Navy Sailor Pleads Guilty To Accepting Bribes From China In Exchange For Spying
Micaela Burrow | Daily Caller News Foundation
October 11, 2023
A California-based U.S. Navy sailor pleaded guilty to charges that he illegally transmitted highly sensitive U.S. military information to China in exchange for payments, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced Tuesday.
Petty Officer Wenheng Zhao, 26, admitted to charges in the indictment of receiving $14,866 from a Chinese intelligence officer posing as a maritime economic researcher in exchange for exploiting his clearance to funnel classified information to China, the DOJ said in a press release. The sailor, who also goes by Thomas, conceded that he entered restricted naval and military installations to obtain documents related to Navy training and exercises planned to take place in the Pacific Ocean, as well as a U.S. military radar system in Okinawa, Japan.
Zhao, who was assigned to Naval Base Ventura County in Port Hueneme, California, during the time of his espionage activities, received at least 14 separate payments, the press release said.
He used encrypted communications methods to contact the Chinese intelligence officer and destroyed evidence of communications thereafter, according to the press release.
From August 2021 and continuing through at least May 2023, Zhao recorded U.S. military information, including operational plans for a “large scale” drill in the Indo-Pacific region that included specific timings for naval movements and logistics support, according to the DOJ. He also photographed electrical diagrams and blueprints for the Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar system located in Okinawa, Japan.
“The intelligence services of the People’s Republic of China actively target clearance holders across the military, seeking to entice them with money to provide sensitive government information,” Assistant Attorney General for National Security Matthew Olsen said in the press release. “When contacted by his co-conspirator, rather than reporting it to the Navy, the defendant chose greed over protecting the national security of the United States. He is now being held accountable for his crimes.”
Authorities announced Zhao’s arrest on Aug. 3 along with that of another sailor, Jinchao Wei, also known as Patrick. Wei allegedly shared materials about U.S. Navy ships with a Chinese intelligence officer while an active duty sailor on the U.S.S. Essex stationed at Naval Base San Diego.
Officials have not said whether the two cases are connected.
U.S. Navy Service Member Pleads Guilty to Transmitting Sensitive U.S. Military Information to Chinese Intelligence Officerhttps://t.co/vvDZsk5rox
— National Security Division, U.S. Dept of Justice (@DOJNatSec) October 10, 2023
Zhao’s sentencing is set to take place on Jan. 8 and faces a maximum of 20 years in prison, the DOJ said.
Zhao could not be reached for comment.