Federal prosecutors have announced the arrest of two U.S. Navy sailors on charges of espionage for China. The accused, Jinchao “Patrick” Wei and Wenheng Zhao, allegedly provided classified national defense information to Chinese intelligence officials in exchange for financial rewards. The two cases are being treated separately.
Wei, a 22-year-old petty officer 2nd class, served as a machinist’s mate on the USS Essex, currently docked for maintenance at the San Diego Naval Base. He has been charged with espionage, specifically for conspiring to and communicating defense information to aid a foreign government.
Zhao, a 26-year-old petty officer from Monterey Park, California, was apprehended by FBI and NCIS agents. He faces charges of conspiracy and receipt of a bribe by a public official. Zhao was stationed at the Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme and held an active U.S. security clearance, granting him access to classified information.
Matthew Olsen, the assistant attorney general for national security at the Justice Department, stated that the alleged actions of Wei and Zhao resulted in sensitive military information falling into the hands of the People’s Republic of China. Olsen underscored the gravity of the charges, emphasizing the violation of the military’s duty to safeguard the nation and its secrets.
Neither Wei nor Zhao have entered pleas or secured legal representation to speak on their behalf. Both sailors made their initial court appearances on Thursday, with Wei in San Diego and Zhao in Los Angeles. They are due to return to court for detention hearings next week.
The indictments allege that both Wei and Zhao collaborated with Chinese intelligence officers, supplying them with sensitive information related to their work and upcoming Navy operations. Wei is accused of providing images of the USS Essex, locations of various Navy ships, and technical manuals for systems aboard his ship and other Navy vessels. Zhao allegedly supplied photos, videos, blueprints for a radar system in Okinawa, and operational plans for a major U.S. military exercise in the Pacific Ocean.
If found guilty, Wei could face a prison sentence ranging from 20 years to life, while Zhao could face up to 20 years in federal prison.