Two U.S. Navy Sailors Detained on Espionage Charges Over Alleged Connections to China

Published by Cel Manero

Eric Thayer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

On Thursday, federal authorities reported the apprehension of two U.S. Navy sailors on charges related to national security. The allegations involve purportedly transmitting sensitive military data to the Chinese Communist Party. Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen from the Justice Department’s National Security Division expressed that these individuals are accused of breaching their commitments to safeguard the United States and betraying the public’s trust, with the intention of benefiting the People’s Republic of China government.

On Wednesday, U.S. Navy Sailor Jinchao Wei, a 22-year-old active-duty machinist’s mate stationed at Naval Base San Diego on the U.S.S. Essex assault ship, was arrested on charges related to espionage. He was taken into custody upon arriving for work at the Navy’s Pacific Fleet homeport in California.

According to U.S. officials, Wei has been indicted for conspiring to send national defense information to a Chinese intelligence officer. Allegedly, this officer communicated with Wei using encrypted messages to obtain photos, videos, and documents about the U.S.S. Essex and other Navy ships starting from February 2022. As part of the conspiracy, Wei is accused of disclosing the locations of various Navy ships, details about defensive weapons, technical and mechanical manuals, all in exchange for thousands of dollars from the intelligence officer. Additionally, he allegedly provided information about the number of U.S. Marines participating in previously scheduled international maritime warfare exercises.

In response to this betrayal, U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman for the Southern District of California emphasized that the United States will aggressively investigate and prosecute individuals who choose personal gain over national loyalty and disclose national defense information.

Another U.S. Navy Petty Officer, Wenheng Zhao, stationed at Naval Base Ventura County, California, has also been arrested on charges of conspiracy and receipt of a bribe. He is accused of transmitting sensitive military information to a Chinese official who posed as a maritime economic researcher.

According to authorities, Zhao, aged 26, allegedly engaged in communication with an unnamed Chinese intelligence officer between August 2021 and May 2023. He is said to have covertly recorded photographs and videos of classified military information and transmitted them to the foreign officer.

In exchange for classified controlled operational plans for a significant U.S. military exercise involving Naval force movements, amphibious landings, and maritime operations and logistics in the Indo-Pacific Region, Zhao allegedly received approximately $14,866 from the Chinese intelligence officer. The indictment against him also claims that Zhao exchanged photographs of electrical diagrams and blueprints for a radar system located on a U.S. military base in Okinawa, Japan.

U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada for the Central District of California remarked that by sharing this sensitive military information with an intelligence officer of a hostile foreign state, Zhao violated his sacred oath to protect the country and uphold the Constitution. Estrada pointed out that the vast majority of U.S. Navy personnel serve the nation with honor, distinction, and courage, while Zhao chose to betray his colleagues and country through corrupt actions.

If convicted, Zhao could face a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.

During a Thursday press briefing reported by Fox News, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen highlighted that the threat from China “stands apart” on the world stage concerning the national security of the U.S. He further expressed that China’s efforts to subvert U.S. laws are unrivaled in audacity and scope.