**Two U.S. Navy Sailors Accused of Leaking Military Information to China**
Two U.S. Navy sailors have recently been arrested and charged with providing sensitive military information to China, including details on wartime exercises, naval operations, and critical technical material, according to federal officials. These cases highlight the ongoing concern of espionage threats posed by the Chinese government, with previous criminal cases involving Beijing intelligence operatives stealing government and commercial information. The recent arrests of the Navy sailors also follow another insider-threat prosecution involving a Massachusetts Air National Guardsman leaking classified military documents. U.S. officials emphasize the brazenness of China’s attempts to gain insight into U.S. military operations.
**Arrest of Sailor Jinchao Wei**
Jinchao Wei, a 22-year-old sailor assigned to the San Diego-based USS Essex, was arrested on charges related to espionage and conspiracy to send national defense information to Chinese officials. Wei, who was born in China, had been approached by a Chinese intelligence officer while applying for naturalized U.S. citizenship. Despite knowing that this arrangement could affect his application, Wei continued to send sensitive U.S. military information multiple times over the course of a year. Wei was even congratulated by the Chinese officer upon becoming a U.S. citizen. U.S. Attorney Randy Grossman of the Southern District of California stated that Wei’s actions demonstrated his decision to prioritize greed over loyalty to his newly adopted country.
**Arrest of Sailor Wenheng Zhao**
Wenheng Zhao, a 26-year-old sailor stationed at Naval Base Ventura County, north of San Diego, was also arrested for conspiring to collect bribes from a Chinese intelligence officer. In exchange for the bribes, Zhao was providing U.S. naval exercise plans, operational orders, and photos and videos of electrical systems at Navy facilities. The information he shared included operational plans for a U.S. military exercise in the Indo-Pacific Region. Zhao not only handed over this information but also surreptitiously recorded additional data. At the time of the arrests, neither Zhao nor Wei could be reached for comment, and it was unclear if they had legal counsel.
**The Charges and Allegations**
Wei was charged under a rarely-used statute of the Espionage Act, which criminalizes the gathering and delivery of information to aid a foreign government. Federal prosecutors allege that Wei began contact with a Chinese government intelligence officer in February 2022. At the officer’s request, Wei provided photographs and videos of the USS Essex, an amphibious assault ship on which he served. He also disclosed information about other ships and shared up to 50 manuals containing technical and mechanical data about the Navy’s amphibious assault ships. These manuals contained details about the ships’ weapons systems and power structure. Wei was instructed by the Chinese officer not to discuss their relationship, to share sensitive information, and to destroy evidence. Wei allegedly received thousands of dollars for providing the information.
**Ongoing Investigation and Response**
It remains unclear if federal officials are examining the involvement of other U.S. sailors or if the investigation is ongoing. The Pentagon’s Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder highlights the importance of safeguarding and protecting sensitive information while declining to provide specific details of the cases. U.S. Attorney Grossman emphasized that China presents an unparalleled threat to the United States due to its audacity and the range of its attempts to undermine U.S. laws. He stated that the U.S. will utilize all available tools to counter this threat and to deter China and those who violate the rule of law and jeopardize national security.
In conclusion, the arrests of these two U.S. Navy sailors for leaks of sensitive military information to China highlight the ongoing concerns regarding espionage threats posed by the Chinese government. The cases serve as a reminder of the need to protect sensitive information and to take appropriate action against those who violate established rules and compromise national security. The U.S. government remains committed to countering the threats posed by China and others who seek to undermine U.S. interests.