US Navy sailors arrested for allegedly spying for China

Two U.S. Navy sailors have been apprehended on charges related to spying for China, according to federal prosecutors. The sailors are accused of passing national defense information to Chinese intelligence officials in exchange for monetary compensation. The cases of Jinchao “Patrick” Wei and Wenheng Zhao are separate, but both involve allegations of espionage. Wei, a 22-year-old petty officer 2nd class, was arrested on Wednesday. He has since been charged with conspiracy to commit espionage. Zhao, 26, was also arrested on the same day and faces charges of conspiracy and receipt of a bribe by a public official.

Wei, who served as a machinist’s mate aboard the USS Essex, was arrested in San Diego. According to the indictment, he allegedly communicated with a Chinese intelligence officer starting in February 2022, sharing photos, videos, and documents related to U.S. Navy ships and their systems. Wei had access to sensitive national defense information, including details about weapons, propulsion, and desalination systems. He and his handler used encrypted methods of communication and deleted records of their conversations. Wei received a payment of $5,000 from the Chinese intelligence official in June 2022.

Zhao, who worked at the Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, was arrested in Los Angeles. His indictment states that he began collaborating with a Chinese intelligence officer in August 2021. Zhao allegedly provided photos, videos, blueprints for a radar system in Okinawa, and operational plans for a large-scale U.S. military exercise in the Pacific Ocean. In return, he received approximately $14,866 in payments from the Chinese intelligence officer.

Matthew Olsen, the Justice Department’s assistant attorney general for national security, emphasized the seriousness of the charges, stating that they demonstrate China’s determination to obtain critical information for their advantage. If convicted, Wei could face 20 years to life in prison, while Zhao could face a maximum sentence of 20 years. The Navy spokesperson confirmed that they are cooperating with the Department of Justice and taking the allegations seriously.

Experts and analysts view these arrests as a clear indication of the persistent threat posed by Chinese intelligence operations against the United States. Javed Ali, a former senior counterterrorism director on the National Security Council, believes that the individuals were targeted due to their Chinese-American heritage, their connection to the U.S. Navy, and their access to sensitive information. Ali highlights the range of incidents over the past year, from digital reconnaissance to traditional human operations, all aimed at acquiring information vital to China’s national security interests.

As the legal proceedings unfold, the U.S. Navy and the Department of Justice will work together to ensure the integrity of national defense and safeguard against future breaches.