In a development raising concerns about national security, the U.S. Department of Justice apprehended two U.S. Navy sailors on espionage and bribery charges related to China on Thursday. The cases appear to be unrelated, but they underscore the ongoing threat posed by China’s intelligence operations against the United States.
One of the accused sailors, Jinchao Wei, also known as Patrick Wei, is a 22-year-old active-duty member stationed at the Naval Base San Diego. He served on the U.S.S. Essex, an amphibious assault ship. Wei faces charges of espionage for allegedly conspiring to share sensitive intelligence with a Chinese official. According to the indictment, he purportedly exchanged photos and videos of the U.S.S. Essex, divulging the location of Navy vessels and revealing details of the ship’s defensive weapons, in return for substantial financial compensation.
The second sailor, Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, or Thomas Zhao, aged 26 and hailing from Monterey Park, California, was stationed at Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme. Zhao is accused of conspiracy and receipt of bribes from a Chinese official. His alleged modus operandi involved secretly recording classified U.S. military information, photographs, and videos, which he transmitted to a supposed maritime economic researcher posing as a Chinese intelligence officer. In exchange for these materials, Zhao received bribes, with the total amounting to $14,866. Among the data he shared were electrical diagrams and blueprints of a radar system located on a U.S. military base in Okinawa, Japan.
Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen highlighted the seriousness of the charges during a press briefing, stating that Zhao had conspired with a Chinese intelligence officer to collect and transmit sensitive military information about naval operations. The materials exchanged included technical data about amphibious assault ships, several of which were marked with export control warnings and contained crucial details about the vessels’ power structure, weapons systems, and damage control.
The cases have brought to the forefront the growing concern over China’s extensive efforts to subvert U.S. laws and national security. In his statement, Assistant Attorney General Olsen emphasized that China “stands apart” from other adversarial nations in the scale and audacity of its malign operations targeting the United States.
Responding to the arrests, Pentagon spokesman Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder underscored the importance of safeguarding sensitive information and reiterated the strict policies and procedures in place to protect classified data. He also highlighted that any violations would result in appropriate actions being taken.
If convicted, both sailors could face severe penalties. Petty Officer Zhao potentially faces up to 20 years in prison for his charges, while Jinchao Wei’s espionage offense could carry even more severe consequences.
These incidents serve as stark reminders of the ongoing need for vigilance in safeguarding national security information and protecting the country from foreign adversaries seeking to exploit weaknesses in U.S. defenses. Authorities will continue to investigate these cases thoroughly to understand the full extent of the breach and protect against future threats.