Chinese Espionage: Navy Sailors Betray US, Face Indictment

On Thursday, the United States Justice Department (DOJ) announced the indictment of two U.S. Navy sailors on charges related to transmitting sensitive U.S. military data to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). Jinchao Wei and Wenheng Zhao are central to the sobering and urgent national security issue.

These individuals, trusted to protect our nation and its interests, face grave accusations of violating their oaths and betraying their country. Not only does this erode public trust in our military, but it serves as a chilling reminder of the aggressive efforts of the PRC to undermine our democratic institutions.

Jinchao Wei, a sailor on the USS Essex at Naval Base San Diego, allegedly began communicating with a PRC official in February 2022. The official asked Wei to supply information on the USS Essex and other Navy vessels, including photos, videos, and documents. The DOJ statement details that, on demand of the intelligence officer, Wei “disclosed the locations of various Navy ships and described defensive weapons of the Essex,” receiving payments in the thousands of dollars for this information.

Wei’s case is grave. It includes allegations of him transmitting dozens of technical manuals detailing the operations, structures, and systems of the Essex and other ships. The Chinese official supposedly continued requesting such information well into 2023, instructing Wei to cover their tracks.

But Wei was not alone in this alarming scenario. Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, stationed at Naval Base Ventura County, was indicted for “receiving bribes” for similar classified data. Zhao allegedly communicated with a PRC officer under the guise of a “maritime economic researcher,” sending “non-public and controlled operational plans for a large-scale U.S. military exercise in the Indo-Pacific Region.”

The Justice Department’s statement highlights that these plans detailed the “specific location and timing of Naval force movements, amphibious landings, maritime operations, and logistics support.” Zhao received nearly $15,000 for his reported actions.

Zhao could face up to 20 years in federal prison if found guilty.

Both cases underscore the formidable challenge faced by the U.S. in maintaining security amid an increasingly digital and globalized world. The PRC’s continuing ability to exploit vulnerabilities within our community, particularly financial ones, puts our national security at risk.

Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen stated the Department of Justice will use all available resources to counter these threats and deter any assistance to the Chinese government’s unlawful activities.

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