense information to China in exchange for thousands of dollars. The two sailors, both based in California, were charged with similar moves to provide sensitive intelligence to China, but it was unclear if the two were courted or paid by the same Chinese intelligence officer as part of a larger scheme.
Zhao, who was based at Naval Base Ventura County, is accused of sending his Chinese handler plans for U.S. military exercises in the Indo-Pacific region, electrical diagrams and blueprints for a radar system on a U.S. military base in Okinawa, Japan and security details for U.S. naval facilities in Ventura County and San Clemente Island outside Los Angeles. Wei, born in China and assigned to the San Diego-based USS Essex, was arrested Wednesday on a charge related to espionage involving conspiracy to send national defense information to Chinese officials. Federal officials allege Wei was paid thousands of dollars for sharing the information.
U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman of the Southern District of California said that “through the alleged crimes committed by these defendants, sensitive military information ended up in the hands of the People’s Republic of China,” adding that the charges demonstrate the Chinese government’s “determination to obtain information that is critical to our national defense by any means, so it could be used to their advantage.” Assistant Attorney General Matt Olsen added that because of the men’s actions, “sensitive military info ended up in the hands of the People’s Republic of China.” Federal officials declined to specify whether the sailors were aware of each other’s actions.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington did not immediately return a message seeking comment on the allegations.
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