Two U.S. Navy sailors, who are of Chinese origin, have been arrested in separate cases in California on charges of espionage. The U.S. Department of Justice has accused them of transmitting highly sensitive military information to the People’s Republic of China (PRC).
The first case involves 22-year-old Jinchao Wei, also known as Patrick Wei, a U.S. citizen who was arrested at Naval Base San Diego. Wei was indicted for conspiracy to send national defense information to an intelligence officer working for the Chinese government. As an active-duty sailor on the U.S.S. Essex, Wei had access to sensitive national defense information regarding the ship’s weapons, propulsion, and desalination systems. Between March 2022 and the present, Wei allegedly sent photographs, videos, and documents concerning U.S. Navy ships to the Chinese government, receiving thousands of dollars in payment for the information. The indictment also alleges that Wei provided blueprints related to modifications to the flight deck of the Essex. Throughout this conspiracy, Wei was instructed to gather non-public U.S. military information and destroy any evidence of his involvement.
The second case involves 26-year-old Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, also known as Thomas Zhao, who was arrested following an indictment by a federal grand jury. Zhao worked at Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme and held a U.S. security clearance. He has been charged with receiving bribes in exchange for transmitting sensitive U.S. military information to a Chinese intelligence officer posing as a maritime economic researcher. Zhao allegedly received bribes totaling approximately $15,000 for disclosing non-public sensitive U.S. military information. Under the guise of assisting with investment purposes, Zhao recorded and transmitted U.S. military information, photographs, and videos. The information included non-public operational plans for large-scale U.S. military exercises in the Indo-Pacific Region and electrical diagrams and blueprints for a radar system stationed on a U.S. military base in Okinawa, Japan. Like Wei, Zhao was directed to conceal their connection and destroy evidence of their unlawful scheme.
If convicted, both sailors could face severe penalties, with Zhao potentially facing up to 20 years in prison. The FBI Los Angeles Field Office’s Counterintelligence and Cyber Division, along with assistance from NCIS and IRS Criminal Investigation, investigated the cases.
These arrests are significant as they highlight the ongoing threat of espionage by foreign entities and the need for heightened security measures within the U.S. military. The transmission of sensitive military information to foreign governments compromises national security and poses risks to the safety and interests of the United States. It is crucial for the U.S. military to continually assess and strengthen its security protocols to prevent future incidents of espionage. Through the collaborative efforts of agencies like the FBI and NCIS, these cases demonstrate the commitment to identifying and prosecuting individuals involved in such activities, ultimately protecting national interests.
The arrests also underscore the continued efforts of the Chinese government to gather intelligence and technological advancements through illicit means. Countering Chinese espionage and safeguarding sensitive national defense information remain significant challenges for the United States. The U.S. government must continue to implement robust counterintelligence measures and work closely with allies to address these threats effectively.
As these cases unfold, it is crucial to maintain vigilance and prioritize national security. Safeguarding sensitive military information is paramount to protect the interests and safety of the United States and its military personnel. Measures to educate and train military personnel on the risks of espionage should be reinforced to prevent future incidents. The collaboration between law enforcement agencies and the military is essential to detect, investigate, and counteract threats posed by foreign espionage. With continued diligence and improvements in security protocols, the U.S. can ensure the protection of its military secrets and maintain its technological and strategic advantage.