The U.S. Department of Justice took two U.S. Navy sailors into custody on Thursday, facing national security charges with links to China. The connection between the two cases, if any, remains unclear.
Jinchao Wei, also known as Patrick Wei, is a 22-year-old sailor stationed on a vessel in San Diego. He has been arrested on espionage charges stemming from an alleged conspiracy to share intelligence with a Chinese official. An active-duty member on the amphibious assault ship U.S.S. Essex docked at a San Diego Naval Base, Wei is accused of trading videos, photos, and classified information about the Essex, such as descriptions of the Essex’s defensive weaponry and the location of Navy ships with an intelligence officer affiliated with the Chinese government. He allegedly received thousands of dollars for this information.
The other accused sailor, Wenheng Zhao, AKA Thomas Zhao 26, a Petty Officer from Monterey Park, California, faces conspiracy charges and accepts a Chinese official’s bribe. Stationed at Port Hueneme Naval Base Ventura County, Zhao held a U.S. security clearance.
His accusations include covertly recording and transmitting U.S. military information, photos, videos, and radar system electrical blueprints for a radar system located on a U.S. Okinawa, Japan military base. This secret information was then shared with a Chinese intelligence officer masquerading as a maritime economic researcher. The bribes he allegedly accepted totaled $14,866.
During a press briefing on Thursday, Assistant Attorney General Matthew Olsen detailed the first case, focusing on Zhao, a construction engineer, and petty officer, who is charged with collaborating with a People’s Republic of China (PRC) intelligence officer to gather and send sensitive military data on naval operations. Zhao could face a prison sentence of up to 20 years if convicted.
Olsen elaborated on the materials transmitted by Zhao, which allegedly included over 50 manuals and documents containing intricate details of naval amphibious assault ships, some marked with export control warnings. These materials are said to have encompassed information about the ships’ power structures, weapons systems, and damage control mechanisms.
In his remarks, Olsen highlighted China’s distinct position among the adversarial nations threatening the U.S., emphasizing China’s unmatched boldness in its attempts to undermine U.S. laws.
Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder, a Pentagon spokesman, was questioned about these cases on Thursday but refrained from discussing specific details. However, he affirmed the U.S. military’s commitment to protecting sensitive information, stating that appropriate action would be taken if rules were violated, as demonstrated in these highlighted cases.