In two separate cases in the Southern and Central Districts of California, two US Navy service members were arrested for transmitting sensitive military information to China, officials said.
“These individuals stand accused of violating the commitments they made to protect the United States and betraying the public trust, to the benefit of the PRC government,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division. “The Department of Justice will continue to use every tool in our arsenal to counter threats from China and to deter those who aid them in breaking our laws and threatening our national security.”
Assistant Director Suzanne Turner of the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division said, “These arrests are a reminder of the relentless, aggressive efforts of the People’s Republic of China to undermine our democracy and threaten those who defend it.”
“The PRC compromised enlisted personnel to secure sensitive military information that could seriously jeopardize U.S. national security. The FBI and our partners remain vigilant in our determination to combat espionage, and encourage past and present government officials to report any suspicious interactions with suspected foreign intelligence officers,” Turner added.
The arrested individuals have been identified as U.S. Navy sailor, Jinchao Wei, aka Patrick Wei, and Wenheng Zhao, aka Thomas Zhao, 26, a Petty Officer.
Wei was arrested on Thursday on espionage charges as he arrived for work at Naval Base San Diego, the homeport of the Pacific Fleet.
He was indicted for conspiracy to send national defense information to an intelligence officer working for China.
On the other hand, Zhao, a resident of Monterey Park, California, was arrested following an indictment by a federal grand jury.
He was charged with receiving bribes in exchange for transmitting sensitive U.S. military information to an individual posing as a maritime economic researcher, but who was actually an intelligence officer from China.
In exchange for bribes, Zhao allegedly sent the Chinese military officer non-public and controlled operational plans for a large-scale U.S. military exercise in the Indo-Pacific Region, which detailed the specific location and timing of Naval force movements, amphibious landings, maritime operations and logistics support.
In exchange for the sensitive information Zhao provided – information Zhao accessed as a result of his position within the U.S. Navy – the Chinese intelligence officer paid Zhao approximately $14,866, the indictment alleges.
“By sending this sensitive military information to an intelligence officer employed by a hostile foreign state, the defendant betrayed his sacred oath to protect our country and uphold the Constitution,” said U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada for the Central District of California. “Unlike the vast majority of U.S. Navy personnel who serve the nation with honor, distinction and courage, Zhao chose to corruptly sell out his colleagues and his country.”
If convicted, Zhao faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison.
The FBI Los Angeles Field Office’s Counterintelligence and Cyber Division and NCIS investigated the case. IRS Criminal Investigation provided substantial assistance.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Annamartine Salick, Sarah Gerdes, Christine Ro and Kathrynne Seiden of the Terrorism and Export Crimes Section for the Central District of California are prosecuting this case. Trial Attorney Adam Barry of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section is providing substantial assistance.