OAN’s Geraldyn Berry
1:38 PM PT – Thursday, August 3, 2023
The United States Department of Justice has recently apprehended two Navy sailors on severe national security charges for their involvement in transmitting classified military information to a Chinese official in exchange for cash payments.
Petty Officer 2nd Class Jinchao “Patrick” Wei, aged 22, was detained under suspicion of espionage when he reported for duty at Naval Base San Diego. Wei served as a machinist’s mate aboard the USS Essex, an amphibious ship that has a full flight deck, and can carry an array of helicopters, including the MV-22 Ospreys. The ship is currently undergoing maintenance.
Additionally, 26-year-old Petty Officer Wenheng “Thomas” Zhao, hailing from Monterey Park, California, was apprehended at Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, a facility north of Los Angeles. Zhao, reportedly in possession of a U.S. security clearance with access to sensitive material, had knowledge of crucial national defense information concerning naval ships’ weapons, propulsion, and desalination systems.
According to the indictment unsealed on Thursday morning, Wei, who was born in China, was approached by a Chinese officer during his U.S. citizenship application process, who even extended congratulations upon him becoming a U.S. citizen.
Federal prosecutors contend that in February 2022, Wei established contact with a Chinese government intelligence officer, and subsequently provided photographs, videos, technical manuals, and details about the number and training of Marines during an upcoming exercise. The Chinese intelligence official rewarded Wei with a payment of $5,000 in June 2022 after receiving the initial batch of sensitive information.
Separately, the Justice Department accused Zhao of receiving bribes in exchange for sharing sensitive U.S. military photos and videos with a Chinese intelligence officer. Zhao allegedly initiated his collaboration with the Chinese officer in August 2021, and continued until at least May of the following year. He stands accused of passing along photographs, videos, blueprints for a radar system in Okinawa, and operational plans for a large-scale U.S. military exercise in the Pacific. According to the indictment, Zhao received a sum of $14,866 from the Chinese intelligence officer for providing this classified information.
On Thursday, at a press conference in San Diego, Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s National Security Division Matt Olsen attested that due to their actions “sensitive military info ended up in the hands of the People’s Republic of China.”
These charges fall under the Espionage Act, a law passed in 1917 after the U.S. entered World War I. The act aims to prevent the sharing of information that could disrupt U.S. military interests or aid its enemies and carries a punishment of up to 20 years in prison and a $20,000 fine.
Officials have noted the charge has only been used five times in the last six years across the country.
“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,” FBI Counterintelligence Division Assistant Director, Suzanne Turner, said.
It remains unclear whether the two schemes were related, or whether the Navy sailors were approached or paid for their services by the same Chinese intelligence official.
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